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  • Five Poems
  • Hwang In-sook (bio)
    Translated by David McCann (bio) and Kim Jean Young (bio)

I Wish to Be Born as a Cat

Let me in my next life bereborn as a cat.A black tabby with glossy fur.Tiny cat hopping lightlyas a big magpie,curling my whole body into a ball.I won't be dozing on the porch,won't lick milk from a porcelain bowl,but instead I'll go out to the open field,threading through thorny thicketsto play with the meadow mouse.

Hungry, I'll attack a flock of sparrows.Scared of me, they'll dash off in a rush.Ha! Ha-ha!I'll run, hopping after.Baby sparrowI will not catch but pretend,dabbing at its fluttering heart with a paw. [End Page 277]

Off at a ramshackle runI'll swipe at the biggest magpie.

The sun will go slowly down,the wind rise.Meadow mice and sparrows all gone,I'll be left alone in the dark field.I won't go back.Tasting the darkness, I'll look for a stack of stalks,warm and cozy with the smell of straw.I'll jump on top and settle in,my bed shining bright in the moonlight.

Or I might wander the empty fieldsin cold rain and gusting wind,but not a single bit of my fur will get wet.I'll dreamthe dream of running in a sunlit fieldafter the magpie I missed that day. [End Page 278]

Pink Bird

Stretching, hands raised, I sawthe mysterious bird on the chimney.Really a pink bird,or the sun waking to play?As I was rubbing my eyes,it disappeared somewhere over the roof.Are you listening or not?I say I saw a pink bird.Are you listening or not?Do not be wonderingwas it a metaphor, a symbol?I saw a pink bird,and I am saying that I saw it.That is all. [End Page 279]


The snail is crossing the brook.The snail is crossing the brook.The snail is crossing the brook.

The snail is crossing the brook the whole day long.

The snail on the windowpaneis crossing the brook the whole day long.


So thoughtful,my thought after the act.More honest,my tongue than my mind. [End Page 280]

The Birds Set the Sky Free

Look, here is the sky.No one can peer into it,and no one does.Only the birds, soaring up, holding their breath,raise cries of joy,trailing the awful trap of freedom along;only birds can pluckthe strong blue string:Tin-Tin-Tin. [End Page 281]

Hwang In-sook

Hwang In-sook has published five books of poetry and six books of prose. She has won two major poetry awards in Korea. Ever since the appearance of her first collection of poems, The Birds Let the Sky Free (1988), she has been widely acclaimed as a poet of strikingly innovative and vivacious imagination. Although she is one of the leading poets of Korea today, her works have not yet been translated into other languages, perhaps because of her reclusiveness and the difficulty of her poetic language. She lives in central Seoul, in an area overlooking the downtown area, where she takes care of her ever-proliferating kittens.

David McCann

David R. McCann is Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature at Harvard University. He has translated the work of many Korean poets-including Kim Chiha, Sŏ Chŏngju, Ko Un, and Kim Namjo-and is the author or editor of many books, including The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry and The Way I Wait for You, a collection of his own poems.

Kim Jean Young

Kim Jean Young has a Ph.D. in Russian literature (Yale University) and is a professor at Yonsei University, Korea. A specialist in Pushkin and nineteenth-century Russian literature, she has a deep interest in the comparative study of Korean and Russian literatures, and has published a Russian translation of Chŏng Hyŏn Jong's poetry (Tak malo vremeni dlia liubvi, St. Petersburg, 2000). The English translation project...


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