Extreme Emptiness by Moon Tae-jun

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Darcy Brandel

Photographed by Darcy Brandel

Extreme Emptiness by Moon Tae-jun

I planted young radishes
but being lazy I missed the roots and stems emerging
I barely caught the flowers
white radish flowers were everywhere in the space
Did you plant the flower garden in the vegetable garden?
neighbors asked and I hesitated to answer
After this conversation, one butterfly
and another butterfly along with the first
a flock of butterflies like white radish flowers
landed on white radish flowers
setting down their fragile feet
briefly for three or five seconds or
perhaps an even longer time to them
folding their wings, calming the wind
sitting comfortably
they seemed to sleep a light sleep
This place I gave away so they could set their feet
this knee I gave away so they could sleep a light sleep
I did not have such a place while living
Though my radish garden is a flower garden
at last, I lost even the flowers to the butterflies

극빈/ 문태준

열무를 심어놓고 게을러
뿌리를 놓치고 줄기를 놓치고
가까스로 꽃을 얻었다 공중에
흰 열무꽃이 파다하다
채소밭에 꽃밭을 가꾸었느냐
사람들은 묻고 나는 망설이는데
그 문답 끝에 나비 하나가
나비가 데려온 또 하나의 나비가
흰 열무꽃잎 같은 나비 떼가
흰 열무꽃에 내려앉는 것이었다
가녀린 발을 딛고
3초씩 5초씩 짧게짧게 혹은
그네들에겐 보다 느슨한 시간 동안
날개를 접고 바람을 잠재우고
편편하게 앉아 있는 것이었다
설핏설핏 선잠이 드는 것만 같았다
발 딛고 쉬라고 내줄 곳이
선잠 들라고 내준 무릎이
살아오는 동안 나에겐 없었다
내 열무밭은 꽃밭이지만
나는 비로소 나비에게 꽃마저 잃었다

(Originally published in Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature and Culture 4)

moontaejunphotoMoon Tae-jun (1970-) has published four collections of poetry: Chattering Backyard (2000), Bare Foot (2004), Flatfish (2006), and Shadow’s Development (2008) as well as other essays and commentary. One of the most popular poets of the younger generation, Moon uses deceptively simple poetic language with profound lyricism, commenting on the struggle of daily life. Grounded in Buddhist philosophy, his poems speak with reverence for all forms of life and emphasize the necessity of emptying oneself. Moon is a recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Dongseo Literature Award (2004), the Midang Literature Award (2005), and the Sowol Poetry Award (2007).

4 thoughts on “Extreme Emptiness by Moon Tae-jun

  1. Absolutely clueless, searching the web for Korean poetry, I found this site and this poem. Its picture is so fragile and yet it hits with such a force… Wow!
    Thank you very much for keeping up this site, I am so happy I found it, and will come back to it from time to time.

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