Ko Un
February 25, 2009 8:17 AM   Subscribe

"He was sentenced to death after the military coup in 1980, a few months later he was pardoned but put under house arrest. While under arrest, he began to write a collection of poems; the aim of which was to create portraits of all the people he had ever met in his life" [Maninbo, or Ten Thousand Lives]. To date, 26 volumes from the ongoing collection have been published. Meet Ko Un. Ex-Buddhist Monk and one of South Korea's greatest poets.
posted by vacapinta (6 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
"However, when it comes to literature I did not seek an answer. If literature dreams of some fruit or result in the form of some perfect wisdom and other similar things, it may mean that it is already dead."

" If my literature by any chance serves a certain political reality or ideology as a supporting infrastructure, I should fight against it. That is why I am truly free only when I am in literature, often ignoring so many potholes outside literature. "

Damn. I like this guy.

Awesome post, vacapinta!
posted by jason's_planet at 12:40 PM on February 25, 2009

Thanks for the post - somebody great I never would have encountered on my own.
posted by benzenedream at 12:00 AM on February 26, 2009

I really love the example poems. Is the Green Integer release the only book of his poems translated into English? If not, is it the best one to start with?
posted by roll truck roll at 7:37 PM on February 26, 2009

He grew up a precocious scholar; by the time he was eight years old, he had mastered classical Chinese texts difficult for far older stu­dents. Korea was under Japanese oc­cupation at the time, having been brutally annexed by Japan in 1910. When he was in the third grade, his Japanese headmaster asked his class what they wanted to be when they grew up, and Ko Un replied, “Em­per­or of Japan,” for which he was severely punished.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:49 PM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

So . . . are there any Korean-speakers out there who are familiar with his work in the original? What's it like? Are these good translations?

I ask because of this controversy mentioned in the links:
In 1983, just after his marriage, Ko Un revised all his previously published poems extensively and declared, in the preface to the Complete Poems of Ko Un published by Minumsa in 1984, that from then on critics should take the revised poems as the originals. It caused a great deal of controvery and it upset many of his readers, because they felt that Ko Un had made his most beautiful poems worse. They thought it a great shame that, after defying government censorship, such beautiful poems had been mutilated by the poet himself. Many thought that they had lost some of the most beautiful “poems of sensibility” ever written in Korea. However, Ko Un stubbornly explained that he had done what he most wanted to do if he came out alive from prison. He was determined to make a clean break with his previous life, which had been notorious for its sometimes vicious immorality, while infusing a new sense of moral seriousness into the poems written during those long years of torment.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:56 PM on February 26, 2009

“Emperor of Japan" doesn't seem like such a bad thing to aspire to.

"[...] attempted suicide. He lost all hearing in one ear, after pouring poison into it."

This method was used to kill Hamlet's father if I recall correctly. My question, does anyone have any idea what would have been used? And additionally, it this a common method to suicide in Ko Un's culture?

"He too wanted to become a leper-poet."

That's striking to me. I can see wanting to be a poet, but that line makes it seem like he wanted the affliction as well, like this would be a status in of itself.

And I found it a bit odd that he found a conflict between being a monk and a poet. Why couldn't be be both? I can understand being a monk being in conflict with some of his lifestyle choices, but I wouldn't think poetry would be the factor that would preclude him from doing this.

What I find amazing, and to some degree unbelievable about this story is the 10,000 lives. I couldn't even come up with the names or faces of 10,000 people, even if I were to count people I've seen on TV, let alone find each worthy of a poem and then actually writing it.

vacapinta, sorry I snarked out of the gate. It would be cool to meet this guy, would be cool to have him write a poem with me as the star, but the would doesn't need a poem titled "Asshat."

The Korean site is annoying. If you navigate away from the front page you have to wait for it to reload on every return!
posted by cjorgensen at 9:41 AM on February 27, 2009

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