One Pebble by Kim Nam-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

One Pebble by Kim Nam-ju

Between the sky and the earth
not a single breeze stirred, and I could not breathe.

That stifling, heart-wrenching day
my friend and I walked along the bank.
I told him we would become pebbles—
small stones
that would create a little ripple on the river
and disappear quickly.

On a dark night without sunlight
I told him we would become a spark—
a light
that would flicker like a firefly
and die out as soon as dawn breaks.

I didn’t ask my friend then,
how much of history would depend on the pebble?
I didn’t ask my friend then,
how much darkness would the light push away?
I was just content to have a friend
with whom I could share death.

돌맹이 하나/ 김남주

하늘과 땅 사이에
바람 한점 없고 답답하여라

숨이 막히고 가슴이 미어지던 날
친구와 나 제방을 걸으며
돌멩이 하나 되자고 했다
강물 위에 파문 하나 자그맣게 내고
이내 가라앉고 말
그런 돌멩이 하나

날 저물어 캄캄한 밤
불씨 하나 되자고 했다
풀밭에서 개똥벌레쯤으로나 깜박이다가
새날이 오면 금세 사라지고 말
그런 불씨 하나

그때 나 묻지 않았다 친구에게
돌에 실릴 역사의 무게 그 얼마일 거냐고
그대 나 묻지 않았다 친구에게
불이 밀어낼 어둠의 영역 그 얼마일 거냐고
죽음 하나 같이할 벗 하나 있음에
나 그것으로 자랑스러웠다

Kim Nam-ju (1946-1994) was born in Haenam, Jeollanam-do and studied English at Chonnam National University. He is known as one of the major resistance poets in South Korea, leading the people’s movement in the 1970s and 80s that ultimately toppled the dictatorship in Korea. Because of his activism, he was imprisoned twice, for more than ten years in total. In prison where paper and pencil were not allowed, he wrote many poems on milk cartons with the nail he made by grinding a toothbrush. These poems were later published in two collected volumes of his prison poetry, The Sunlight on the Prison Bar. His poetry bears witness to the tyranny of dictatorship and the hardships of the oppressed. He published such poetry collections as Requiem, My Sword My Blood, One Fatherland, The Weapon of Love and In This Lovely World. He received the Yun Sang-won Literary Award in 1993 and the National Literary Award in 1994. His poems have also been memorialized by Korean activist, rock singer An Chi-hwan in his album entitled “Remember.”


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