The Moon and the Stone

December 10, 2010

This translation was first published with an audio reading by the poet herself in Asymptote Journal (April 2011).

The Moon and the Stone

The stone that is getting cold
was found when I wandered through the dark woods
and put on the window sill.

The stone that is getting cold
has shone in the dark room
and brightened my brow when I gazed upon it.

Under its round light,
I have forgiven my darkness
and silence rolled into a tender ball.

Did a wild cat sleep with its head on the stone?
The stone that is getting cold
has raised the cat’s dream into soap bubbles.

Purple rain falls
and the axe of a thunderbolt
cuts down trees in the forest;

meanwhile, my hand
is getting cold on the stone.

I soon come to wonder
about all the rest, the dark side
of a half-moon.

Lee Sung-Mi
(Translated from Korean by Gwee Li Sui)

How do we accept our weaknesses and forgive the darkness that stalks our failings? Lee speaks here of the healing that moonlight brings, and she describes it in terms of the way moonlight is transmuted through the elixir of a cold stone. This stone is found on her own Dantesque passage through the dark woods and stands in for some measure of her lived pain and mundane struggles.

Yet, moonlight, as we know, is the sun’s reflected glory. When Lee finds inner clarity through a visual and then tactile contact with the stone, it is an experience she welcomes through the light’s further reflection on the stone. So reflection is doubled here and means both mediation and mirroring, what shows us reality in a clearer but also more illusory way. The stone can raise a wild cat’s dream into soap bubbles; it opens up desires to an awareness of life’s essential ghostliness.

The stone’s hardness and coldness thus point to the same paradox of being. The hard stone functions best by reflecting; the stone growing cold is a conveyor of light. Strengthening knowledge is achieved through stoicism in the face of what threatens to break us anew. All that we feel is too real can always be exposed as trivial — if only we dare to raise the quality of our own thoughts. Even this medium of illumination need not be spared; the nourished soul comes to contemplate on, and embrace, the moon’s own dark side.

Gwee Li Sui

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