Distant Holy Man

  • onDecember 21, 2017
  • Vol.38 Winter 2017
  • byCho Oh-hyun
For Nirvana: 108 Zen Sijo Poems
Tr. Heinz Insu Fenkl


Today, this one day,
on this one day called today      

I saw the whole of the sun rise
and saw it all set

Nothing more to see—
a swarm of gnats laying eggs, dying

I am still alive,
long past my time to die,

But consider—today, I don’t feel
as if I’ve lived even this single day

He may live a thousand years,
but the holy man

Is but a distant cloud of gnats


Translated by Heinz Insu Fenkl
From For Nirvana: 108 Zen Sijo Poems.
Translation copyright © 2016 Heinz Insu Fenkl.
Reprinted with the permission of Columbia University Press, New York.

Author's Profile

Cho Oh-hyun, who writes under the Buddhist name Musan, is the lineage holder of the Mount Gaji school of Korean Nine Mountains Zen, and is in retreat as the Patriarch of Baekdamsa Temple at Mount Seoraksan. He received the Chong Chi-Yong Literature Prize for his poem “Distant Holy Man.” He is a recipient of the Korean Literature Award, Garam Sijo Literary Prize, and the Order of Civil Merit - Dongbaek Medal. His poetry collection For Nirvana: 108 Zen Sijo Poems was published by Columbia University Press in 2016. Translations of his poetry have appeared in World Literature Today, Asymptote, Buddhist Poetry Review, and Asia Literary Review.