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“Bongbyeolgi” by Yi Sang


ⓒ Getty Images Bank

I was twenty-three. It was March and I threw up blood. 

I trimmed the mustache I had carefully grown for six months, leaving only a butterfly-sized portion of it, and went to a remote hot spring, taking with me a package of medicinal herbs. I wouldn’t have minded dying there. 

But the youth that hadn’t blossomed yet inevitably clung to a traditional pharmacist and begged him to save me. Under the cold light of the inn, I believed every night that I had been shortchanged.

지어 가지고 온 약은 집어치우고

나는 금홍이를 사랑하는 데만 골몰했다.

못난 소린 듯 하나 사랑의 힘으로 각혈이 다 멈췄으니까.

I forgot all about the medicine I had and focused only on loving Geum-hong. It might sound foolish, but the power of love stopped me from vomiting blood.

나는 금홍이에게 놀음채를 주지 않았다.

왜? 날마다 밤마다 금홍이가 내 방에 있거나 

금홍이 방에 내가 있거나 했기 때문에...

But I never paid Geum-hong any money. Why? Because she was always in my room, or I was always in hers. 

그 대신.. 우(禹)라는 불란서 유학생을 나는 금홍이에게 권하였다.

금홍이는 내 말대로 우씨와 더불어 독탕에 들어갔다.

이 독탕이라는 것은 좀 음란한 설비였다.

Instead, I introduced a student named Woo studying in France to Geum-hong. Just as I told her to, she went to take a private bath with Woo. That private bathtub was a rather obscene facility. 

나는 또 내 곁방에 와 묵고 있는 C라는 변호사에게도 금홍이를 권하였다.

C는 내 열성에 감동되어 하는 수 없이 금홍이 방을 범했다.

I also recommended her to Attorney C who was staying in the room next to mine. C was so grateful that he stole into Geum-hong’s room. 

그러나 사랑하는 금홍이는 늘 내 곁에 있었다.

그리고 우, C 등등에게서 받은 십 원 지폐를 여러 장 꺼내놓고

어리광 섞어 내게 자랑도 하는 것이었다. 

Nonetheless, my beloved Geum-hong stayed by my side. She coyly showed off several ten-won banknotes that she had received from Woo and Attorney C. 

# Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong

The title “Bongbyeolgi” means meetings and farewells. One interesting feature of this story is that the two characters repeat the process of coming together and then saying goodbye. They were not even emotionally distraught to break up, just casual in their meetings and partings. This story shows that life in the colony during the chaotic 1930s is futile as indicated in the lyric “We’re in a dream even when I’m deceived and we’re in a dream even when he is deceived. Let this meandering, transient world set fire to my darkened heart.” These lines seem to say that life in colonized Joseon is miserable anyway and deception is not a big deal in such a transient life. This is why Yi Sang remained nonchalant no matter what happened to him. That means that he was able to survive this chaotic and meaningless time only by taking such a casual attitude toward life.  

술상을 보아 왔다.

She brought in a portable table with drinks and snacks. 

나도 한 잔 먹고 금홍이도 한 잔 먹었다.

나는 영변가를 한 마디 하고 금홍이는 육자배기를 한마디 했다.

I had a shot, and she had a shot. I sang a line from a song, and she sang a line from a different song.

밤은 이미 깊었고, 

우리 이야기는 이 생(生)에서의 영이별이라는 결론으로 밀려갔다.

The night deepened and our conversation eventually flowed toward the conclusion that we would have to be separated forever in this life. 

금홍이는 은수저로 소반전을 딱딱 치면서

내가 한 번도 들은 일이 없는 구슬픈 창가를 한다.

Geum-hong sang a sad song that I had never heard before, while rhythmically tapping the small table with a silver spoon. 

“속아도 꿈결 속여도 꿈결

 굽이굽이 뜨내기 세상

 그늘진 심정에 불질러 버려라” 

“We’re in a dream even when I’m deceived and we’re in a dream even when he is deceived. Let this meandering, transient world set fire to my darkened heart.” 

Yi Sang (Born in Seoul, Aug. 20, 1910~Apr. 17, 1937)

Debuted with “December 12th” in 1930

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