Kim Sowol

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Born August 6, 1902
Kusŏng, Phyŏnganbukto
Died December 24, 1934(1934-12-24) (aged 32)
Kwaksan, Phyŏnganbukto
Language Korean
Ethnicity Korean
Citizenship Japanese Empire
Korean name
Hangul 김소월
Hanja 金素月
Revised Romanization Kim So-wol
McCune–Reischauer Kim So-wŏl

Kim Sowol (1902–1934) is most famous for his contributions to early modern Korean poetry.[1] Throughout his life he wrote his beautifully poignant poetry in a style reminiscent of traditional Korean folk songs. "Azaleas" (진달래꽃) is one of his most famous poems. Its melancholy themes of departure and loss reminds one of the folk song Arirang. Because he used the music and tone of folk songs he became known as a "Folk Song Poet".


Kim Sowol was born on August 6, 1902 (on lunar calendar date) in Kwaksan, North Pyong'an Province and died on December 24, 1934.[2] Shortly after he was born his father became insane. This fact although tragic must have affected the poet's early life and eventually led to his own premature death. His grandfather taught him classical Chinese and entered him in the famed Osan Middle School (which also taught Baek Seok and Kim Eok( at the age of fifteen. He became a pupil of Kim Eok (김억; 金憶), pen-named Anso, who remained for the rest of his life not only his mentor but one who truly understood the growth and abrupt termination of his poetic genius. Kim Sowol’s real name was Kim Jeong-sik (김정식; 金廷湜).

In 1923 Kim went to Japan, apparently to study, but he returned to Seoul in that same year, where he stayed for the next two years attempting to build a career in literature. However, he returned to his native region, to the town of Namsai, where he worked as the manager of the local office of Dong-A Ilbo. His poems continued to appear in the newspaper, but their quality deteriorated and Kim's life descended to habitual drinking and a reported suicide in 1934.[3]


He wrote most of the poems contained in The Azaleas, his first and only collection of poetry published in his lifetime. It was written in 1925 while he was still a teenager. After graduating from Paejae High School, he taught for a while in his home town and then he went to Japan to study at a college of commerce. While studying he published several poems in Kaebyok and other literary journals. He continued to publish his poems after his return in such journals as Yongdae till his sudden death. He died in 1934 of what appears to be suicide. His teacher Anso published a volume of selected poems of Sowol in 1935.

These included his memoir and a critical essay, in which he points out that the poet's true genius lay in composing lines in the rhythm of Korean folk song, thereby making his poems come directly to the hearts of Koreans. The magical charm of Sowol's lines can barely be recaptured full in English translation, since the spirit of his poetry is conveyed in part through the sound of Korean folk tunes, which imposes an additional barrier on translation of his literary works to fit on English poetic rhythms, rhymes, and cadences.

Selected Illustration[edit]

"Azaleas (진달래꽃)"

나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
말없이 고이 보내 드리오리다.

 When thou leavest cloyed by my visage,
 Without a word, let me myself resign
 To sending thee dearly on thy passage.

영변(寧邊)에 약산(藥山)
아름 따다 가실 길에 뿌리오리다.

Azalea flowers of Yaksan in Yong-Byun,
Let me pluck an armful, and hith and yon
On thy path, let me spread them.

가시는 걸음 걸음
놓인 그 꽃을
사뿐히 즈려 밟고 가시옵소서.

Step after step on thy way,
Be pleased to have thy feet tenderly lay,
Trodden on those strewn flowers.

나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
죽어도 아니 눈물 흘리오리다.

When thou leavest cloyed by my visage
Let me myself manage
No tears at all, even o'er my dead body.

The meaning of this poem, the difficulty in translating it, and a suite of alternative translations are presented by the translator of Korean poems, Brother Anthony.[4]

Works in translation[edit]

  • The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry (한국현대시선집)
  • Fleurs d'azalée (진달래꽃)

Works in Korean (partial)[edit]

  • Poem <Wanderer's Spring>
  • Poem <Azaleas>
  • Poem <Mother and sister>
  • Poem <Invocation>
  • Poem <The Way>


  • Kim, J., 1975, Lost Love: 99 Poems by Sowol Kim, Pan-Korea Book Corporation: Seoul.
  • David R McCann, 2007, Azaleas, A book of Poems, by Kim Sowol (Columbia University Publication): New York.


  1. ^ "Kim Sowol" LTI Korea Datasheet available at LTI Korea Library or online at:
  2. ^ "김소월". Naver. Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Lee, Kyung-ho (1996). "Kim, So-Wol". Who's Who in Korean Literature. Seoul: Hollym. p. 265. ISBN 1-56591-066-4. 
  4. ^ An, Sonjae (1998). "Translating Korean Poetry". Modern Poetry in Translation, Vol 13. Retrieved 2014-07-09. 

External links[edit]