That Unforgettable Time and Place of Your Life - Boulder Pass (바위고개) and Before That House (그 집앞)

Bouldre Pass 1

Boulder Pass (바위고개) and Before That House (그 집앞) from the 1930s and 40s are songs about remembrance and nostalgia. We are each a being that remembers, living a life defined foremost by time and place, with all major events recorded in our brains, building up one’s unique world over the course of life. And thus comes the poignant, heart tugging nostalgia, the desire to go back, to relive the time that exists only in our heads. Many songs are about this almost reflexive yearning for the past, for someone you had to part with, some place you loved dearly but had to leave behind, and so on. Of these, a yearning for your loved one would be the most precious of all, and these songs depict such a sentiment in the most beautiful way one can imagine.


바위고개 언덕을 혼자 넘자니
옛님이 그리워 눈물납니다
고개 위에 숨어서 기다리던 님
그리워 그리워 눈물납니다

바위고개 피인 꽃 진달래꽃은
우리 님이 즐겨즐겨 꺾어주던 꽃
님은 가고 없어도 잘도 피었네
님은 가고 없어도 잘도 피었네

바위고개 언덕을 혼자 넘자니
옛님이 그리워 하도 그리워
십여 년 간 머슴살이 하도 서러워
진달래꽃 안고서 눈물집니다

Boulder Pass

Going over the Boulder Pass hill by myself
I shed a tear missing my old sweetheart
The one who used to wait hiding on the hill
Missing her, longing for her I shed a tear

The azalea flowers in bloom at Boulder Pass
Like those my sweetheart loved to pick for me
In such full bloom even though she is gone
In such full bloom even though she is gone

Going over the Boulder Pass hill by myself
Missing my sweetheart, missing her so much
So sorrowful from ten long years of servitude
I shed a tear holding the azaleas to my heart

그 집앞

오가며 그 집앞을 지나노라면
그리워 나도 몰래 발이 머물고
오히려 눈에 띌까 다시 걸어도
되오면 그 자리에 서졌습니다

오늘도 비 내리는 가을 저녁을
외로이 이 집앞을 지나는 마음
잊으려 옛날일을 잊어버리려
불빛에 빗줄기를 세며갑니다

Before That House

Passing before that house on my way
I would stop despite myself out of longing
Resuming my walk mindful of being seen
I'd stop in front of it again on my way back

Once again on this rainy autumn evening
I pass before the house rueful and lonely
Trying to forget memories of the old times
I walk counting the raindrops in the light

Boulder Pass Stone

To paraphrase the well known lines, we might say we remember, therefore we exist, or we are what we remember. We are each a bundle of memories, aren’t we. That is why there seem to be an endless array of songs that yearn for that special one in our heart, usually the erstwhile sweetheart one had to part with. It is only natural if we think about it since there really isn’t that much in life apart from the relationships with the loved ones, especially one with that so-called other half of oneself.

In Korea, such pain tinged nostalgia is all the more common owing to her turbulent history in the 20th century. The past century opened with the grim reality where the nation was like a quivering flame before a wind gust (바람 앞의 등불), lost for direction and surrounded by at least four mighty world powers (Japan, China, Russia, the USA) vying to take as big a bite of the country as they can. Korea’s sovereignty was eventually lost to Japan, and it inevitably brought on monumental, life altering changes to everyone. This political and social upheaval caused so much heart rending experience for many, such as being forced to leave one’s long established hometown where they lived for generations for an unfamiliar, faraway place, frequently in a foreign country, which would entail parting with your loved ones while resolving to come back soon, which however very often would never come to pass. Thus so many people ended up carrying in their hearts someone to reunite with and someplace to go back to, be it a real and urgent wish or just remnants of an already dashed hope. It is not surprising at all then that there are so many sad, heartbreaking songs of this sort.

Boulder Pass is one of such tear inducing sad songs. The male narrator is climbing the hill by himself shedding tears, as it is the very place of so much memory for him and his sweetheart, who has now gone away after a decade of separation owing to his conscription to forced labor. While details are not specified, one can imagine what they might have been in light of the actual history. Stories of such forced separation and ensuing heartbreaks were all so commonplace as to be a normal way of life until the mid 20th century.
Sadly, there is nothing this unfortunate person can do other than tearfully holding the azaleas to his heart reminiscing on the one who used to like to pick the same flowers to give him.

Before That House

Before That House (그 집앞) has a similar theme, if not as explicit. It appears the object of his love, whom either he had to part with or couldn’t even get into a meaningful relationship with, still lives in the same town right on the route he takes all the time. He thus passes before the house where the object of of his yearning lives occasionally. His hankering mind makes him stop there not even thinking, held sway by his subconscious desire, and then he suddenly realizes where he is and hurriedly collects himself and leave so as not to be seen. In the second verse, he is there again on a rainy evening pensively remembering her, he pauses and then resumes his walk counting the raindrops in the light to forget the past. Doesn’t this scene just reach out and grab your heart. I can imagine the pang of sadness that must be gripping him.

These two similar themed songs touch the beautiful and innocent corner of the human heart, depicting the kind of most poignant kind of anecdotes of our past we might cherish inside. Both the words and music are heartbreakingly beautiful in a traditional and understated way. That’s probably why they have been perennial favorites of the Korean people for a long time, enough for one of them to have its own little monument and to be on the textbook.


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