Two Poems

Sijo are a three-line Korean verse form, originally sung. Korean scholars started collecting them in the 18th century, though many date back much further. These two sijo were published in 1728, part of the first effort to do so. The poems in that collection (called the Cheonggu yeongeon) had no titles; the numbers mark their order. The Korean text here modernizes the extinct vowel “arae a,” but otherwise reproduces the way Korean looked three centuries ago.


사랑이 엇더터니 두렷더냐 넙엿더냐
기더냐 쟈르더냐 발을러냐 자힐러냐 
지멸이 긴 줄은 모르되 애 그츨만 하더라 

iainrainiihow is itRainrain?
Rainrainrainrainrainrainrainiiiraina footRainrainrain,
Rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainraiiiriiirainiia yardRainrainrii?
I don’t know
Rainrainrainrainiiabout “long,” butRainrain
it shreds gutsRain!


어이려뇨 어이려뇨 싀어마님아 어이려뇨 
쇼대남진의 밥을 담다가 놋쥬걱 잘를 부르쳐시니 이를 어이하려뇨 싀어마님아 
져 아기 하 걱졍 마스라 우리도 져머신 제 만히 것거 보왓노라

but what but what 
Rainrainrainraini ask my mother-in-law 
Rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainbut what should I do
scooping rice for a man not your son,
Rainrainrainrainthe brass spoon pierced the sack—
Rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainiiiwhat should I do, I ask her—
“child, don’t worryRaini—         
Rainrainrainrainrainraiiwhen we were young, Rainwe, too
Rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainbroke many a spoon” 

Spencer Lee-Lenfield’s previous translations of Korean poetry and prose have appeared in publications including Guernica, New England Review, The Dial, Asymptote, Colorado Review, and the Korean-focused specialty zine chogwa. His translation of contemporary Korean poet Shin Hae-uk’s work, under the title Biologicity, will appear with Black Ocean in late 2024. As a scholar of Korean and Korean American literature, his current research focuses on the history of literary translation between Korean and English in the Korean diaspora over roughly the past century. He is also an assistant editor at The Yale Review.