Kim Sowol

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김소월(Kim Sowol)
Born 김정식(Kim Jeong Sik)
August 6, 1902
Kusŏng, Phyŏnganbukto, Korean Empire
Died December 24, 1934(1934-12-24) (aged 32)
Kwaksan, Phyŏnganbukto, Korean Empire
Occupation Poet
Language Korean
Ethnicity Korean
Citizenship Korean Empire
Alma mater Tokyo University
Genre Poem
Notable works "Azaleas"(진달래꽃)
Partner 홍단식(Hong Dan Sik)
Children 3 sons
Korean name
Hangul 김소월
Hanja 金素月
Revised Romanization Kim So-wol
McCune–Reischauer Kim So-wŏl

Kim Sowol (김소월, 1902 ~ 1934) is a Korean poet. He 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 (《아리랑》). 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, Korean Empire 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 (also the alma mater of 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 there, 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 touch directly the hearts of Koreans. The magical charm of Sowol's lines can barely be recaptured fully in English translation, since the spirit of his poetry is conveyed in part through the sound of Korean folk tunes, which imposes an additional challenge on the 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 manage
 To send thee dearly .

영변(寧邊)에 약산(藥山)
아름 따다 가실 길에 뿌리오리다.

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

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 flowers bestrewed.

나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
죽어도 아니 눈물 흘리오리다.

When thou leavest cloyed by my visage
Let me myself manage
No tears at all, over my dead body.

(English translation by MHLEE)

The meaning of this poem, the difficulty in translating it, and a suite of alternative translations are presented by other translators of above poem, such as 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]