Korean Poetry: Ko Un (고은)

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Ko Un (고은) is probably one of Korea's most famous poets. His name is often cited as a potential Nobel laureate. He grew up during the Japanese colonial period and was forced to learn Japanese as a first language, but managed to learn Korean from a neighbor. After the Korean War, he became a Buddhist priest for 10 years. These events have all had a great influence on his poetry which draws upon classical themes of Buddhism, but shows a clear trauma from the violence of the war as well as a very specific relation to the Korean language.
It is quite hard to appreciate Korean poetry in translation, and I myself am still far from being learned enough to understand all of the subtleties of the original text. Nevertheless I tried my hand at translating a few of these poems. Hope you'll like them. My translation is probably far from being good, as neither English nor Korean are my native languages. However a lot of Ko Un's poetry has been translated into English and maybe my poor attempt at translation will make you want to read these more professional works :)

These poems I have found here and there on Korean blogs, so I am unfortunately unable to provide references.

그 꽃
That flower

내려갈 때
올라갈 때
보지 못한
그 꽃

That flower
Which I could not see
As I went up
I saw
When I went down

3월 30일
March 30th
갈보도 좋아하네
꽃 좀 봐
열네 살 선희도 좋아하네
꽃 좀 봐

This whore enjoys it too
Look at this flower
14 year old Seon-hee enjoys it too
Look at this flower

4월 21일

April 21st

오늘 갚은 빚같이 새로운 것
오늘 쓴 무덤같이 새로운 것
몇 번인가
이렇게 새로 살아가는 생애가 있다
나비가 혼자인 듯 둘인 듯 
New like a debt paid today
New like a grave dug today
Lives are re-lived like this
Over there
A lonely butterfly, or maybe two

7월 31일

July 31st 

북한 개마고원 상공을 지나갈 때

함께 가는 친구에게 죄스러웠다
내가 탄 비행기가 떨어지기를 빌었다
왜 그랬는지 몰라
그 구름 속 고원이

억세게도 내 저승이었다  

As we were going through the skies over 
     [the Kaema Plateau in North Korea
I felt guilty towards the friend that was with me
I wished that the plane I was on would fall
Why I wished for this, I do not know
This plateau in the mid of the sky
Was definitely the afterworld to me



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