Stubborn by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Kim Jae-gon

Stubborn by Jung Kut-byol

A sparrow secretly builds its nest below the black kite’s, its natural enemy
A scrub fowl makes its nest under the hot sand a hundred times as big as its body
A gorilla builds its one night home in the woods only when it’s time to go to sleep
A raccoon furtively borrows a badger’s space to sleep
A flying squirrel makes a home inside a tree’s wound
A honey bee or a termite builds hives connecting home with another home
A water spider builds an empty air home in water
A cockroach encroaches into crevices of people’s houses
An earwig crab builds its mobile home with a shell

All the animals in the world
build their homes to fit their bodies,
covering their bodies with roofs
and building the walls with their bodies
They build them as their bodies wish
and as their bodies remember

Today I also build a home, but I bring in more than I need,
expanding one more square foot; how appalling it must be, to witness how I live.

고집/ 정끝별

참새는 천적인 솔개네 둥지 밑에 몰래 집을 짓는다
무덤새는 뜨거운 모래 밑에 제 몸 수백 배 집을 짓는다
고릴라는 잠이 오면 그제서야 숲속 하룻밤 집을 짓는다
너구리는 오소리 집을 슬쩍 빌려서 잔다
날다람쥐는 나무의 상처 속 구멍집을 짓는다
꿀벌과 흰개미는 집과 집을 이어 끝없는 떼집을 짓는다
수달을 물과 물 중간에 굴집을 짓는다
물거미는 물속에 텅 빈 공기집을 짓는다
바퀴벌레는 사람들 집 틈새에 빌붙어 산다
집게는 소라 껍데기에 들고 다니는 집을 짓는다

세상 모든 짐승들은
제 몸을 지붕으로 덮고
제 몸을 벽으로 세워
제 몸에 맞는 집을 짓고 산다
제 몸이 원하는 대로
제 몸이 기억하는 대로

큼직한 집을 짓는다 살아 있는 하루가 끔찍하다
하나 더 들여놓고 한 평 더 늘리느라 오늘도 나는

Jung Kut-byol is a professor of Korean literature at Myungji University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 1988, she has worked as both a poet and a critic. She has published four poetry collections, My Life: A Birch Tree (1996), A White Book (2000), An Old Man’s Vitality (2005), and Suddenly (2008) and two collections of critical essays, The Poetics of Parody (1997) and The Language of Poetry Has a Thousand Tongues (2008). She has also edited an anthology titled In Anyone’s Heart, Wouldn’t a Poem Bloom? 100 Favorite Poems Recommended by 100 Korean Poets (2008).

1 thought on “Stubborn by Jung Kut-byol

  1. Hi! Thank you so much for these translations! They’re beautiful.

    I have a dumb question about this poem though. My coworkers and I are using this poem for a class, and I wanted to make a quick correction to it. My coworkers outvoted me, saying that the work of others should be respected and should not be modified.

    I wanted to add a hyphen, changing
    “A gorilla builds its one night home in the woods”
    “A gorilla builds its one-night home in the woods”

    The hyphen there is important because it is not clear if “one” applies to “night” or “home.” Without the hyphen, one could interpret that the gorilla builds one home, and it’s a night home. With the hyphen, it is clear that the home was meant for only one night. This is a textbook example of the problem with compound adjectives.

    All that finally brings me to my question. If you were to publish this poem again, would you add the hyphen? And if not, why?

    I hope you answer! You can’t imagine the satisfaction showing your answer to my coworkers will give me.

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