Trees Love through Their Roots

My translation of 나무들은 뿌리로 사랑을 한다 by 가인혜 (Ka In-hye):

Deep within the forest,
when I turn into a leaf
and empty myself,
I don’t notice the tree turning into a person,
telling me to get out.

The trees, which cannot walk outside,
probe beneath the earth, their gaze
lamenting the departed.

Refusing even light,
within the impenetrable darkness,
the trees love through their roots.

The darkness covers
even the unmendable wound
left by a flesh-tearing stone.

Through roots that never recede once grown,
the trees give a love that’s firmer than time.

Despite the fascination with questions of existence maintained by English-language poets as unalike as Richard Wilbur and Allen Ginsburg, the term existential poetry seldom appears as a genre label in English lit crit. In the Korean scene, though, the value of poetry—as a broad literary project—seems wed to its ability to elicit feelings of existential transcendence (in the Buddhist sense; see Ko Ŭn) or dread (see above).

Thus, critic Cho Wan-ho titles his essay on "Trees Love through Their Roots" (among other poems), "Existential Poetry, like the Whetstone that Grinds Smooth a Dull Knife," suggesting existential poetry as an essential poetry that keeps us sharp in the blunting fray of modern life. He writes,

Sometimes we are drenched in joy; other times we suffer conflict. Everyone hopes for their love to last forever, keeping its original form, but the reality is that in most cases, we hold these expectations in vain. For that reason, there are some who call love the root of all tragedy. In the face of this truth, Ka In-hye longs for the love that flows through the roots of trees. Such love, she says, "never recede[s] once grown" and stands "firmer than time."

Cho's essay is published (in Korean) alongside Kim's original poem in a collection (also called Trees Love through Their Roots) by the "Simjang" T'ongin ("Heartbeat" Collective). The above translation and an analysis of the poem will appear in my yet-untitled thesis, an exploration of tree symbolism and themes of existential ecology in contemporary Korean poetry.