She comes each morning
with the sea on her head.
Fresh oysters for sale, fresh oysters!
She cries like the sunlight,
Through there isn’t a puff of wind,
hands filled with thunderous storm clouds.
When will it rain,
When will it rain?
Her firm buttocks
are rolling breakers.
Faster than the dark,
lighter than a bird,
Lovely, so lovely,
she strides beside the sun.
~ Kang Ūn-gyo, trans. from Korean by Kevin O’Rourke
Kang Ŭn-gyo (1945 – present) explores themes including life and death, equality, the individual and the collective, as well as public matters such as the oppression and persecution people experienced in the late 1960s. She was one of the first Korean women poets to represent women “existentially” by writing about their bodies, their wrinkles, their sal (flesh) — entities often invisible and silenced in the patriarchal culture of the time. Ultimately, her poetic and professional achievements demonstrate that women are not to be underestimated.
Kevin O’Rourke, Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Kyunghee University, is an Irish priest who has lived in Korea since 1964. Kevin O’Rourke was the first foreign national to receive a PhD in Korean Literature from a Korean University. Much of his career has been spent translating works of Korean literature, both classical and contemporary, into English. In 1989, he won the Korean National Literature Prize for his translations of Korean poetry.
Kevin O’Rourke’s translation of ‘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.