Thursday, January 17, 2019



By Ko Un (Korean Poet and Nobel Prize nominee)

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha

The lonesome communist José Saramago once

  said that

 joy and sorrow

 go together

 because they are not water and oil.

I nod.


Then I object:

Joy knows no sorrow.

Sorrow knows no joy.

I refuse sudden enlightenment.

All the dialogues in the world, frogs’ night-long


ultimately they’re each a monologue.

Flowers and sudden frosts on spring flowers,

each a monologue

to the very end.

What is truly amazing

is that dialogue

 has never existed in this world of greed and lust,

 no, not even once.

To the end, each and every aloneness

 is so hard-shelled it has no sense

 of having ever been alone.

 Ko Un, born Ko Untae in 1933, was the first child of a peasant family living in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province in Korea. During a time when the national culture was being suppressed under  the Japanese occupation, his grandfather taught him to read and write in Korean. When he was 12, he found by chance a book of poems by Han Ha-un, a nomadic Korean poet with leprosy, and he was so impressed that he began writing himself. He was a witness to the devastation of the Korean War. He volunteered for the People’s Army, but was rejected because he was underweight.  Many of his relatives and friends died and, during the war, he was forced to work as a grave digger. He became so traumatized that he poured acid into his ear to shut out the war’s noise, leaving him deaf in one ear.

He became a Zen Buddhist monk in the 1950s, and returned to secular life sometime in the 1960s. He has since then been considered as the preeminent Korean poet of the twentieth century and beloved cultural figure who has helped shape contemporary Korean literature, Ko Un is also a novelist, literary critic, ex-monk,  former dissident, and four-time political prisoner. His verse―vivid, unsettling, down-to-earth, and deeply moving―ranges from the short lyric to the vast epic and draws from a poetic reservoir filled with memories and experiences ranging over seventy years of South Korea's tumultuous history from the Japanese occupation to the Korean war to democracy.

 Presenting the Griffin Poetry Award, poet Robert Hass described Ko Un as “one of the heroes of human freedom in this half century, a religious poet who got tangled by accident in the terrible accidents of modern history. But he is somebody who has been equal to the task, a feat rare among human beings.”

Man's incapacity for dialogue is the theme of this poem

Ref : Un, Ko. First Person Sorrowful . Bloodaxe Books

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