Kisaeng poems

Five Sijo


We parted ways in tears, entwined,
as pear blossoms swirled like snow.
Do you think of me still
when the leaves of autumn twirl?
Due to the expanse between,
we meet in our respective dreams.

I spill into the spirits
I’ve poured for you to drink,
warming you at every corner
I turn in your viscera,
poised to forget my body
and how to live in it without you.

If I could bridle the wild geese
as the mountain winds can,
I would teach them the routes to you
with clarity and cleverness.
Then my midnight thoughts of you
could take to the skies your way.

You linger at my window
as your lantern nears its ashes.
You hold me through the night
until the morning bell chimes five.
My bones will one day join the dust,
yet we will not dissolve.

The crimson of my heart
is the paint for your profile.
I make it so you are displayed,
so you are present where I sleep.
My frugal way of seeing you
as you frequent my thoughts.
Five Hansi


Alone, I pick the strings of my aged bipa,
thoughts sing and spring forth without ceasing.
That this song may catch and carry you to me,
I’ve tuned it to your faraway flute.

The cold doesn’t always retreat in springtime.
I mend clothes by my window as it frames stars,
and from my bowed head, tears tumble.
The sewing thread drowns silently.
Lamentation from the Sickbed 1

I do not lie here with spring fever,
I lie with the agony of your leave.
I hate to speak of this brief life’s misery,
what cannot be helped is an unfoldable emotion.
Lamentation from the Sickbed 2

Such numerous rumors with many estuaries,
each mouth has no equal in its ignorance.
Such han, such grief, such hurt—I prefer
to be bedridden behind a shut door.
Gangnam Song, Part 3

Rainfall arrived one windy midnight
to the envy of the plum blossom and willow.
To raise my glass and bid you farewell
is an act I cannot bear in my being.
—Yi Maechang
Four Hansi


Our paths connect only
behind closed eyes.

You arrived to find
I had left to find you.

Unsynchronized slumber—
another time, another try,

or perhaps we’ll meet midway
on our ways back tonight.
Half-Moon Song

Jiknyeo chisels her comb
with jade cut from mountaintops.
After her one licit night with Gyeonwu,
she shatters it across the sky.
Song of Songdo

In the midst of the snow,
the light of Goryeo hovers.

An icy temple bell resounds
echoes of the old kingdom.
The southern tower stands,
in solitude, as I am,

and beyond the ruins below,
I watch chimneys bloom.
Thoughts of Manwoldae

An old temple sits forlornly
by a brook from the palace.

The evening sun bids
a sad farewell to the trees.

This tranquil season dissipates
into only monks’ dreams,

leaving time, layered in ice,
atop a broken pagoda.

The phoenix has departed,
the everyday sparrow in its stead.

Cattle and sheep pull at the grass
of ruins overflowing with azaleas.

As I remember Songak Mountain’s
flourishing and flowering youth,

I realize how much spring
could instead resemble autumn.

—Hwang Jini
[Translated from the Korean by Ainee Jeong]
[1] A dream in longing for one’s lover.