Lines of Grass 풀줄: Two Poems on the Roots Far Away?

Standing in the subway this morning, I came across an interesting poem, on the screen of my phone.

grass at sungshin uni copyIt was the title that made me read it twice: “Das Gras” (The Grass, 풀) is almost similar* to Korean “participant” poet Kim Su-yeong‘s (김수영, 1921–68) last, and probably most famous poem 풀 (Grass) from May 29 1968, less than three weeks before his death in a traffic accident. (Find out more about Kim Su-yeong, or Kim Su-yŏng in McCune-Reischauer-spelling, on Brother Anthony’s homepage.) “Grass” is also referenced abundantly in our 2015 pink factory year book, it is from artists like Hwang Sejun (황세준), Park Chan-Kyong (박찬경), and Kim Yong-ik (김용익) that I learned about this poem.

While Kim’s hymn on the roots of the ruled class offers a straight-on political allegory, with the grass as a resistant subject, in the German poem (presented anonymously, but the file name yields the author: Hans Thill) the grass is passive, something you stand in, take with you, don’t walk through twice, at one point a bit reminiscent of Piplotti Rist’s floral club, still a dead, yet carnal weapon in a striking hand. (There is an allusion, though, to the collective ‘we’ – a “growing grass-we” – in the last verse, as a comment notes.) Kim pits the grass against the wind – the striking blows of authority? – and, by chance?, another poem in the “Hundertvierzehn Gedichte”-webproject by the S. Fischer publishing house (where first I stumbled upon Thill’s “The Grass”) is on wind – the title needs no English translation: “Wind (Tehran)” (바람 (테헤란) by Ilma Rakusa. Here, it is more a wind of change – unexpected, chaotic, ruthless – that “turns the leaves”.

art space poolCoincidentally, I read these poems on the day when minjung painting-veteran Kim Jung Heun’s (김정헌) first solo exhibition in years opened, not coincidentally at Alternative Art Space Pool (대안공간 풀), that is – of course – named after Kim Su-yeong’s poem. I always thought of it as a swimming pool for rising artists.

Instead of offering more superfluous interpretations, I rather compiled two translations of a few lines from Kim Su-yeong’s poem (the iconic middle part), by Brother Anthony and the late Kim Young-Moo as well as Young-Jun Lee. I also translated a few lines from the German texts myself.

김수영, 풀 Kim Su-yeong, Grass Kim Su-yeong, Grasses

풀이 눕는다
바람보다도 더 빨리 눕는다
바람보다도 더 빨리 울고
바람보다 먼저 일어난다

The grass is lying flat.
It lies flat more quickly than the wind.
It weeps more quickly than the wind.
It rises more quickly than the wind.

Grasses lie
Faster than the wind they lie
Faster than the wind they cry
Earlier than the wind they rise
transl. Brother Anthony & Kim Young-Moo transl. Young-Jun Lee

* see below for detailed credits of the translations

Hans Thill, Das Gras

Ich trage das Gras bei mir wie einen Namen, der fleischlich ist
und somit Wort von meinem Wort. Ich gehe über die Straße
weil ich drüben ein Anderer bin, der mit seinen Halmen
die Autos dekoriert. Die Ideen

liegen in der Vergangenheit. …


Hans Thill, The Grass

I carry the grass with me like a name turned into flesh
and thus word of my word. I walk across the street
because over there I’m someone else who with his blades
decorates the car. The ideas

lie in the past. …


한스 틸, 풀

나는 풀을 살의 이름처럼 가지고 간다,
내가 한 말의 말인 풀. 나는 길을 건너 간다
저쪽에서 타자티까, 나의 풀잎으로
자동차들을 장식한다. 사상들은

과거에 누워 있다. …


Ilma Rakusa, Wind (Tehran) Ilma Rakusa, Wind (Tehran) 일마 라쿠사, 바람 (테헤란)

du weinst
du weinst nicht aus Trauer
du weinst Wind
er hat keinen Namen
er tut was er will

you weep
you weep not for grief
you weep wind
that has no name
but its own mind

너는 운다
너는 비통으로 울지 않는다
너는 바람을 운다
이름없는 바람
마음대로 부르는 바람


— 17 March 2016 (木)

* Credits of the two English translations of 풀:

“Grass” (middle): Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Kim Young-Moo, “Ten Poems of Kim Su-yŏng”, in Korea Journal 37.1 (Spring 1997), p. 141. [Link] Reprinted in Variations: Three Korean Poets by Kim Su-Young, Shin Kyong-Nim and Lee Si-Young, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Kim Young-Moo, Cornell East Asia Series, 110. Ithaca: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 2001 (bilingual edition). 328 pp. (ISBN 1-885445-10-5, paper, $19.00). [Link]

“Grasses” (right): Translated by Young-Jun Lee, quoted in “Korea, Poetry of”, in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics (4th Edition), edited by Roland Greene et al., Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012, p. 778. [Link], [Google Books]



About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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