A Chrysanthemum
(국화 옆에서)

poem by
Seo Jeong-ju (서정주)
year of publication
1947
poetry collection
Select Poems of Seo Jeong-ju (서정주 시선), 1956
국화 옆에서
A Chrysanthemum

한 송이의 국화꽃을 피우기 위해
Perhaps to flower a bloom of chrysanthemum
봄부터 소쩍새는
the owl has been hooting
그렇게 울었나 보다.
so much ever since the spring.

한 송이의 국화꽃을 피우기 위해
Perhaps to flower a bloom of chrysanthemum
천둥은 먹구름 속에서
thunder has been roaring
또 그렇게 울었나 보다.
all this while in the black clouds.

그립고 아쉬움에 가슴 조이던
A flower resembling my elder sister
머언 먼 젊음의 뒤안길에서
who is now standing before a mirror,
인제는 돌아와 거울 앞에 선
back from youth's distant byroads
내 누님같이 생긴 꽃이여.
of heartbreaking longing and regret.

노오란 네 꽃잎이 피려고
For your yellow petals to blossom
간밤엔 무서리가 저리 내리고
such a thick frost came down overnight
내게는 잠도 오지 않았나 보다.
and I couldn't get to sleep at all last night.
국화 옆에서

한 송이의 국화꽃을 피우기 위해
봄부터 소쩍새는
그렇게 울었나 보다.

한 송이의 국화꽃을 피우기 위해
천둥은 먹구름 속에서
또 그렇게 울었나 보다.

그립고 아쉬움에 가슴 조이던
머언 먼 젊음의 뒤안길에서
인제는 돌아와 거울 앞에 선
내 누님같이 생긴 꽃이여.

노오란 네 꽃잎이 피려고
간밤엔 무서리가 저리 내리고
내게는 잠도 오지 않았나 보다.

A Chrysanthemum

Perhaps to flower a bloom of chrysanthemum
the owl has been hooting
so much ever since the spring.

Perhaps to flower a bloom of chrysanthemum
thunder has been roaring
all this while in the black clouds.

A flower resembling my elder sister
who is now standing before a mirror,
back from youth's distant byroads
of heartbreaking longing and regret.

For your yellow petals to blossom
such a thick frost came down overnight
and I couldn't get to sleep at all last night.
picture-of-chrysanthemum
yellow chrysanthemum

A Chrysanthemum (국화 옆에서) is from Seo Jeong-ju (서정주)'s third poetry collection Select Poems of Seo Jeong-ju published in 1956. The works in this collection show a more mellow and reflective side compared with the fiery and intense poetry in his earlier works. The intervening time might have broadened and matured the poets views of the world.

A Chrysanthemum (By a Chrysanthemum or Beside a Chrysanthemum in literal translation) can be described as a contemplative look at the world, sort of an all-knowing observation of the force that underlies seemingly unrelated manifestations of nature we see around us. The musing in this work is thus often attributed to the Buddhist beliefs in determinism and karma, which is rather mythical to moderners accustomed to the prevalent science-dominated world view, unless one is already steeped in Buddhist teachings.

The work comes down to a subject more relatable in the third verse, about the narrator's sister who has returned from a long journey through her youth fraught with longings and regrets, and is now looking at herself in the mirror. This is the best part, in my opinion, of this popular poem, drawing the reader in to its imagery of angst-ridden ways of youth and later reflection on it, which is not only something everyone experiences in their life but likely the most fondly and wistfully remembered time of life. It appears to be a stroke of genius to present the hardly visible yet mysteriously real connections between disparate natural events together with these alternatingly intense and mature phases of our life. The two main themes make an oddly familiar connection in my mind, even as I don't clearly see why.

This is probably Seo Jeong-ju's best known and best loved work. Regardless of whether it is recognized as such by the critics, it is one every Korean learns in school and ends up loving in their youth. And I personally think it deserves every bit of the acclaim.

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Seo Jeong-ju (서정주)

A towering poet in modern Korean literature who left numerous masterworks characterized by extraordinary depth and breadth on a variety of subjects

aritist
Seo Jeong-ju (서정주, 徐廷柱), poet
pen name
Midang (미당, 未堂)
nationality
Korea
born
May 18, 1915, in Gochang, N. Jeolla Province, Korea
(전라북도 고창군)
died
December 24, 2000
genre
lyric poetry
major works
A Chrysanthemum (국화 옆에서)
Winter Sky (동천)
Self Portrait (자화상)
Gwichokdo (귀촉도)
Looking at Mount Moodeung (무등을 보며)
Flower Snake (화사)
The Bride (신부)
Leper (문둥이)
Prayer (기도)
Crane (학)