Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Melanie Steyn
The Seat by Kim Nam-ju
The ringleader of the massacre now
sits on a royal seat.
The ringleader of people who rose up against the massacre
now sits on a prison seat.
Which seat is more comfortable?
Which seat is more honorable?
학살의 수괴가 지금
옥좌(玉座)에 앉아 있다
학살에 반대하여 들고 일어선 민중들의 수괴도 지금
옥좌(獄座)에 앉아 있다
어느 자리가 더 편안한 자리이고
어느 자리가 더 떳떳한 자리이냐.
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.