Kim Chun su Chalet (san jang)

i can’t take complete responsibility for this translation. My copy of the text is a dual one, with Korean on one side & English on the other. However, as i study more i am beginning to notice glaring errors, clear omissions that i think sully the complexity & completeness of the poems. Therefore i am doing what i think are more complete translations.

For example in this poem, the translator first of all completely omits the line beginning “in January…” well actually, he oddly, replaces it with “nothing happened to the sun & moon.” This has nothing in common with the text.
This may seem like the greatest error, but i was more intrigued by two other, much more poetic & subtle omissions, which i will do my best to explain.

the sun covered the hill all day long,
made red flowers dozily bloom.

this is my translation of

on the hillside
red flowers blossomed all day long

which are obviously different. This is due to the poet using the word 피곤하다 (pigonhada), which means tired. This seems an odd choice, until you realize that 피다 (pida) is bloom: the poet is making a pun, that the sun’s warmth, which has been beating down upon the flowers all day is both the vehicle for their blooming, but also for making them appear tired, for their drooping heads.
The next omission is in the line regarding the ivy. The poet uses onomatopoeia, a word which i could find no translation for, but which i knew was onomatopoeia. The word is 부덕부덕 (budeokbudeok). The translator gives us the line “the ivy crept doggedly up the wall.” i wasn’t satisfied with this. i asked my friend what budeokbudeok means, or rather what the sound was. He explained that it was the sound of ivy growing up a wall. Well of course ivy doesn’t seem to make a sound while growing as the movement is imperceptible. It is therefore my opinion that the poet uses onomatopoeia as a means of expressing his subtle ability to stand outside of time & see the ivy sped up & in this rapidity of growth, in this poetic region outside of reality, is able to conjure a sound from the experience.

Stone sculptures at Maisan

From speaking to a few different Koreans, they could only place this word in relation to ivy, as if the word were used exclusively for this very imperceptible event. i was only able to even consider this based on a story i read about the head god of Korean mythology 신선 (Sin Seon) in a stone built temple complex in a mountain called 마이산 Maisan, where numerous stone sculptures shaped like cones were built by an old scholar called 이갑룡 (Lee Gab-ryeong) in the late 1800s. The temple is closed in by high faces of rock, which are part of the mountain. It would be difficult for an old man of that time to climb them, but these same, huge cone shaped sculptures can be seen in natural alcoves of the mountain.
The story goes that Lee had learned a speacial power from the god Shin Seon: to squeeze space so that you could travel long distances without any problems. This to me is similar to Chun-su’s, seemingly, poetic ability to squeeze time so as to hear the sound of the ivy creep up a wall.
i have no idea what the sound could possibly be; presumably it would be budeokbudeok, however, without any context this would mean nothing in my translation; so i thought the inclusion of “i heard” would at least go some way to encapsulating the poet’s subtle & perceptive powers of the natural world.
i have moreover tried to give the lines the tautness which Korean inevitably creates in its directness. It simply isn’t possible to do a direct translation as it would be more a grammar puzzle or a list of words than a poem. For example, the opening line would be: cloud flew glass in smash / wind tail shake laughed.
He is a fine poet, i recommend a discovery of his poetry & devoting some time to it.


Kim Chun-su- Chalet (산장)

a cloud flew
into my window & broke into bits,
the wind
wagged its tail & chuckled.
every now & then
forest birds came & cried;
the sun covered the hill all day long,
made red flowers dozily bloom.
cloud & wind, flower & bird
these delicate connections altered.
in January there were no peculiar incidents,
however, i heard ivy creep up a wall, inch by inch
& at daybreak saw indigo seep across the heavens.
a calf moos in the shade of a zelcova tree.

Posted by:DPM

DPM is an idea-logue (sic) and object-oriented speculative realist, attempting to be response-able in an irresponse-able society.

6 thoughts on “Kim Chun-su: Chalet 산장 (san jang) a translation

  1. Translation is so subjective, in the end I think the translator needs to be aware as far as possible of the writer’s intention. This difficult between languages, but even more between east and west. thank you for a very interesting article.

  2. My pleasure, i am just finding my feet, i still rely on a dictionary, but i can see enough to know when i see something i am displeased with in a translation. sometimes, as in this case, the translator has thought it better, perhaps subjectively, to omit some things i personally believe don’t attempt to tackle the poet’s intention. i was talking about the onomatopoeia in this poem with a young scientist the other day, who said that the poet may be trying to express the shape of the ivy. In that case the translator, using ‘doggedly’ is correct, but many Koreans told me, budeokbudeok, isn’t just shape & u was correct in trying to address the ambivalence by saying that he could ‘hear’ the ivy.
    Thanks for your interest. i hope to do more in the future, but i find it very difficult. i do it as study practice really.

  3. Fascinating! While I agree with Lifecameos above I also enjoy the added depth and interest from the work around the translation. It makes me think of Donne and T.S Eliot in the UK and Derek Walcott, for example, in the Caribbean.

    1. i like the correlation with Walcott, i think it has that literary detachment from what may be a direct experience. i think Walcott is very good at that. i could see this as a piece nestled somewhere in White Egrets about a chalet in Switzerland he went to to discover things he already knew. Donne, can’t say, i stopped reeling into literary time a long time ago. i stop at Milton, because i actually feel he sounds somewhat modern. sounds ridiculous doesn’t it. & Eliot i am thoroughly intrigued in what lines you draw there as i don’t think his erudition is in this vein but i am very interested to know your thoughts.

  4. I think the Eliot connection was with the conversational tone of voice, “In January ..However I heard ..”last four lines, as both he and Eliot seem to give snippets of life with, as you say about Walcott, a detachment (or obliqueness!) that hints of greater feeling, someone said a bit like old fashioned photo slides, so that the reader has to work out links. I really like that, although I know some find it annoying, (and Eliot can sound condescending) Although I think Eliot suffers from “needing to be studied and translated” – why not just tell us like Wordsworth! – I think he uses snap shots of ordinary life that can stand alone and work together as well as acknowledging that he uses his academic intellect in each one. It must surely work as a reading as well as a studying and gaining more from in depth study. I am very out of practice at this sort of thing and have only read, “The Rainy Spell and other Korean Stories” (trans by Suh Ji-moon 1983!) so have no leg to stand on! (But each time I read your translation I think of Eliot even more!) And I will look out for other poems. Thank you for sending me back to some research!

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