Poetry Left Behind

  • onOctober 29, 2014
  • Vol.25 Autumn 2014
  • byKo Un
First Person Sorrowful
Tr. Brother Anthony of Taize and Lee Sang-Wha


If it’s possible, if it’s really possible,
why should there not be times when we start over again
from our mother’s womb
as if a newborn.
Life always has to listen alone
to the sound of the next wave.
Still, we should not turn back from the road once taken.
Tatters of the years while I wandered about
are flapping here and there
like laundry.
When I was poor even tears were lacking.
Some nights
I warmed my cold back at a dwindling bonfire,
then, turning cheerlessly, warmed my breast.
Some other nights
I simply froze, and shuddered, trembling.
Whenever countless tomorrows became today
I was often a stranger in a back seat.
At dusk the mountains were so deep
that the road I had to take
seemed longer than that which I had taken.
The wind blew...
It blew...
Was that a spirit howling once, or poetry?

Sorrow is never something we sell or buy.
So, be sorrowful 
as a lamp
standing far beyond.
There should be nothing that I have left,
but feeling there was something
I had left behind
as fog was lifting,
I rose quickly from the spot where I had been staying,
likely on the west coast
near the outermost tip of Tae-an Peninsula.
Was that a soul howling at some period of my life, or poetry

Author's Profile

Ko Un’s poetry collections have been translated into twenty-seven languages, east and west. English editions of his books include Ten Thousand LivesManinbo: Peace & WarFirst Person SorrowfulHimalaya Poems; and What?: 108 Zen Poems. He has received several prestigious awards, such as the Golden Wreath Award at the 53rd Struga Poetry Evenings in Macedonia, the America Award, Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award, Bjørnson Order for Literature, and the Republic of Korea’s Eungwan Order of Cultural Merit. His poems have been featured in PO&SIEChicago ReviewWorld Literature TodayThe New YorkerAzalea, and Mānoa.