80s-90s / A-G / Poems in Korean Middle School Textbooks / Poetry Translation

A Village – Do Jonghwan

A Village

Do Jonghwan (1954-)

Perhaps because villagers live benignly, myriads of stars are in the sky.
The village is clustered where a brook runs limpidly;
cuckoo sounds and star shadows are scooped in a water dipper.
When rice is rinsed with the water and spreads the cooking scent,
I pass by the village where the stars that were descending to a chimney
Are lightening like warm rice grains.

Perhaps because villagers live tenderly, myriads of stars are in the sky.

(Translated by Jido Ahn. January 2016)


Learn more about the poet: Do Jonghwan (1954-)


어떤 마을

도종환 (1954-)

사람들이 착하게 사는지 별들이 많이 떴다
개울물 맑게 흐르는 곳에 마을을 이루고
물바가지에 떠담던 접동새소리 별 그림자
그 물로 쌀을 씻어 밥짓는 냄새 나면
굴뚝 가까이 내려오던
밥티처럼 따스한 별들이 뜬 마을을 지난다

사람들이 순하게 사는지 별들이 참 많이 떴다




This poem appears in 7th grade Korean textbook

I prefer to keep the original line breaks as much as possible, so I had to play a lot with the syntax in this poem. I would say this was definitely hardest to translate when it comes to the syntactical element.

Moreover, even a compact sentence can get lengthy when translated into English, and this makes translating Korean poetry especially challenging. The length of individual words is one reason, but more importantly, conjunctions can be combined with nouns and verbs. This makes Korean sentences compact, even when there are multiple conjunctions used in one sentence. Let’s put together the line 4,5, and 6 for an example: “그 물로 쌀을 씻어 밥짓는 냄새 나면 굴뚝 가까이 내려오던 밥티처럼 따스한 별들이 뜬 마을을 지난다” Here, ‘-어’ from ‘씻어’ means “after” albeit it is combined with ‘씻-‘ which means “to wash”. So what is one word in Korean would be two words in English like “after washing”. This is just one example, but when this pattern repeats in one sentence over and over, it becomes very hard to translate in English and keep the sentence neat. The sentence above is an example. Other than ‘씻어’, there are ‘밥짓는’ (“cooking rice”) ‘내려오던’ (“were descending (but couldn’t finish the action)”),  ‘밥티처럼’ (“like rice grains”). Sometimes, you will see me using semi-colon, although there is no semi-colon in Korean. If you’re wondering, this is why I occasionally employ semi-colon. I need to make the translation easy to comprehend, yet I don’t want to split one sentence into two very independent sentences. 

Also, if you can read Korean, the poet runs a blog in Korean. He actually explained how he got to write this poem, which you can check out here.


photo source: Seoul Public News

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