Two poems by Hwang Jini and Kim Wooncho translated from the Korean by Suphil Lee Park

Crowd by Brian McPartlon

Translator’s Note:

The courtesan poets Hwang Jini from the 16th century and Kim Wooncho from the 18th have a lot in common. Both were famous courtesans who became well known for their romantic poetry, but they were also drastically different in significant ways. While Kim led the textbook life of a successful courtesan, Hwang had been a notorious, controversial icon who openly dismissed aristocratic lifestyles and had a reputation for toying with aristocratic men’s hearts.

Both of the original poems presented here are composed of Chinese characters, reflective of Korea’s history of diglossia. This is why all the Korean women poets from before the mid-twentieth century were either courtesans—the lowest caste, purposefully educated to entertain noblemen—or aristocrats who could afford to learn the Chinese characters, different from the vernacular Korean of their times.

In order to reflect Korea’s multilingual history, I first translated the original poems into modern Korean then into English. With the shorter English translation of each poem, I preserved the original syllable count and kept intact the syllable differences, or consistency thereof, between the lines. This gives the readers the truest sonic sense of each poem, faithful to the syllable-driven form of Korean sijo. The longer translation, on the other hand, provides a more articulate version that aims to provide a more in-depth interpretation of the highly context-oriented original.

Words of Farewell

Hwang Jini

Tree bared by the moon
Golden blooms in frost
Sky, an inch away
Aren’t you a drinker
Water plays its strings
The flute smells of plum
At dawn we’ll part ways
Much love in the wake

In the moonlit courtyard a foxglove tree pushed to extremes
At the heart of frost chrysanthemums in full golden bloom
The roof soars so high above the sky’s hanging at arm’s length
And you, dear, are now drunk on a thousand glasses of wine
Flowing water echoes the geomungo in its cold notes
Plum flowers, infatuated with the flute, ever fragrant
At the break of dawn when we’re to part with each other
Love shall chase us in the blue waves that flow on out of sight



소판 세양 떠날 적 써서 바치다

달 아래 뜰에 오동나무가 극에 달하고
서리 가운데 들국화 노랗게 피어있네
다락이 높고 높아 하늘이 지척인데
그대는 천 잔의 술에 취했도다
흐르는 물 거문고에 차디차게 화하고
매화는 피리에 빠져들어 향기로워라
아침이 밝아 서로 헤어진 후에는
정이 푸른 물결과 더불어 끝없이 흐르리

Feelings I Had on the Way

Kim Wooncho

Rain of willow in Pyongyang
Rug of pine blooms in Songyang
All make the air misbehave
Better fate than my stray life

To part with Pyongyang in flurries of willow petals
And pass through Songyang on a carpet of pine flowers
The willow and pine alike float unruly mid-air
But fare better than I, wanderer like a stray cloud



길 가는 도중 생각이 있어

버드나무 꽃 흩날릴 때 평양과 헤어져
소나무 꽃 떨어진 후 송양을 지나는구나
날던 꽃 떨어진 버들 비록 방종히 나부끼나
외려 매일 뜬구름 원정 다니는 생보다 낫네


Suphil Lee Park (수필 리 박 / 秀筆 李 朴) is the author of the poetry collection Present Tense Complex, winner of the Marystina Santiestevan Prize (Conduit Books & Ephemera 2021); and the forthcoming poetry chapbook Still Life, selected by Ilya Kaminsky as the winner of the Tomaž Šalamun Prize. She has also received fiction prizes from Indiana Review and Writer’s Digest. Born and raised in South Korea before finding home in the American Northeast, she studied English Literature and Poetry at NYU and UT Austin. Her recent poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, the New Republic, and Poetry, among others. Her translations of Korean literature have appeared or are forthcoming in the Cincinnati Review, the Los Angeles Review, and New England Review, among others.

Brian McPartlon (born in Schenectady, New York, 1948) attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and the San Francisco Art Institute. Residing in Santa Fe, New Mexico, McPartlon paints every day. Recent and upcoming exhibitions include Pie Projects, Santa Fe, and the International Art Museum of America, San Francisco.