Friday, 9 November 2012

Ko Un: Poetry is water, but poetry is also wine!

Suffering, inebriation, sorrow, melancholy, transience, profound peace, celebration: the Korean poet Ko Un is almost 80. Suicidal in his early years, suffering tuberculosis, personal loss, insomnia, beatings at the hands of the police, for a decade he was a Buddhist monk, then imprisoned several times in solitary confinement for his political activism, few could be more prolific — in the relative calm that followed in Ko Un's turbulent life, he wrote over eighty books in fifteen years. The first translation of his work published in the UK, 'First Person Sorrowful' (2012) has just come out this week. The translations are by Brother Anthony of Taizé who was born in Cornwall, but has lived in South Korea since 1980.

Places I wanted to Go (2002)

Thirty years ago
I had places I wanted to go.
I was everywhere on a map
of a scale of 1,000,000 : 1.
Twenty years ago
I had places I really wanted to go.
The blue sky that kept returning to me through the bars of my cell window
was my road.

Thus far I have managed to plod here and there.

But I have set a few places aside.
After I have quit this world
the places I want to go
will keep on waiting for someone to come.

I had places I wanted to go.
When flowers fell,
when flowers fell in the evening,
I straightened up,
closed my eyes.

Sunshine (1984)

I really don’t know what to do.
Let me swallow my spit,
and my unhappiness, too.
An honoured visitor is coming
to my tiny cell with its north-facing window.
It’s not the chief making his rounds,
but a gleam of sunlight for a moment late in the afternoon, 
a gleam no bigger than a square of folded pasteboard.
I go crazy; it’s first love.
I hold out the palm of my hand,
warm the toes of my shy, bared feet.
Then as I prostrate myself on the floor
and bask my gaunt, unreligious face,
in that scrap of sunlight, all too fleeting it slips away.
When the visitor has receded beyond the iron bars,
the room becomes several times colder and darker.
This special cell in a military prison is a photographer's darkroom. 
Without sunlight I laughed like an idiot.
One day it was a coffin.
One day it was altogether the sea.
Amazing! A few have survived here.

Being alive is itself being at sea without a single sail in sight.

Little Songs (2002)

may be a trivial day,
it's the day someone's being born,
someone's leaving,
someone's waiting.

Today too, the glow of the setting sun is glorious.


Scarlet rhododendrons are in blossom.
The crape myrtle trees beyond have no thought of blossoming.

So everything in this world has its own way of living.
Glad of that,
I wander on.


Ko Un (trans. Brother Anthony of Taizé)
from 'First Person Sorrowful' (2012)

No comments:

Post a Comment