July in my native place
Is the season of blue grapes ripening.
When the village legend grows in clusters,
The distant dreaming sky lies imbeded in each fruit;
When below the sky the blue sea bares its bosom,
A white sailer is softly shoved towards the shore;
The guest I've awaited is told to come
With his tired body in a blue robe.
In receiving him, if I pluck these grapes,
I do not mind drenching my two hands.
Child, on the silver platter upon our table,
Set out the white linen handkerchief.
Today, my chronic ill-breath drifts
Over the silver waves like the lazy moon.
Plantain, turn up your green collar
And wet the lips parching like this.
In the last days of ancient Saracen,
You were just two parting souls without a word.
At the end of sleeves unloosened by women,
The exquisite palm lines still weave dreams.
Watching far constellations or new flowers,
How often I drew lost seasons on the snow!
Rather a thousand years later, this autumn night
Let us time how long the sound of rain lasts.
If a rainbow stands somewhere in the dawn sky,
Let us step on the rainbow and part forever again.
Translated by J-Y Noh
Note on the Poet
Yi Yuk-sa (1904-1944)
Born in Dosan-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, the poet is a descendant of the renowned Neo-Confucian scholar Yi Hwang (1501-1570). He was named as Wonrok or Wonsam. Early in his life, he was taught Chinese classics by his grandfather. Then he graduated from Dosan public school in 1919, and went to Japan to study in 1924. After he spent one year in Japan, he went to China in 1926 and entered Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou province. At this time, he was named as Yi Hwal. Since then, he was actively engaged in the Korean national resistance movement against Japanese colonial rule and he was arrested several times, both in Korea and China. It is said that he took as his sobriquet his prisoner number "two-sixty-four" - "yi-yuk-sa", in Chinese characters. He died in a Japanese prison in Beijing. His book, Yuksa Sijip (Poems by Yi Yuk-sa) containing "Green Grapes" and "The Plantain", was posthumously published in 1946.