In Response to Me-Ahm’s Poem


Snow keeps falling and powdering chrysanthemums

But I’m sure where you are at the palace is warm

Alone in this cold house[1], I have the wine you sent

I’m full without eating from all my gratitude


Flowers flecked with snow

But I know you’re warm

This hot wine you sent

Soothes me in the cold

미암의 시에 차운하다


국화 꽃잎에 아무리 눈이 떨어지더라도

승정원에는 더운 방이 있을 테지요

추운 집에서 따뜻한 술을 받으니

깊은 고마움에 속이 다 든든하군요







[1] Superficially a letter expressing gratitude, this short poem contrasts the coldness of the room where Song’s alone, waiting for her husband, Me-Ahm, with the warm secretarial department at the royal palace where he works. Song’s known to have scolded her husband for exaggerating his generosity and his bragging about petty acts of kindness a number of times, and this hyperbolic poem, with its interesting, pointed contrast, takes on a rather sarcastic tone.

Translator’s Note: Korea has a long history of diglossia and linguistic oppression, from its wide use of Chinese characters for writing up until the mid-twentieth century to the Japanese colonial rule that banned the use of the Korean language in public. And back in the day, women weren’t given a voice let alone celebrated. Most of them were denied formal education, right to personal assets, freedom of choice or to travel, and often, even proper names. It’s a small miracle in itself that poems from the 16th-19th century Korean women poets have survived at all to this day, though countless others have been lost. In order to reflect Korea’s history of diglossia, I first translated the original poem, written originally in Hanja–Chinese characters–into Hangul, modern Korean, then finally into English. When possible, I provided three versions of translation in progress: the most elaborate, the one faithful to the original syllable count, and the most literal word-for-word one.

Song Deokbong (송덕봉 / 宋德峯) (1521-1578) was the first Korean woman poet to have put together her own collection of poems. While this collection didn’t survive the following centuries, some of her work was rediscovered in other texts and brought to light. She was born into a famous intellectual family some of whose members even married into the royal family, but seems to have married down. Scholars consider that her husband’s much less influential family must have kept her from reaching the same renown as Heo Nanseolheon (허난설헌 / 許蘭雪軒) and Sin Saimdang (신사임당 / 申師任堂) of the same period. She is known for her progressive thoughts and to have been good friends with Heo. When her husband was sent into exile because of a political scandal, she took care of her mother-in-law alone, although this was a time period when women were responsible for looking after her parents, not in-laws. Once her mother in law passed and the three-year-long mourning period ended, she moved to stay with her husband in exile for the next seven years.

Suphil Lee Park (수필 리 박 / 秀筆 李 朴) is the author of the poetry collection, Present Tense Complex, winner of the Marystina Santiestevan Prize (Conduit Books & Ephemera 2021), and a forthcoming poetry chapbook, Still Life, selected by Ilya Kaminsky as the winner of the Tomaž Šalamun Prize. She also won for her fiction Indiana Review Fiction Prize and received a fiction prize from Writer’s Digest. Born and raised in South Korea before finding home in the States, she holds a BA in English from NYU and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Texas at Austin. Her translations of Korean literature have appeared or are forthcoming in the Cincinnati Review, the Los Angeles Review, and New England Review, among others. You can find more about her at:

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