Monday, 24 September 2018

Iron, We Were Told - Chinok

Iron, we were told; iron had arrived again.
Sure, I remembered brittle pig iron,
but your close, cold surface told me iron
again that was hammered and annealed.
This time I will use a furnace of earth, bellows
of such breath you will not withstand the fire.

Chinok (date unknown, poss 17th century) Korea
Translated by Constantine Contogenis and Choe Wol-Hee
Source: Songs of the Kisaeng: courtesan poetry of the last Korean dynasty by Hwang Jini et al, Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2016

This poem was written by a kisaeng - a combination of professional entertainer, performing artist, and courtesan. The kisaeng (sometimes called “skilled women”) were selected from the lower classes for their beauty, youth, and talent and were forced to work for what was, in effect, the government performing-arts bureaucracy. The poem (in its original) uses a three-line structure called Sijo.

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