Park Mok-wol (1915-1978)
On the earth
are nine pairs of shoes.
Around the time a light bulb lightens,
at the doorstep; no, at the storage room;
no, at the home of a poet,
are nine pairs of shoes in different sizes.
My shoes are
forty-six point eight centimeters.
When I take them off beside the little shoes
after coming through the path of snow and ice,
there is sweetie, sweetie,
my youngest child,
the shoes with the flat toe box
that is fifteen point one centimeters.
Look at my
where walls are raised with ice and snow,
is the earth.
Oh, the pitiful path of life.
My shoes are forty-six point eight centimeters.
My puppies, who are gathered
on the warmest side of the floor;
My puppies, my children,
through the path of humiliation, hunger, and coldness,
I am here.
Your father is here.
No, the forty-six point eight centimeters shoes are here.
On the earth,
a clumsy thing called “father”
Look at my
(Translated in February 2016 by Jido Ahn)
Learn more about the poet: Park Mok-wol (1915-1978)
아홉 켤레의 신발.
아니 玄關에는 아니 들깐에는
아니 어느 詩人의 가정에는
알 전등이 켜질 무렵을
文數가 다른 아홉 켤레의 신발을.
눈과 얼음의 길을 걸어,
그들 옆에 벗으면
六文三 코가 납작한
내 얼굴을 보아라.
얼음과 눈으로 壁을 짜올린
憐憫한 삶의 길이어.
내 신발은 十九文半.
아홉 마리의 강아지야
강아지 같은 것들아
屈辱과 굶주림과 추운 길을 걸어
아니 十九文半의 신발이 왔다.
아버지라는 어설픈 것이
내 얼굴을 보아라.
‘家庭’, 『晴曇』, 1964
Mun (which I converted into centimeters in the translation) is a traditional measurement for shoes, which hasn’t been used for very long time. Korea has been using metric system for generations now, and mm is used for the size of shoes. So, even older generations do not know how to calculate mun, even if they know the existence of the unit. The unit is so rarely used that it was not even listed in a regular dictionary, so I had to search a dictionary edited the National Institute of Korean Language. According to the dictionary, 1 mun is approximately 2.4cm, so 19.5 mum would be 46.8cm. I haven’t figured out how to calculate 6 mun 3 yet.
Understanding the actual size of 19 mun 1/2 and 6 mun 3 is irrelevant. For one thing, Koreans don’t understand the actual size and they’re still able to appreciate the poem. And secondly, as you can see from the actual size of 19 mun 1/2, the poet intended to use it as a symbol, not to indicate the actual size of his shoes. 19 mun 1/2 and 6 mun 3 sounds drastically different in size, and that’s what the poet tried to get at. Hence, I did not translate the unit in this poem to enhance the understanding of English readers. (Using a traditional Korean unit also makes the poem a lot more relevant to the context, the poverty in 1950s and 1960s in Korea after Korean War.)
Park Mok-wol is a nationally famous poet from Cheongrok-pa, a group of three poets who mainly wrote about nature. This poem, as you can see, is an exception.
If you can read Korean, there’s a really cool article about Park’s son, Park Dong-gyu. Not surprisingly, Dr. Park Dong-gyu is a professor emeritus of Korean Literature at Seoul National University and an influential literary critic. Park Dong-gyu. The title goes, “I was happy, because I was the son of a poor poet, Park Mok-wol.” The article mainly talks about what professor Park Dong-gyu said about his poor childhood during his lecture in Jeju. The entire article is pretty much quotes from him.
Photo source: Seoul News