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Manoa 18.1 (2006) 9-10

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Three Poems

Translations by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Kim Young-moo


You and I vied for first place in grade school. You were from a rich house
had really nice clothes

your five buttons were always shining bright and
every day a boiled egg snuggled
bright in your lunch box where the white rice
was only sprinkled with barley;
but you were never boastful, oh no,
not by so much as a finger-paring.
We had a paddy field just beside yours.
Let's you and I get on well together,
you said, and gave me dried rice cakes.
But Pongt'ae,
first your father died
when the Reds pulled back north,

then you were dragged off by the local people;
you died in a cave in Halmi Mountain,
you died shot by a black U.N. soldier.
One moonlit night
in a dark cave you died.
Pongt'ae, ah,
I could do nothing to save you,
though you were sixteen
and I was sixteen. [End Page 9]

Moonless Night

No moon up
yet the two hundred miles
between you and me
shine bright all night long.
That dog that'll die tomorrow
      doesn't know it's going to die.
It's barking fiercely.


It's absolutely inevitable!
So just take a deep breath
and accept this adversity.
But look!
A distinguished visitor deigns to visit
my tiny north-facing cell.
Not the chief making his rounds, no,
but a ray of sunlight as evening falls,
a gleam no bigger than a screwed-up stamp.
A sweetheart fit to go crazy about.
It settles there on the palm of a hand,
warms the toes of a shyly bared foot.
Then, as I kneel and, undevotedly,
offer it a dry, parched face to kiss,
in a moment that scrap of sunlight slips away.
After the guest has departed through the bars,
the room feels several times colder and darker.
This military prison special cell
is a photographer's darkroom.
Without any sunlight I laughed like a fool.
One day it was a coffin holding a corpse.
One day it was altogether the sea.
A wonderful thing!
A few people survive here.

Being alive is a sea
     without a single sail in sight.

Brother Anthony of Taizé studied at Queen's College, Oxford University, before joining the Community of Taizé in France in 1969. He lived in the Philippines from 1977 to 1980, then moved to Korea, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1994 and took the Korean name An Sonjae. He has translated numerous volumes of Korean poetry and is a professor at Sogang University.
Kim Young-moo graduated from Seoul National University and received his doctorate from SUNY at Stony Brook. He has published two volumes of poems in Korean and cotranslated numerous Korean authors into English. He has been a professor at Seoul National University since 1981.