English lyrics to ‘Like the salmon swimming up the river’ by Kang San-eh

‘Like the strong salmon swimming up against the river’ (거꾸로 강을 거슬러 오르는 저 힘찬 연어들처럼) is a song from Kang San-eh’s 1998 album aptly named ‘Salmon’ (연어). Because of the lengthy song title, it’s also colloquially known as the ‘salmon song’ – which works because how many songs are there that reference any kind of fish in such an iconic way?

Written and composed by Korean 80-90’s folk rock singer Kang San-eh (강산에), the song is the ultimate song to cheer yourself up when you feel let down. Sung mostly in the first person narrative, it sounds like you are patting yourself on the back and getting yourself back up on your feet through this inner voice that is both strong and consoling.

Although the song was released in 1998, you can see from the live performance below that times haven’t changed Kang San-eh’s vocals and the singer is still able to deliver listeners the same inspirational vibes. Also check out this video of him talking and singing to high school students who don’t recognize him, and this video of his performance back in 2001.

Please note: The translation below is based on my own interpretation of the lyrics and is not an official English translation of the song provided by the artist.

Translated lyrics to ‘Like the strong salmon swimming up against the river’ by Kang San-eh

Kang San-eh performing live improv with Juck Jae and session members on ‘Late night studio’ (야간작업실) in 2020

Like the salmon that swims up against the flowing river
and their own mysterious ways that I cannot explain
Since I can remember, I’ve been walking, walking, walking on this road
I wonder how much further there is to go

Of the many crossroads, even if this road that I’m walking on
is a winding road that takes me the long way round
The soles of my feet harden, if I keep walking, walking, walking
I’ll be able to lay down and rest on a wide field of flowers

Of the many crossroads, even if this road that I’m on
is a hopelessly dark road without any stars shining
I can’t give up, if I keep walking, walking, walking
I’ll be able to meet the sun shining bright just for me

And I know that it’s all a great blessing to me
Aren’t there countless roads open in front of me to walk on
Yes, if I keep going again, keep on walking, walking, walking
One day, I’ll be grateful for it all

A seemingly endless end
Your tired shoulders are hunched, you’re sighing, but don’t be afraid
Like those strong salmon swimming up against the river
If you keep walking, if you keep walking, if you keep walking

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