Up in some cleft in the hills
I’d go to be a nameless woman.
I’d put up gourds on the thatched roof,
Plant squash and pumpkins in the clearing,
Train up a hedge of wild roses,
Let the skies down into the yard, as much as I wanted,
Hug all the stars, all of them,
And not feel sad or alone
Even nights when the owls were crying.
Little village the trains left behind.
Snacking on soft candy from a brass bowl,
Telling village stories about the fox
Until late at night with the one I love,
I would be happy as a queen,
And the old shaggy dog would bark at the moon.
~ No Ch’ŏn-myŏng, trans. from Korean by David R. McCann
No Ch’ŏn-myŏng (1911 – 1957) was active in the 1930s as a poet, fiction writer, journalist, and public intellectual. In the turbulent literary landscape of the colonial era, No stood out with her distinctive voice in her writing. She refused to be a poetic object and asserted her identity as a woman speaker in her work. Despite her independent and strong personality, her poems often reveal her desire to hide or speak of the unspeakable.
David R. McCann is the Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature at Harvard University. He has published twenty-four books: anthologies, studies on Korean literary culture, translations of the poets Sowol, Pak Chaesam, Kim Chi Ha, Ko Un, Kim Namjo, and So Chongju, as well as four collections of his own poetry.
David R. McCann’s translation of ‘Nameless Woman’ originally appeared in ‘The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry’, ed. David R. McCann (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004). The editors wish to thank Columbia University Press for generously granting permission to republish the translation here.