Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
an online journal of literature and the arts
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translation from Hangul by Suphil Lee Park

A Small Cypress Boat


interpretive translation
On the billowing water
How long have you been marooned
Who was the first to cross here—
Unrivaled king of all kings


syllabic translation
Across the width of flowing water, a small cypress boat
How many years has it been marooned there at the blue crest
If people in later days ask who crossed it very first—
An emperor of all peoples, master of arts and war


literal translation


The popular interpretation is that Hwang is comparing herself to the boat, and her lover to the king, and that in so doing she describes a divide between the two—one marooned in a twilight zone and the other already gone out of the picture to venture further. But it’s also interesting to note that it is only by this vessel—boat—that the king was supposedly able to cross the river, and that the readers don’t get to see the king but the details of what took place are only testified by the speaker, the boat being the only witness.

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