The Self-portrait by Seo Jung-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

The Self-portrait by Seo Jung-ju

Father was a servant; he did not come home, though the night was dark.
All that were left standing were my grandmother, aged like a leek root,
and one flowering date tree.
While pregnant, Mother said she wanted to eat a green apricot, just one.
Beneath the lamplight, within earthen walls withstanding the wind,
is this mother’s son with blackened nails.
They say I take after the thick hair and big eyes of Grandfather,
who went out to sea in the year of the Kabo Reform
and never returned.

The last twenty-three years, the wind has raised eighty percent of me.
The more I see the world, the more shameful it is.
Some read a sinner in my eyes;
others read an imbecile on my lips.
But I will regret nothing.

Even on the morning that rises brilliantly,
the dew of poetry dangling upon my forehead
is always mixed with a few drops of blood.
Through light and shade, I have come this far,
panting like a sick dog, tongue lolling.


애비는 종이었다. 밤이 깊어도 오지 않았다.
파뿌리같이 늙은 할머니와 대추꽃이 한 주 서 있을 뿐이었다.
어매는 달을 두고 풋살구가 꼭 하나만 먹고 싶다 하였으나……
흙으로 바람벽 한 호롱불 밑에
손톱이 까만 에미의 아들
갑오년(甲午年)이라든가 바다에 나가서는 돌아오지 않는다 하는
외할아버지의 숱 많은 머리털과
그 커다란 눈이 나는 닮았다 한다.

스물세 해 동안 나를 키운 건 팔할(八割)이 바람이다.
세상은 가도가도 부끄럽기만 하드라.
어떤 이는 내 눈에서 죄인(罪人)을 읽고 가고
어떤 이는 내 입에서 천치(天痴)를 읽고 가나
나는 아무것도 뉘우치진 않을란다.

찬란히 티워 오는 어느 아침에도
이마 위에 얹힌 시(詩)의 이슬에는
몇 방울의 피가 언제나 섞여 있어
볕이거나 그늘이거나 혓바닥 늘어뜨린
병든 수캐마냥 헐떡거리며 나는 왔다.

Seo Jeong-ju (1915 – 2000) was born in Gochang, Jeollabuk-do. He is considered the founding father of modern Korean poetry. Under the pen name Midang, he published at least 15 collections of poetry. He taught Korean literature at Chosun University, among others. He was also nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in literature. His grandmother’s stories and his interest in Buddhism had a strong influence upon his writing. His works have been translated into a number of languages, including English, French, Spanish and German.

1 thought on “The Self-portrait by Seo Jung-ju

  1. Pingback: Self-portrait by Seo Jeong-ju (So Chong-ju) | Cardiac Slaves of the Stars

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