Three Poems

Nansŏrhŏn Hŏ

An Alluring Encounter


I meet a woman on a city street—
we share an erotic conversation.
Forget the King's errand!
I turn my horse, gallop forward.


Rendezvous under the tavern's sign—
hitch my horse to a weeping willow.
Laughing, I unbutton my otter coat,
trade it for the most sensual wine.


Borrowing an Elder Brother's Poem for Seeing Star Temple


Clouds gather near peaks.
                        Lotus petals wet—
sunlit pines
on burnt umber cliffs
with dewy light.
                             Noon prayers end
in an airy shrine. A service for the dead
concludes in the main hall.
               A monk begins meditation.
      Cranes return to their pine tree nests.

               Vines drape an old temple;
wraiths moan through the walls.
      A sphinx lies sleeping
in an autumn pond. Dense fog
skims the surface.
             Night advances.

Incense candles flicker upon a stone bench.
In the eastern forest, the moon dims.
                                                               A peal
                     from the temple bell


I wash the jade shrine clean
to celebrate
      the King of Heaven.
                    In deep night
pale in a galaxy's river.
                          The floral scent of mountain nymphs
             in their stockinged feet
enjoying spring.
        Water trickles
like tears of King Sun's widows
        plucking harp strings
                 in night rain.
Wind in pines
   carries a stiffening cold.
I dream an empty dream
       in an empty room.

Zinnias, a scintillescent red in dew—
fog enshrouds a hilltop temple.
      All day, my calm heart
fully awake
      in samadhi—

I sit at a small table
in Sŏn meditation. 

In a Dream, Strolling Mulberry Mountain: Prologue to a Poem

        Spring 1585, an acquaintance died, so I visited my uncle's house. At night, I dreamed of climbing an island mountain of multi-colored jade. Peak after peak of white and blue jade glistened, so dazzlingly bright I could not look at them. A dense cloud of rainbows floated above the mountains in brilliant colors.
        Pure springs poured streams from the side of a cliff. The water fell between rocks: a pittering sound of necklace rings.
        I saw two women of near the same age, about 20, who were surely the most beautiful of a generation. One wore a violet glowing dress, while the other wore a dress of emerald—the inside fabric, a multi-hued haze. In their hands, they held golden bottles, each shaped like a curvaceous woman's body. They walked lightly on wooden sandals, and bowed to me.
        The women walked upwards along a winding stream, and I followed. Other-worldly flowers and grasses of a kind I could not name grew. Cranes, peacocks, phoenixes, and kingfishers all flew and pranced sprightly left and right. From the edge of a forest, ambrosial scents floated in the air around us.
        At last, we reached the peak. From the south to the east was the sea, touching the sky's horizon, so that they became a single blue. The ocean washed the reddening sun as it rose.
        A lucid lake lay in the mountain's peak. Sea-blue lotuses with wide leaves were half-withered by frost. The women said, "This is Wide Mulberry Mountain, the highest mountain in all ten directions of Heaven. You have affinity with mountain spirits, so you may dare to come here. Why not record this moment with a poem?"
        I declined, but they would not accept my reluctance; so I recited a poem in short form. The two women clapped and laughed, saying, "Every word is so heavenly!"
        A crimson cloud appeared, drifted down from the middle of the sky, hung near the peak's summit. A drum sounded—I woke, and tried to understand this dream. A smoky mist seemed to float near my pillow. Was I yet dreaming?
        I do not know if Li Po's poem "Strolling Heavenly Grandmother Mountain" can reach the height of the poem in my dream. I decided to write down my dream's poem. 

The Poem

A beryl-blue sea flows into a jade-green sea,
a peacock-colored phoenix mingles with a phoenix of golden opalescence.
Twenty-seven petals of a lotus succumb, bloom scarlet—
reflecting in ice, the moonlight, cold. 

translated from the Chinese by Ian Haight and T'ae-yong Hŏ

Editor's note: The poems were originally written in and have been translated from hansi, the traditional Korean use of Chinese characters in poetry.