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.