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  • Lingering Impressions of a Mountain Village1—A Few Paragraphs from a Journal of Travels to Sŏngch'ŏn2
  • Yi Sang (bio)
    Translated by John Frankl (bio)

More than twenty days have passed since I last savored my fragrant MJB.3 Here the newspaper seldom comes, and the postman only occasionally appears bearing "hard rolled" colored news.4 Both contain stories of silkworm cocoons and corn. [End Page 331] The villagers appear distressed about some relatives living far away. I too am apprehensive concerning matters left behind in the city.

They say there are roe deer and wild boar over there on P'albong Mountain. And some even say they've seen a "bear" that comes down to catch crayfish in the gully where they used hold rituals to pray for rain. I continually suffer from the delusion that these animals, which I have only seen in zoos, have not been captured from these mountains and put in zoos, but rather have been taken from zoos and put in these mountains. When night falls, just as men retire to their chambers, P'albong disappears into the lacquer-black, moonless night.

The air is so crystal clear, however, I feel I might easily read my cherished Gospel of "Luke"5 by starlight alone. And I could swear there are twice as many stars out here as in the city. It is so quiet that I seem to hear for the first time traces of the movement of those stars.

At a peddler's inn, I light an oil lamp. Its subtle odor, reminiscent of the city's evening paper, arouses dreams from my youth. Oh, Chŏng!6 I remember our gluing up packets7 (paper [End Page 332] packets of tobacco) deep into the night beneath such a light. A lone grasshopper perches atop the lamp, and with its light green hue, as if crossing the letter "T" in English, "underlines" the peculiar portions of my languid dreams. Feigning sorrow, I hang my head and stilly listen to its ballad, so like the sound of a streetcar conductress punching tickets in the city. Then that, in turn, becomes like the sound of scissors in a barbershop. At last I close my eyes and calmly, carefully listen.

I then produce my journal and, in wild grape-colored ink, set about drafting the poetic sentiments of this intermontane hamlet.

Torn up newspaper day before yesterdayA tarnished white butterflyA balsam resembles my lover's beautiful earIn that ear stand visible the articles of bygone days

Before long I grow thirsty. Drinking water at my bedside—I consume the liquid, cold as if drawn from the sea's depths. Taking in its quartzose, mineral odor, I feel the path of the mercury plummeting past my lungs. I sense that, if I so desired, I could trace that frigid curve upon a blank sheet of paper.

When the stars shine down upon the bluestone roof, it cracks with the sound of a crock exploding in the depths of winter. The sound of insects is deafening. Because autumn, at this time, has come only enough to fill a single postcard. At times like these, how could I even begin to hope to fathom the mysteries of time? The sound of my pulse turns the entire inside of the room into a clock, and the long hand and short hand's revolving around the drive [End Page 333] screw makes my eyes itch by turns. The smell of machine oil wafts in and out of my nose. I feel sleep approaching beneath the oil lamp.

I have a brief dream in which a young city girl appears; she looks like the "Paramount" Pictures logo. And then, before I know it, in my dream I see the poor family I have left behind in the city. They stand shoulder to shoulder, as prisoners of war do in photographs. And they bring me worry. Which finally wakes me from my slumber. Shall I just die? I entertain such thoughts. I stare at my threadbare Korean coat, which hangs from a nail in the wall. Ah, yes, you have followed me here across the vast northwestern...