Che Guevara in Korean poetry (part 2)

Thanks to daeguowl for researching this interesting question, and for coming up with some additional poems to consider.

And a special thanks to Brother Anthony of Taize for giving of his time, and providing translations for the two key poems which our visitor was interested in. Here they are:


by Ko Un
Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha

I was twenty.
For no reason I wearily loathed the apricot-flowered spring days.
I was starving.
I wanted to fall
on the bitterly cold snowfields
of Irkutzk in Siberia — forty below.
I wanted to fall, shot, killed like a young Decembrist.

An obtuse age,
all I hoped was a breathless Sturm und Drang.

I felt as if a wizard’s hand had been cut off with a straw-cutter.
When a hoe was thrust into the earth’s hide
the clods of earth wept wildly.

I was sixty.
I omitted all kinds of disruptions.
Above all I disdained belated excuses.
As ever
lovely clear days were revolting.
Out on plains whose flesh
was being struck by knife-blades of thunder and lightning
through dark, black clouds
I had to go racing on,
unspeakably happy
all the way
all the way to the other side.

Away with every kind of resignation.
Away with every kind of nirvana.

Even on beyond sixty, I still acted childishly.
All I had was a few friends,
only one lung.
For the sake of the absence of the other
I was obliged to go to another place.
Still I bear Che Guevara in mind, that evening star, my retarded discovery.

The latter half is an explosion of the first.


김남주 시인의 무덤 앞에서

민 영

남주 내가 왔네.
하고 말해도 망월동 시민묘지
한 귀퉁이, 초라한 무덤 속에 누운
김남주 시인은 대답이 없네.

혁명을 꿈꾸며
혁명을 노래하며 이 땅에서
독점 자본과 폭압의 힘을 몰아내고
일하는 자의 나라를 세우겠다던 남주.
타오르는 불꽃처럼 싸웠더라도
그 혁명의 과실을 따먹을 생각일랑
하지도 않았다고 노래한 시인은
그래서, 이 옥방보다 좁은 땅에
쓸쓸히 묻혀서 지내는가?

남주 내가 왔네.
그대가 목숨을 걸고 싸울 때
등뒤에 숨어서 늑장을 부리며
달아나기에만 바빴던 이 비겁한 동업자가,
그대가 떠난 뒤에도 꽃 한 송이 꽂지 못하고
무사안일하게 살아온 자본주의의 패졸이
이제서야 찾아왔네.

향불 대신 담배꽁초가 쌓이고
빈 소줏병이 난지도처럼 뒹구는
무덤 앞에서, 아직도 햇살같이 웃고 있는
그대의 퇴색한 사진을 바라보며,
왜 체 게바라가 죽었는지를
왜 체 게바라가 죽어야만 했는지를
생각했네, 담배를 피워 물고……

Before the Grave of the Poet Kim Namju

by Min Yeong,
translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé

Namju, here I am, I’ve come.
But no matter what I say, Kim Namju
the poet lying in his shabby grave here in one corner
of Mangwol-dong Cemetery, makes no reply.

Namju, dreaming of revolution, singing of revolution,
you spoke of driving monopoly, capital
and oppression from this land, and of founding
a country of working folk, you, the poet who sang
that you had never thought you would enjoy
the fruits of that revolution, though you fought
like a blazing flame of fire — is that why
you lie buried here all alone like this,
in a patch of ground smaller than a prison cell?

Namju, here I am, I’ve come.
This cowardly workmate of yours who used to loiter hiding
behind your back, busy just keeping up with you
as you put your life on the line and fought,
I’ve been unable to sport a flower since you died,
just living for peace at any price, a defeated pawn of capitalism.
It’s only now that I’ve come to visit you.

Before your grave, where a pile of cigarette butts
replaces incense, with empty soju bottles rolling around
like on a city garbage-dump, as I gaze at the faded photo,
where you’re still smiling that sunny smile,
and smoke a cigarette, I ponder
why Che Guevara died,
why Che Guevara just had to die . . . .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.