Seonam Temple by Chung Ho-seung

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song

Seonam Temple in Jeollanam-do, Korea

Seonam Temple by Chung Ho-seung

When your tears flow, catch a train and go to Seonam Temple.
At the Temple’s Place of Catharsis, cry as much as you must.
While you are squatting there crying,
the roots of dead pines will crawl around you,
the wooden fish will fly in the blue sky.
The grass blades will take out their handkerchiefs to wipe your tears
and the birds will fly into your heart to ring a bell.
When your tears flow, go to Seonam Temple, even on foot,
and lean against the back-bent pine tree
in front of the Temple’s Place of Catharsis, and sob away.

(Note: The Temple’s Place of Catharsis is a translation of Hae-woo-so [해우소], which literally means a place where you release your cares. It’s a Korean Buddhist term to refer to a toilet. The bathroom is not just a place to give your body release. It is a place where you should let go of your worldly concerns. The wooden fish is a Buddhist instrument to signify all the living things.)

선암사 / 정호승

눈물이 나면 기차를 타고 선암사로 가라
선암사 해우소로 가서 실컷 울어라.
해우소에 쭈그리고 울고 있으면
죽은 소나무 뿌리가 기어 다니고
목어가 푸른 하늘을 날아다닌다.
풀잎들이 손수건을 꺼내 눈물을 닦아주고
새들이 가슴 속으로 날아와 종소리를 울린다.
눈물이 나면 걸어서라도 선암사로 가라
선암사 해우소 앞
등 굽은 소나무에 기대어 통곡하라.

Darcy Brandel, Anne Rashid, and Melanie Steyn read the earlier versions of this translation.

Chung Ho-seung was born in 1950, in Hadong, Gyongsangnam-do. Since his debut in 1972 with a poem featured in the Korea Daily News, Chung has published many poetry collections, such as From Sorrow to Happiness, Jesus of Seoul, and Dawn Letter, which has achieved both critical acclaim and mass appeal. His minimal verse style interweaves the everday and the fantastic, proposing the possibility of lyrical revelation in even the most prosaic encounters.

The Place of Catharsis at Seonam Temple