National Poetry Month Selection: "Azaleas" by Kim Sowol


April is National Poetry Month and in honor of the occasion, we have been posting poems from our poetry collections and those of our distributed presses throughout April. Today, as April draws to a close, we are posting three poems from Korean poet Kim Sowol’s classic collection, Azaleas, translated by David R. McCann. Kim Sowol is one the most beloved Korean poets, despite the fact that he died when he was only 32. Azaleas, Kim Sowol’s only collection, was published when he was 23, and tells the story of a young man’s travels after leaving home. While the entire collection contains 127 poems, we’ve chosen (with great difficulty) three to post here today.

Spring Night

In dark tresses of the weeping willow’s ancient limbs,
in vivid blue of the swallow wing blouse,
and there by the wine house window, just look. Hasn’t spring
settled in?

Silently the winds blow, weep, sigh
while without a reason we know sadness and longing this
dark spring night
as gentle vapors rise and cover the ground.

Should We Just Say Whatever Words Are In Our Minds

Complaining, appealing, heave a sigh,
all you who find life so hard to bear.
Trying the refined, the elegant phrase,
all the most sophisticated of this world, listen, you!
Should we just say whatever words are in our minds?
To consider twice, then thrice, before,
can only be the start of a losing proposition.
It is one of life’s rules, not to know;
another’s miseries, one does not comprehend.
Do not speak of life, the world, people,
a good name in the world, the fine words to say,
for just to strip another of his clothes
and leave him standing at the street corner
is just to leave a devil post to look at.
From this day forward, O people
of the world, set your ransom
at the cheapest price you can bear
and then go on.
If only that could be so, from now on,
and heaven be honored, no matter how sad, afflicted,
how solitary we might be.


When you turn away from seeing me
and go,
gently, without a word, I shall send you away.

From Mount Yak in Yongbyon,
I shall gather an armful and scatter them on your way.

Step after step away
on those flowers placed
before you, press deep, step lightly, and go

When you turn away from seeing me
and go,
though I die, no, not a single tear shall fall.

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