Persimmons of Jiri Mountain by Heo Su-kyung

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Jiri Mountain; photography by Ha Sung-mok


Persimmons of Jiri Mountain by Heo Su-kyung

With the wind of late autumn,
drenched persimmons fall.
The blue ridge of Jiri Mountain fades into white,
covering the husbands’ corpses,
What a red day,
on the very top branch
of the persimmon tree on Jiri Mountain?
Why are they stuck on the frozen sky, shuddering?–
like the kids who end up wearing dry tears
in the corners of their eyes
as they work through their constipation,
like the husbands who spit out persimmon seeds
and disappeared into the fading sunset
glowing with flocks of geese,
who cannot plead their guilt or ask for forgiveness.
With every footstep, anyone who walks
through the modern history of Korea
passes through a storm of white persimmon flowers.

지리산 감나무/ 허수경

늦가을 바람녘
비 맞은 감이 지네.
남정들 썩은 삭신을 덮고
허옇게 허옇게 지리산 청마루도 흐려지는데
지리산 감나무 맨 윗가지
무신 날이 저리 붉은가.
얼어 붙은 하늘에 꽉 백혀 진저리치고 있는가.
된 똥 누다누다
눈꼬리에 마른 눈물 달은 자식들처럼
감씨 퉤 퉤 뱉다 기러기떼
선연한 노을 끝으로 숨어버린 남정들처럼
잘못도 용서도 구할 수 없는
한반도 근대사 속을
사람 지나간 자취마다 하얗게 쏟아지는

Jiri Mountain is located in the southern region of South Korea, spanning three provinces: North and South Jeolla, as well as Gyeongsang. Throughout Korean history, the mountain has taken up a variety of different meanings, reflecting many writers’ desires and needs of different moments in time. For some Korean writers, Jiri Mountain is a tragic figure of tumultuous modern Korean history. For others, it has been a figure of the magical, the sacred, the abundant, and the motherly.  For others, Jiri Mountain has been metaphorized as a mountain of the people and resistance, but also as a mountain of death and resentment, where fierce battles were fought between the end of Japanese colonial rule and the Korean War, slaughtering many Koreans. And still yet, for others, the mountain is a space of life and hope that renews the lives of today and tomorrow.

The Old Hill by Lee Si-young

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Hye Hyon

The Old Hill by Lee Si-young

In my hometown, Woosadool, persimmons may be ripening.
Coming home from school, I would climb the persimmon tree
suffering with a hungry stomach, and sing,
wishing that the autumn sunlight could ripen them,
wishing that the blue sky could ripen frost-laden persimmons.
Swinging my head between the branches,
I would sing mournful songs.
Ah, where did Giltay go?
Holding on to the tree till after the sunset,
Giltay would wipe his tears with his small fist,
gazing at his empty chimney where no smoke did rise.
Ah, where did Giltay go,
leaving behind his lame widow mother
below the persimmon tree?

옛동산/ 이시영

우리 고향 웃사둘 마을에는 감이 익겠지
학교에서 돌아오면 나무에 올라
주린 배를 참으며 노래 불렀지
가을볕 부신 햇살에 감이 익어라고
푸른 하늘 한가득 서리 묻은 감이 익어라고
가지 가지 사이로 머리통을 흔들며
노래 슬픈 노래 불렀지
아 길태는 어데 갔노
저녁이 지날 때까지 나무에 달라붙어
연기 오르지 않는 빈 굴뚝을 바라보며
작은 주먹으로 눈물 훔치던
아 길태는 어데 갔노
다리 저는 홀어머니 감나무 밑에 남겨둔 채

Lee Si-young (1949- ) was born in Gurye, Jeollanamdo. He studied creative writing at Seorabeol College of Arts. Since his literary debut in 1969, he has published poetry collections such as The Full Moon (1976), Into the Wind (1986), Friend, the Road Is Far (1988), The Song Dangling with Dew (1991), The Pattern (1994), The Gap (1996), The Quiet Blue Sky (1997), The Silver Whistle (2003), The Sea Lake (2004), The Aroma of Cow Dung(2005), and For Our Dead (2007). He has received many prestigious literary awards, including The Jung Ji-yong Literary Award (1996), The Dongseo Literary Award (1998), Modern Buddhist Literary Award (2004), The Jihoon Award (2004) and The Baeksok Literary Award (2004). For the last forty years, he has strived to write “poetry, resisting the reality and contradictions of the day.” He currently teaches creative writing at Dankuk University in Seoul.

Persimmon Flowers by Kim Jun-tae

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Persimmon Flowers by Kim Jun-tae

When I was young, I counted the falling persimmon flowers.
During the war, I counted the heads of the soldiers.
Now I count money, with spit on my thumb,
and wonder what I will count in the distant future.


어릴 적엔 떨어지는 감꽃을 셌지
전쟁통엔 죽은 병사들의 머리를 세고
지금은 엄지에 침 발라 돈을 세지
그런데 먼 훗날엔 무엇을 셀까 몰라.

(Originally published in Gwangju News, June, 2012)

Kim Jun-tae (1949- ) was born in Haenam, Jeollanamdo. He studied German literature at Chosun University. He made his literary debut in 1969 with the publication of “Thrashing the Sesame” and other poems in The Poet. His poetry collections include Thrashing the Sesame, I Saw God, The Rice Soup and Hope, Fire or Flower?, and Sword and Soil. He is known as the progressive poet of “Oh, Gwangju! The Cross of Our Nation!,” a poem about the Gwangju Uprising he published on June 2, 1980, in The Chonnam Daily. With the publication of this poem, the newspaper was forced to shut down, and he was laid off from his teaching at Chonnam High School. This poem has been acclaimed as the first poem that addressed the uprising. He is a protest poet committed to writing about ruined hometowns, national liberation, and the decolonization of culture.

The Persimmon Tree by Lee Jae-mu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song

The Persimmon Tree by Lee Jae-mu

The persimmon tree is anxious to hear the news,
so it reaches out its branches toward the twig gate,
and gently shakes at the wind
shedding red tears
every fall drop by drop.
The farmer planted it there,
and lived for thirty years;
fifteen years have already passed
since he fled on the train.
The persimmon tree longs for him,
so every spring it sprouts new buds
stretching toward the gate.

감나무 /이재무

감나무 저도 소식이 궁금한 것이다
그러기에 사립 쪽으로는 가지도 더 뻗고
가을이면 그렁그렁 매달아놓은
붉은 눈물
바람결에 슬쩍 흔들려도 보는 것이다
저를 이곳에 뿌리박게 해놓고
주인은 삼십년을 살다가
도망 기차를 탄 것이
그새 십오년인데
감나무 저도 안부가 그리운 것이다
그러기에 봄이면 새순도
담장 너머 쪽부터 내밀어 틔워보는 것이다

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