Teamwork Recreates Korean Poems in English
By Sa Eun-young
Poet Ko Jae-jong's poems have been rendered into English through the collaboration of an American and Korean, a feat for which they earned grand prize in the poetry category of the 2007 Korean Literature Translation Awards. Yoon Chae-eun, 24, and William Morley, 25, admitted that it was not an easy task yet an extremely rewarding one to translate Ko's poems, but the enormous respect they had for the poems helped carried through their efforts.
The two friends met in 2003 when Yoon, then an English Literature and Politics major at Ewha Womans University, went to the United States to volunteer at a camp for the disabled where Morley was also helping out. They kept in touch until Morley, also a literature major at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, came to Korea in 2006 amid travels around Asia.
As Morley was not fluent in Korean, Yoon set out to select a piece, which she confessed was one of the toughest parts of the competition.
``I remember spending over a week to find the right poet until I stumbled on a Ko Jae-jong piece at the library at work," Yoon said, who has been working at the Human Rights Commission for the past two years. ``What led me to finally decide on translating his poems was his biographical essay at the back of the book. I was really touched."
The biographical essay shared the life of the poet who was born into a poor family of nine siblings in Jeolla Province. Ko had a voracious appetite for reading and grew up to become a voice for farmers through his poems.
``It seemed like a good decision to me. She made a couple of rough translations of different poets, and when she showed me his poems, I was really excited," Morley said. ``I could tell that it had a great connection to nature, which I loved," he added.
Yoon would translate the poems into English, while Morley worked to make ``music with the words," as they continuously fine-tuned the work to come as close to the original piece as possible. They communicated mostly by email and over the phone. It was no coincidence that they chose to translate poetry as Morley shared that he reads poetry constantly and even writes it.
``These days I write a lot of poems about Korea. I can't help it; it has become a part of me," he said.
As for Yoon, she was inspired to translate poetry when she took ``Modern British and American Poetry" taught by Professor Kim Joon-hwan, when she was at Ewha. One assignment was to write a poem in Korean and translate it into English. ``I learned a lot about poetry and it really broadened my horizons. I think the training I received from the class was a huge help," Yoon said.
This is not to say that translating the poems was free from challenges. ``The poet is a Jeolla-native, so some original Korean terms were some that I had never heard of in my life," Yoon said. Morley also had difficulties with the language, especially the onomatopoeia. ``I had a problem with sweeping the snow in ``To Poverty" (which both picked as their favorite)― the tsktsktsk sound. I knew there would be no sound like that in English."
If opportunity allowed, Yoon said she would like to do translations in the future. ``Just as the purpose of this translation contest is to introduce Korean literature to the world, it would be an honor to be able to play a role in spreading our literature."