10 poems

by Jeong Ho-Seung

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Susan Hwang


The People I Love

I do not love people who have no shadows.
I do not love people who do not love shadows.
I love people who have become the shade beneath a tree.
Sunlight, too, needs shade to shine bright and dazzle the eyes.
Sitting in the shade of a tree
and watching the sunlight sparkling between the leaves,
how beautiful the world is then.

I do not love people who have no tears.
I do not love people who do not love tears.
I love people who have become one teardrop.
Joy, too, is no joy without tears.
And is there ever love without tears?
The sight of someone sitting in the shade of a tree
wiping away another’s tears,
what quiet beauty that is.

Flower-falling Evening

Flowers fall, but surely not all flowers fall.
Flowers fall, but surely there are still phones.
Though flowers fall, I have never forgotten you.
He who understands a falling flower
surely must know he is not the only lonesome one, though flowers fall.
Though flowers fall I have never forgotten you.
On evenings when flowers fall, I am hungry.

Hanging a Wind-Chime

On my way home
after meeting with the reclining Buddha at Unju-sa temple
I hung a wind-chime
on the eaves of your heart.
When the wind blows from far away
and the wind-chime rings,
know that it is my heart, longing to see you,
that has come to visit.

To Daffodils

Don’t cry.
To be lonely is to be human.
To go on living is to endure loneliness.
Do not wait in vain for the phone call that never comes.
When snow falls, walk on snowy paths,
when rain falls, walk on rainy paths.
A black-breasted longbill is watching you from the bed of reeds.
Sometimes even God is so lonely he weeps.
Birds perch on branches because they are lonely
and you are sitting beside the stream because you are lonely.
The hill’s shadow comes down to the village once a day because it, too, is lonely.
And a bell’s chime resounds because it, too, is lonely.

A Bowl

After eating all the food,
the dog licks the bottom of the empty bowl over and over again.
It seldom pauses.
I thought it would stop after a few licks
but it goes on licking with its tongue, energetically, not one bit worn out,
continuing to lick hundreds of times.
When did I ever lick my bowl
that diligently?
Have I ever eaten the bottom of a bowl?
The dog has always eaten the food I left over
with never a sign of disgust
but have I ever eaten with delight
the food the dog has left over?
I lick the bowl the dog has been licking.
Bowls, too, have a taste to them..
Deeply permeated with sunlight and wind,
the bottom of the bowl is the tastiest of all.

A Drink

Life has never bought me
one drink.
Many a time I’ve shaken out my empty pockets
in a tent-bar at the end of a blind alley
to buy life a drink,
but life has never once
bought me one drink,
even on snowy days,
even on days when stone lotuses, without a sound, bloomed.
and faded.

Seonam-sa Temple

When tears flow, take the train to Seonam-sa.
Go into the latrine at Seonam-sa and weep your fill.
As you squat weeping in the latrine,
the roots of dead pine trees crawl about,
amd wooden fish go flying skyward.
Blades of grass pull out handkerchiefs and wipe away your tears,
while birds come flying into your heart and ring bells.
When tears flow, go to Seonam-sa, even if you have to walk all the way.
Lean against the hunch-backed pine
in front of the latrine at Seonam-sa, and wail.

Child Buddhas

In the grounds of Gyeongju Museum
among flowerbeds where balsam and cockscomb bloom
headless stone Buddhas sit side by side
dazzled by sunlight.

School children on summer vacation
come streaming off tourist buses and,
approaching the headless Buddhas
perch their own heads there.

They’re child Buddhas.
So it is that the Buddhas early on cut off their own heads
for anyone, once in a lifetime,
to become a Buddha.

Chair of Forgiveness

On my planet
there stands a single chair of forgiveness.
a single chair of absolute solitude,
and anyone who sits on that chair
can forgive and be forgiven,
not the chair that St. Exupéry's Little Prince
used to sit on at sunset on a tiny star,
and not the ugly wooden chair that the Ven. Beobjeong made
while he was living alone in a hut on Mount Odae,
but one small chair—
with a nail jutting out
so that you have to sit with your behind slightly raised
and every time you sit on it, it emits a creaking sound of weeping—
that somebody made
then left for another star.

Preparatory School for Dying

I emerged from the road and walked along a road.
A small bird is sitting on the road.
I approach the bird, bow and kneel down.
The bird bites my knees then flies into the forest.

Again I emerged from the road and walked along a night road.
There are stars between one star and another,
there are trees between one tree and another,
the moon glows red between heaven and earth.
There is nobody between you and me.

It is a fearful road.
I expected flowers of forgiveness to bloom between you and me
but there is only the fruit of wrath.
Even the small bird that bit my worn-out knees before flying away
never pecks at the fruit of wrath.

Again I emerged from the road and walked along an early morning road.
A smile of thanks for the stars that lightened my darkness all along,
and first of all, tears of thanks for the roadside grass
that has stroked my feet every time I set off on a long journey.