That poem in ‘Because This Is My First Life’


There are a lot of reasons I loved Because This Is My First Life. Like, a lot.

One of them is Jiho’s penchant for making literary allusions and using extended metaphors to express her complicated thoughts and feelings. This was a nice bit of character development, I thought; even though Jiho doesn’t work as a writer for a good chunk of the show, that side of her still comes through to the viewer.

There are two main works which Jiho alludes to in the show. One of them is the poem <방문객> (“The Visitor”) by Korean poet 정현종. The poem appears in his 2009 anthology <섬> (Island).



사람이 온다는 건
실은 어마어마한 일이다.
그의 과거와 현재와
그의 미래와 함께 오기 때문이다.
한 사람의 일생이 오기 때문이다.
부서지기 쉬운
그래서 부서지기도 했을
마음이 오는 것이다―그 갈피를
아마 바람은 더듬어볼 수 있을
내 마음이 그런 바람을 흉내낸다면
필경 환대가 될 것이다.

The Visitor

The coming of a person
is, in fact, a tremendous feat.
Because he
comes with his past and present
with his future.
Because a person’s whole life comes with him.
Since it is so easily broken
the heart that comes along
would have been broken ― a heart
whose layers the wind will likely be able to trace,
if my heart could mimic that wind
it can become a hospitable place.

[I’m appending a million caveats onto this translation because I feel that translating poetry is sacrilegious unless you truly, truly understand the nuances of the language and the cultural/historical context of the poet — neither of which I can claim to be any kind of expert on… and yet here I am. I did read a few analyses of this poem; while my translation is a little graceless, I think it gets across the main point of poet. Take it with a grain of salt, use with caution, etc. etc.]

For what I know of the poet (Romanized as Chong Hyon-jong), his works reflect the challenges of connecting with oneself and others during this age of materialism, but mostly end on an uplifting note.

The titular poem, for example, poignantly captures this sentiment with just two lines:

사람들 사이에 섬이 있다.
그 섬에 가고 싶다.


There are islands between people.
I want visit that island.

Because This Is My First Life isn’t only about marriage and love in the modern age (though it does do an amazing job at addressing that). Like these poems, I think the show as a whole tries to capture the profundity of human interaction. Knowing oneself isn’t easy. Knowing others is almost impossible. But despite this, the fact that humans are able to come together and communicate and coexist is a truly tremendous feat. Everyone comes with their own ‘baggage’ — their own past, their own present, their own future. It’s not something to downplay or ignore. To accept them as a person is to accept all of their weight; that, perhaps, is the best comfort that one human being can offer another.

16 comments on “That poem in ‘Because This Is My First Life’”

  1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and your translation! Perhaps it’s because you’re a writer that your translation feels more… polished? I usually take literary translations from drama subtitles with some uncertainty because I feel like subtitling teams tend to translate things literally, but reading your translation makes me feel reassured that I’m getting a version that tries to capture the poem’s main point. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve been looking for a good translation of this poem for a while (and indeed some more information about the anthology or the author as I am trying to learn Korean myself). I think your translation is the best I have found thus far!

    Just one little note – I think the author of the Island is actually Chul-Woo Lim (임철우), but please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nope, 섬 is definitely written by the poet 정현종. But, interestingly, 임철우 wrote a novel entitled 그 섬에 가고 싶다 so I can see where the two could be mixed up! I wonder if Lim was influenced by the poem? Anyway, thanks for sharing and I’m glad you liked the translation!


  3. Hi, how are you? I love you translation so much I feel like it grasps the real essence of the poem…
    I have a question though- I wasn’t familiar at all with the word “갈피” when I ‘Navered’ it Iv’e found few meanings which I didn’t fully understood… but from what I sensed 칼피 has the feeling of a small crack, space between two things, so I thought maybe the wind is actually filling the cracks of the broken heart and the poet wish for people to do the same… what do you think? Do the meaning of 갈피 is more ‘layers’ than ‘crack’? I would really like to hear your opinion…
    Thank uou for always getting me super intrigued with the poems you translate…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dikla! Hope you are doing well and thank you for the sweet comment. :)

      I like your suggestion! That makes sense, since the line before was talking about the heart possibly being broken already. I think “layers” might have been a bit of a stretch, but I went with that word because of the heart’s actual layers (pericardium, epicardium, etc.) — maybe that’s the former scientist in me coming out.

      Actually I’ve revised this translation quite a bit since posting it. I think I did use ‘crack’ once as well as ‘crevice.’ I think I read the poem a little differently every time and that changes how I translate it, probably because I’m still learning!


  4. Your translation and reflection are so awesome!I wouldn’t be able to come up with such stunning conclusion of Island and Visitor, I got chills reading yours.


  5. ¡Hola gente! Un placer leerlos.
    Un humildísimo comentario: El visitante podría traducirse como “El huésped” y si traducimos “capas por grietas” y “trazar por transitar” nos quedaríamos con una estructura

    cuyas grietas el viento probablemente podrá transitar,
    si mi corazón pudiera imitar ese viento
    Puede convertirse en un lugar hospitalario.(aquí relacionamos con El Huésped)

    Perdón por el atrevimiento. ¡Saludos!


  6. I never thought I’d find a thread about this, just decided to randomly gooling ‘A visitor korean poem’. I really like BTML , a lot. I just want to know I very much appreciate what you did here. Thank you..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Stumbled upon this, Archana. I have a friend with that name too; she’s Indian.

    Thanks for such a beautiful translation. As a wordsmith, I say that your translation of this poem is one of the best I have seen out there.

    I am learning Korean too BTW and have written a bit about my journey and fascination with the culture. I am also a podcast host where i talk Black and Asian culture. I’d love to share your story on my show. Please follow me on IG as @mosibyl.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for writing this interesting post.
    I’m missing 3 episodes to finish the drama but I loved it so much and especially the fact that the protagonists are sharing their thoughts about these books and how they change over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow! What are the chances of finding a person with an Indian name translating a Korean poem I searched for randomly after watching a TV show?! So lovely to read your interpretation. Such profound words… they touched my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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