Kim Jwajin – The Anguish Piercing My Innards

Kim JwajinKim Jwajin (金佐鎭, 김좌진, 1889-1930) was a Korean independence activist. He was of the Andong Kim Clan (安東金氏, 안동김씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Myeong’yeo (明汝, 명여); and his pen name (號, 호) was Baek’ya (白冶, 백야). He was born into an aristocratic family and entered the Korean Imperial Military Officers Academy (大韓帝國 陸軍武官學校, 대한제국 육군무관학교) in 1905. He later left in 1907 to join to the Korean Patriotic Enlightenment Movement (愛國啓蒙運動, 애국계몽운동), before emigrating to Manchuria in 1911 after the Japanese annexation of Korea. There Kim Jwajin lead an irregular army called the Northern Passage Military Administration Army (北路軍政署軍, 북로군정서군). The most famous battle he fought against the Japanese was the Battle of Cheongsanri (靑山里戰鬪, 청산리전투) in modern day Jilin province (吉林省, 길림성, Gillim Seong) China in 1920. He was an anarchist and formed a Korean anarchist community called the New Peoples’ Community (新民府, 신민부, Shinminbu) near modern day Ning’an (寧安, 영안, Yeong’an) in Heilongjiang Province (黑龍江省, 흑룡강성, Heukryeonggang Seong) China. Kim Jwajin was assassinated in 1930 by a Korean Communist, who was quickly caught and executed and whose identity remains unknown. He also wrote a number of Classical Chinese poems. In the poem below, he laments his departure from Korea.

 斷腸之痛 단창지통

The Anguish Piercing My Innards

刀頭風動關山月 도두풍동관산월
劍末霜寒故國心 검말상한고국심
三千槿域倭何事 삼천근역왜하사
不斷腥塵一掃尋 부단성진일소심

Along the blade of my knife, the wind sways the moon of my hometown’s mountains.
At the tip of my sword, the frost hardens a heart longing for the old country.
In the land of three thousand Li of hibiscus flowers, why are there Japanese barbarians?
I do not cut the foul dust, but in one swoop to strike!

Definitions:

Knife • head • wind • to sway • to be related • mountain • moon
Sword • end • frost • to be cold • old • country • heart
Three • thousand • hibiscus flowers • area • Japanese barbarians • why • affairs
Not • to cut • bloody • dust • one • to sweep • to subdue

Notes:

  • This is a not too common form of a pentasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句, 칠언절구), where the first line does not end with a riming character.
  • 斷腸(단창) – Literally means “cutting innards” or “cutting intestines.” Another translation is “heartbreak.”
  • 關山(관산) – Refers to the mountains near one’s hometown.
  • 槿域(근역) – Literally means “the land of hibiscus flowers.” A sobriquet for Korea.
  • 不斷(부단) – Literally means “to not decide” or “to not cut.” Can mean “ceaselessly” or “relentlessly.”
  • 尋(심) – More often means “to find” or “to investigate.” Here, it means “to strike” or “to subdue.”
5 comments
  1. A Reader said:

    It’s interesting to see how 斷腸 is translated in different contexts. The translation here sounds somewhat awkward. I, though crude and unrefined, would translate the title of this poem as “Heartbreaking Anguish” or, more literally, “The Pain of Heartbreak”.

    • 歸源 said:

      Those are also possible translations. I try to translate very literally and then put note. I should have included what you have suggested.

      • A Reader said:

        Yes, I also translate classical Chinese poetry on occasion and it’s always difficult to decide what and when to translate literally and when to find existing English terms. The main reason that I commented on the word choice in this poem is because, had I not read the background information and had I been relying solely on the English translation, I could have almost thought that the poet was making some vague reference to suicide.

        Thank you for your work, as always, it’s excellent.

      • 歸源 said:

        Understandable. Thank you.

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