|POETRY BY LEE YUK SA|
Translated by Sekyo Nam Haines About Lee Yuk Sa:Born 1904 in Andong, South Korea, Lee Yuk Sa belongs to the first generation of Korean modern poets. Korea was under Japanese rule (1910-1945) during his lifetime. Lee Yuk Sa had joined the independent movement and became an active member in the Korean Temporary Government in Exile based in China. He graduated as the first class of the Academy of Korean Military Officers in Nanjing, China, in 1933. For his political activities, he was arrested and imprisoned 17 times and died at the age of 39 in a Japanese jail in Beijing.
Born Lee Won Rok, he began using the pen name “Lee Yuk Sa” after his second release from prison in 1934; his prison cell number was 64, yuk sa in Korean. Despite his pen name and active engagement in the liberation movement, Yuk Sa’s poetic tone is not militant, but rather pensive and sensual and the themes of his poems were a calm introspection of his inner feelings. By historic necessity, he became a soldier, but by nature he was a poet. In Korea, he is revered as a “poet of resistant movement.”
In 1930, after his first release from prison, the poem “Horse” was first published in the Changwoe daily Newspaper. Then on, Yuk Sa published both poetry, short stories, and essays and was considered a leading literary critic of the time. His themes of essays included natural sciences, international politics, cultural and social history of Korea, literary criticisms and translations of his contemporary Chinese poets. He left behind 36 poems and 3 sijo written in classical Chinese, a short story and 17 essays.
A collection of his work Poetry of Yuk Sa was published in 1946, two years after his death. O Plantain
Ever ailing, my breath drifts lazily today
above the silver waves like a moon over the ocean.O Plantain, lift your long green sleeve,
and wet my burning lips with your moist tenderness.Long ago, we were two separate souls, parted
without a word on that last day of the Saracen kingdom.The young women’s firm and slender hands at the cuffs of your sleeves,
the delicate lines in their palms still weaving their dreams.Each time when you saw the new flowers and the constellation afar,
how often have you tried to re-imagine the forgotten seasons?Oh, better a thousand years from now, on this autumn night,
you and I together, let’s measure how long the sound of rain is!As dawn comes, somewhere in the sky, a rainbow will rise—
treading on that rainbow, let us return to our endless parting. Translators note; plantain leaves resemble the sleeves of Korean women’s traditional blouse. Calico-Cat As if you were the soul of a forgotten consort
exiled deep in a harem of some desert kingdom,
your body and mind mottled so, how it worries me!Even after having crossed the seven seas
of seven different shades, how sadly your eyes
still keep the color of the twilight from your homeland!When people hold you in their arms,
you arch your back like a mountain range
and settle into an endless laziness.That small yowl—
which ancestor’s inheritance does
that make your agate’s song ever more tenuous?In the walled garden,
a white butterfly flies in low,
the midday sun watches over the single blossom of a tulip. A Beautiful Woman’s Eyebrow —The Countess of Cloud—
Longing for home, she matured into a woman,
making her eyebrows grow long and curved!
Born between the ocean and the wind,
she was raised in the wisdoms of native customs.Stepping out of the intense blue canopy, her graceful body
draped in white cloth of bird feathers, dazzles
as if she is about to dance a waltz.Her face, hidden behind a fan, spread out like sunlight,
the plump hands, deflecting her arrogant smiles,
clearly quiver more than the princess’ hands that hold a holl.To the mountain hut when she returns, tired,
even the fragrance of flowers recalls her sorrow,
at the sound of a cold flute she unfastens her garments.The flaring thought inside her heart, like a burning candle—
is it self-reproach for caring about someone so deeply?
Below her feet surges the full tide of evening glow.Moonlight enters the trunks of trees below where it is cool.
Scattering the rose branches which she has pruned away,
toward the fog where she is going, I can almost see.Translator’s notes: The Countess of Cloud is the title of a painting. A Holl is a carved piece of ivory that was held by royalty when they appear in the court before the king. HorseDisheveled mane—
Hairs like burrs of the chestnut pod—
O horse, exhausted from a long run,
O horse, worn out by the harsh whip!Down turned trunk-neck—
In the frost, the glistening four hooves—
O horse, you want to disperse the clouds,
O white horse, you will shout for the New Year!
|Sekyo Nam Haines, born and raised in South Korea, immigrated to the U.S. in 1973 as a registered nurse. She studied American literature and writing at the Goddard College ADP and poetry with the late Ottone M. Riccio in Boston, MA. Her poems have appeared in the anthologies Do Not Give Me Things Unbroken, Unlocking The Poem, and Beyond Words; and in the poetry journal Off the Coast. Her translations of Korean poetry have appeared in The Harvard Review, The Seventh Quarry Poetry Magazine in Wales, England, The Brooklyn Rail, and Ezra (forthcoming). Her translation of Dawn by Kim Sowol was chosen by the Word/Song Project, to provide the basis of four art song compositions. These compositions have been performed at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Longy School of Music in Cambridge, and Emanuel College in Boston, accompanied by a discussion with the composers, translator and audience. Sekyo lives in Cambridge, MA with her family.|