A Firefly by Kim Nam-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photographed by Chae-Pyong Song in Costa Rica

A Firefly by Kim Nam-ju

On the empty field
darkness thickens.
To my ears, water flows.
The sound is clear,
and a firefly on a grass field
stays awake and
flickers on and off.

Firefly, don’t sleep.
If your light disappears in this night,
who can I befriend?
With whom can I spend these dark times?

The night deepens
and at last
the eastern sky brightens.

The firefly has disappeared
and only I remain, alone—
at the end of darkness
I greet the morning that brightens.

The dew dangling on the grass
looks beautiful in the morning sunlight.

Someday in heaven
I will live as a poet
who sings about you, firefly,
reincarnated as the dew.

개똥벌레 하나/ 김남주

빈 들에
어둠이 가득하다.
물 흐르는 소리
내 귀에서 맑고
개똥벌레 하나 풀섶에서
자지 않고 깨어나 일어나
깜박깜박 빛을 내고 있다.

그래
자지 마라 개똥벌레야
너마저 이 밤에 빛을 잃고 말면
나는 누구와 동무하여
이 어둠의 시절을 보내란 말이냐

밤은 깊어가고
이윽고
동편 하늘이 밝아온다.

개똥벌레는 온데간데없고
나만 남아 나만 남아
어둠의 끝에서 밝아오는
아침을 맞이한다.

풀잎에 연 이슬이
아침 햇살에 곱다.

개똥벌레야
나는
네가 이슬로 환생했다고
노래하는 시인으로 살련다.
먼 훗날 하늘나라에 가서. . .

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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