The Seat by Kim Nam-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Melanie Steyn

The Seat by Kim Nam-ju

The ringleader of the massacre now
sits on a royal seat.

The ringleader of people who rose up against the massacre
now sits on a prison seat.
Which seat is more comfortable?
Which seat is more honorable?

옥좌/ 김남주

학살의 수괴가 지금
옥좌(玉座)에 앉아 있다

학살에 반대하여 들고 일어선 민중들의 수괴도 지금
옥좌(獄座)에 앉아 있다
어느 자리가 더 편안한 자리이고
어느 자리가 더 떳떳한 자리이냐.

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.

In a Spring Classroom by Im Dong-hwak

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Melanie Steyn

Photo provided by the 5.18 Memorial Foundation

In a Spring Classroom by Im Dong-hwak

When the professor calls your name
our classroom echoes only with silence and sorrow.
Perhaps you now hold a megaphone somewhere on the campus
in full bloom with white magnolias
and may be excited at the spring air that comes like a thief and leaves;
or, not to weaken, not to cry after all
even at your friends’ indifference and their stares,
you may be turning your eyes toward the white clouds
floating above in the May sky.
At times you did believe in your fellow students’ passionate applause,
their songs, and the drinking place where kindred spirits met,
but when that indomitableness changed into despair
you thought about the library, your friends, and your conscience
as you watched them retreat in spite of your passionate appeal in the empty plaza.
“Mother, I too want to study.”
“The ajummas selling yogurt reminded me of you, and I cried.”
“Father, please return.
Until the new day comes, I cannot be your daughter only.”
For that which you longed for and pitied
you didn’t kneel down but stood up strongly till the end,
but away from everybody in a dark back alley, in a restroom,
your despair was broken into tens of thousands pieces–
you were a twenty-four-year-old woman
your heart torn, sore with solitude.
Knowing that, I felt ashamed.
Whenever I think of you, smiling all the time,
never showing your fatigue,
I hear the calling of your name with the pain of flesh being cut off,
knowing that you never forgot the classroom, the professors.
You never forgot freedom and the memories of the campus,
though I settled down after returning.
In every raindrop rolling down the window,
I see your face approaching as though in green wormwood.

봄이 오는 강의실에서/ 임동확

네 이름이 불려질 때마다
강의실은 적막과 비애의 메아리만 울려왔다
너는 지금쯤 메가폰을 잡고
백목련 활짝 핀 캠퍼스 어디선가
도둑처럼 왔다 빠져나가는 봄기운에 들떠 있을까
약해지지 않기 위해, 친구들의 무심함과
눈총에도 끝내 울지 않기 위해
오월의 하늘 떠도는 흰구름에 눈길을 던지고 있을까
때론 뜨거운 박수와 노래소리
의기투합한 학우들의 술자리가 미덥기도 하지만
언제고 그 꿋꿋함이 절망으로 변할 때
텅 빈 광장 피어린 호소에도 물러서는
도서관과 벗들과 양심을 생각했다
어머니 저도 공부하고 싶어요
야쿠르트 아줌마를 보면 당신이 생각나 울었어요
아버지 돌아가세요
새 날이 올 때까지 당신의 딸일 수만은 없어요
그립고 아쉬운 것들을 위하여 무릎 꿇지 않고
끝내 당당하게 일어서는 네가
남 몰래 어두운 골목에서 변소에서
천 갈래 만 갈래 찢겨진 절망
고독의 쓰라린 가슴을 쥐어뜯는
스물 넷의 여자인 줄 알고 있으므로 부끄러웠다
한번도 지친 표정을 짓지 않는
늘 웃는 낯의 널 생각할 때마다
난 돌아와 평온할 수 있었지만
넌 결코 강의실과 교수님을 잊지 않고
캠퍼스의 자유와 추억을 잊지 않음을 알았으므로
살을 저미는 아픔으로 네 이름을 듣는다
흘러내리는 유리창의 물방울마다
푸른 쑥잎으로 다가오는 네 얼굴을 본다

Im Dong-hwak (1959- ) was born in Kwangsan, Jeollanamdo. He studied Korean literature at Chonnam National University and Sogang University. His poetry collections include Burial Poems, A Notebook of Living Days, The Road to Woonju Temple, I Felt Love for the First Time, and I Was Here a Long Time Ago.