The Sunlight on the Prison Bars by Kim Nam-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

The Sunlight on the Prison Bars by Kim Nam-ju

When I reach out a hand,
the sunlight lands upon it and looks lovely.
When I angle my cheek towards it,
it settles in and warms it.
As fall comes,
it becomes longer and longer—
as long as the squirrel’s tail.
When it wraps around my neck,
it becomes the scarf my sister knitted.
When it touches my lips,
it becomes a memory of old love
that we once exchanged.

창살에 햇살이/김남주

내가 손을 내밀면
내 손에 와서 고와지는 햇살
내가 볼을 내밀면
내 볼에 와서 다스워지는 햇살
깊어가는 가을과 함께
자꾸자꾸 자라나
다람쥐 꼬리만큼은 자라나
내 목에 와서 감기면
누이가 짜준 목도리가 되고
내 입술에 와서 닿으면
그녀와 주고 받고는 했던
옛 추억의 사랑이 되기도 한다.

Kim Nam-ju (1946-1994) was born in Haenam, Jeollanam-do and studied English at Chonnam National University. He is known as one of the major resistance poets in South Korea, leading the people’s movement in the 1970s and 80s that ultimately toppled the dictatorship in Korea. Because of his activism, he was imprisoned twice, for more than ten years in total. In prison where paper and pencil were not allowed, he wrote many poems on milk cartons with the nail he made by grinding a toothbrush. These poems were later published in two collected volumes of his prison poetry, The Sunlight on the Prison Bar. His poetry bears witness to the tyranny of dictatorship and the hardships of the oppressed. He published such poetry collections as Requiem, My Sword My Blood, One Fatherland, The Weapon of Love and In This Lovely World. He received the Yun Sang-won Literary Award in 1993 and the National Literary Award in 1994. His poems have also been memorialized by Korean activist, rock singer An Chi-hwan in his album entitled Remember.

A Firefly by Kim Nam-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photographed by Chae-Pyong Song in Costa Rica

A Firefly by Kim Nam-ju

On the empty field
darkness thickens.
To my ears, water flows.
The sound is clear,
and a firefly on a grass field
stays awake and
flickers on and off.

Firefly, don’t sleep.
If your light disappears in this night,
who can I befriend?
With whom can I spend these dark times?

The night deepens
and at last
the eastern sky brightens.

The firefly has disappeared
and only I remain, alone—
at the end of darkness
I greet the morning that brightens.

The dew dangling on the grass
looks beautiful in the morning sunlight.

Someday in heaven
I will live as a poet
who sings about you, firefly,
reincarnated as the dew.

개똥벌레 하나/ 김남주

빈 들에
어둠이 가득하다.
물 흐르는 소리
내 귀에서 맑고
개똥벌레 하나 풀섶에서
자지 않고 깨어나 일어나
깜박깜박 빛을 내고 있다.

그래
자지 마라 개똥벌레야
너마저 이 밤에 빛을 잃고 말면
나는 누구와 동무하여
이 어둠의 시절을 보내란 말이냐

밤은 깊어가고
이윽고
동편 하늘이 밝아온다.

개똥벌레는 온데간데없고
나만 남아 나만 남아
어둠의 끝에서 밝아오는
아침을 맞이한다.

풀잎에 연 이슬이
아침 햇살에 곱다.

개똥벌레야
나는
네가 이슬로 환생했다고
노래하는 시인으로 살련다.
먼 훗날 하늘나라에 가서. . .

Kim Nam-ju (1946-1994) was born in Haenam, Jeollanam-do and studied English at Chonnam National University. He is known as one of the major resistance poets in South Korea, leading the people’s movement in the 1970s and 80s that ultimately toppled the dictatorship in Korea. Because of his activism, he was imprisoned twice, for more than ten years in total. In prison where paper and pencil were not allowed, he wrote many poems on milk cartons with the nail he made by grinding a toothbrush. These poems were later published in two collected volumes of his prison poetry, The Sunlight on the Prison Bar. His poetry bears witness to the tyranny of dictatorship and the hardships of the oppressed. He published such poetry collections as Requiem, My Sword My Blood, One Fatherland, The Weapon of Love and In This Lovely World. He received the Yun Sang-won Literary Award in 1993 and the National Literary Award in 1994. His poems have also been memorialized by Korean activist, rock singer An Chi-hwan in his album entitled “Remember.”

One Pebble by Kim Nam-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

One Pebble by Kim Nam-ju

Between the sky and the earth
not a single breeze stirred, and I could not breathe.

That stifling, heart-wrenching day
my friend and I walked along the bank.
I told him we would become pebbles—
small stones
that would create a little ripple on the river
and disappear quickly.

On a dark night without sunlight
I told him we would become a spark—
a light
that would flicker like a firefly
and die out as soon as dawn breaks.

I didn’t ask my friend then,
how much of history would depend on the pebble?
I didn’t ask my friend then,
how much darkness would the light push away?
I was just content to have a friend
with whom I could share death.

돌맹이 하나/ 김남주

하늘과 땅 사이에
바람 한점 없고 답답하여라

숨이 막히고 가슴이 미어지던 날
친구와 나 제방을 걸으며
돌멩이 하나 되자고 했다
강물 위에 파문 하나 자그맣게 내고
이내 가라앉고 말
그런 돌멩이 하나

날 저물어 캄캄한 밤
불씨 하나 되자고 했다
풀밭에서 개똥벌레쯤으로나 깜박이다가
새날이 오면 금세 사라지고 말
그런 불씨 하나

그때 나 묻지 않았다 친구에게
돌에 실릴 역사의 무게 그 얼마일 거냐고
그대 나 묻지 않았다 친구에게
불이 밀어낼 어둠의 영역 그 얼마일 거냐고
죽음 하나 같이할 벗 하나 있음에
나 그것으로 자랑스러웠다

Kim Nam-ju (1946-1994) was born in Haenam, Jeollanam-do and studied English at Chonnam National University. He is known as one of the major resistance poets in South Korea, leading the people’s movement in the 1970s and 80s that ultimately toppled the dictatorship in Korea. Because of his activism, he was imprisoned twice, for more than ten years in total. In prison where paper and pencil were not allowed, he wrote many poems on milk cartons with the nail he made by grinding a toothbrush. These poems were later published in two collected volumes of his prison poetry, The Sunlight on the Prison Bar. His poetry bears witness to the tyranny of dictatorship and the hardships of the oppressed. He published such poetry collections as Requiem, My Sword My Blood, One Fatherland, The Weapon of Love and In This Lovely World. He received the Yun Sang-won Literary Award in 1993 and the National Literary Award in 1994. His poems have also been memorialized by Korean activist, rock singer An Chi-hwan in his album entitled “Remember.”