by Ko Un
In Abiding Places, Korean poet Ko Un has transfigured his homeland in lovely, observant, and penetrating poems uniting ancient and modern, secular and spiritual, art and politics, South and North. When his former political cellmate Kim Dae-Jung became President of Korea in 1998, Ko Un became the first citizen from the South to be invited to tour the North. From that visit came this deceptively simple and deeply engaging book.
Sunny Jung and Hillel Schwartz provide lyrical and penetrating translations, and complement the poems with essential maps.
Ko Un is Korea’s most prolific living writer. Born in colonial Korea in 1933, Ko Un has written 15 volumes of poetry and has twice won the prestigious Korean Literature Prize. His work has been translated into seventeen languages. In 1999, he was Visiting Research Scholar at the Harvard-Korea Institute.
26. KAEMA HIGH DESERT
I did not ask to be human.
I do not by any means ask to be more than human.
Like an old animal who’s come plodding up to the plateau,
I want to stay here a long time looking out across the high desert.
In deference, clouds do not rise
above the plateau;
in deference, small animals make no sound
across the plateau.
Only the sound of the finest of hairs bristling
as blueberries out here ripen in the cold.
I ask simply to gaze in silence
across the Kaema plateau.
Anyone who says anything at all here shall be shot.
About the Author
Born in Kunsan (North Cholla Province) in 1933, Ko Un is the most controversial and the most prolific Korean writer at present alive. He has published well over a hundred volumes of poetry, fiction, essays, translations, and drama. He has led a remarkable life-as a Buddhist monk, a depressive who attempted suicide, and a political activist-as well as a highly regarded writer. His poetic language is vivid and colloquial, marked by popular speech rhythms rather than by literary conventions. His intense longing for the reunification of Korea is expressed in many places and his main concern has always been to express the historic identity of the Korean people as a whole. In recent years he has gained an international reputation, and has talked and given readings in the United States, Australia, France, Holland, and Germany. Translations of his work have been published in several languages.
Korean Literary Awards (1974, 1987)
Manhae Literary Awards (1989)
Daesan Literary Awards (1994)
Manhae Grand Prize (1998)
Buddhist Literary Awards (1999)
Shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature (2002, 2004)
Danjae Prize (2004)
Unification Award (2005)
Bjornson Order for Literature, The Norwegian Order for Literary Merits (2005)
Cikada Prize (2006)
Ko Un’s elegant website can be found at Koun.co.kr
About the Translators
Sunny Jung (Jung Jung-sun) is known as a Zen poet. She wrote The Gateway to Zen with a forward by Seo Jung-ju. Poetry and Politics, Incorporated, the most highly respected mainstream poetry journal in South Korea, honored her with the coveted “New Poet” award. Elizabeth Bartlett, Park Tu-jin, and Park Mok-wol have served as her mentors. Currently, she teaches Korean Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Hillel Schwartz is a cultural historian and a poet who teaches on occasion at the University of California, San Diego. Author of five books on topics ranging from millenarianism to the history of the body to The Culture of the Copy he has had his own scholarly work translated into six languages. His poetry has been published widely in several hundred journals and anthologies, a chapbook, and The Best American Poetry 1997.