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“The Water Wheel” by Na Do-hyang


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When the water flows into the water sluice with a thump and then spilled out over the heavy water wheel to lift it with a thud, the laborers’ nasal twangs are heard plaintively from inside the mill where the white chaff is settled in layers. 

Swish, swish, swish. The water turns into marbles, then into silver sparkles, then stretches out like bamboo stalks before pouring down with a bang to turn into blue and white dragons that soar toward the corner of a mountain for ten li. And then the water comes back to traverse through the center of a field for five li before passing by Bang-won’s village where there is a water mill.

 “너도 알다시피 내가 너를 장난삼아 그러는 것도 아니겠고

 후사가 없어 그러는 것이니까, 네가 내 아들이나 하나 낳아주렴.

 그러면 내 것이 모두 네 것이 되지 않겠니?

 자아, 그러지 말고 오늘 허락을 하렴.

 그러면 내일이라도 방원이란 놈을 내쫓고 너를 불러들일 터이니” 

“Come on, I’m not playing around with you. You know I’m doing this because I have no son. Why don’t you bear one for me? Then wouldn’t everything that belongs to me become yours? Come now, why don’t you say yes? Then I’ll kick Bang-won out as early as tomorrow and take you in.” 

“어떻게 내쫓을 수가 있어요.” 

“How are you going to throw him out?” 

“허어, 그것이 그리 어려울 것이 무엇 있니.

 내가 나가라는데 제가 나가지 않고 배길 줄 아니?” 

“That won’t be so hard. What can he do if I tell him to leave?”

# Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong

A water wheel is usually located far from a village. It was often used as a rest stop for travelers or a secret rendez-vous spot for lovers. This story shows how poverty in rural communities in the 1920s changed people’s ethical sense toward sex. The water wheel’s traditional meaning and sexual connotations served to link economic issues and eroticism. This period was when capitalistic modernization took place in Joseon. Na Do-hyang wanted to show how poverty and money problems destroyed love and the depravity of carnal desires through this tragic story. 

“옛날과 같이 나하고 멀리멀리 도망을 가자.

나는 참으로 나의 칼로 너를 죽일 수는 없다.”

“Why don’t we run far, far away like we did before? I can’t bear to kill you with my own hands.” 

“싫어요.  나는 죽으면 죽었지 가기는 싫어요.

이제 나는 그렇게 구차하고 천한 생활을 다시 하기는 싫어요.” 

“No, I’d rather die than go with you. I never want to live such a pathetic, low life again!” 

“너의 입으로 정말 그런 말이 나오느냐?

 너는 나의 모든 것을 다 잃어버리게 한 후에 

 세상에서 지옥이라고 하는 감옥소에까지 가게 하였지.

 그러고도 나의 맨 마지막 원을 들어주지 않을 테냐?”

“How can you say that? You made me lose everything I had, and you even made me to go to prison. It was hell on earth! Yet you still refuse to hear my last wish?” 

“나는 언제든지 당신 손에 죽을 것까지도 알고 있소.

 오늘 죽으나 내일 죽으나 언제든지 죽기는 일반,

 이렇게 된 이상 나를 죽이시오.”

“I always knew that I would die by your hands. I’m going to end up dead anyway, so why don’t you just kill me now.” 

방원은 칼끝을 계집의 옆구리를 향하고 힘껏 내밀었다.

칼자루를 든 손이 피가 몰리는 바람에 우르르 떨리더니 피가 새어 나왔다.

방원은 그 칼을 빼어 들더니 계집 위에 거꾸러져서

가슴을 찌르고 절명하여 버렸다.

Bang-won thrusts his knife deep into the girl’s side. Blood gushes over his shaking hand still holding the knife. Bang-won pulls out the knife and then, pointing it toward his heart, falls on top of the girl, ending his own life instantly. 

Na Do-hyang (Born in Seoul, Mar. 30, 1902~Aug. 26, 1927)

Debuted with “Delight” in 1921

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