“Calling to the Dead” by Kim Sowol

Like many folks around the world, I was introduced to the poetry of Kim Sowol—who published a single book of poems, Azaleas, before dying at age thirty-two—through the show The King: Eternal Monarch. In episode three, the eponymous ruler of alternate Earth Kingdom of Corea pulls Azaleas from a shelf in a bookstore, and we hear the voice of Head Court Lady Noh Ok-nam reading the following poem.

Note that “chohon” (the name of the poem in Korean) is a traditional rite in which a person climbs to the rooftop and waves their dearly departed’s honbaek (a special piece of silk that holds the soul right after death) and calls the deceased person’s name three times. The “hon” is the bright energy of the spirit that is being invoked.

Calling to the Dead

Shattered name!
Name scattered to the winds!
Name I call that has no owner!
Name that I will die calling!

Still lingering in my heart is the word
I could never bring myself to speak—
It was you that I loved!
It was you that I loved!

A herd of deer begins to weep.
The red sun clings to a western peak.
On the slopes where it slips away,
I call your name.

In sorrow I call it again and again.
In sorrow I call it again and again.
But my cries just drop back through the air—
the gap between heaven and earth is too vast.

Though I turn to stone here where I stand,
I will die calling your name!
It was you that I loved!
It was you that I loved!

—translated by David Bowles
October 19, 2021

____________________________________________________________________

Original Korean

초혼

산산이 부서진 이름이여!
허공 중(虛空中)에 헤어진 이름이여!
불러도 주인(主人) 없는 이름이여!
부르다가 내가 죽을 이름이여!

심중(心中)에 남아 있는 말 한 마디는
끝끝내 마저 하지 못하였구나.
사랑하던 그 사람이여!
사랑하던 그 사람이여!

붉은 해는 서산(西山) 마루에 걸리었다.
사슴의 무리도 슬피 운다.
떨어져 나가 앉은 산(山) 위에서
나는 그대의 이름을 부르노라.

설움에 겹도록 부르노라.
설움에 겹도록 부르노라.
부르는 소리는 비껴 가지만
하늘과 땅 사이가 너무 넓구나.

선 채로 이 자리에 돌이 되어도
부르다가 내가 죽을 이름이여!
사랑하던 그 사람이여!
사랑하던 그 사람이여!

— 김소월

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *