River and Fields, A Korean Century : Poems by Ku Sang

Translated by Brother Anthony, of Taize
Copyright 1991 by Brother Anthony

Published by Forest Books (London) 1991

Forest Books, 20 Forest View, Chingford, London E4 7AY, U.K.

ISBN 1 85610 001 4


Like you, I have chosen the river
as a place for conversions of heart.

But still, when it comes to hoisting people
up onto my back, as you did,
and carrying them over the water,
or making a simple boat
and rowing them across:
why, I have neither the strength nor the skill!

And to do things for people, like you,
with a pure heart:
I admit I possess neither aim nor resolve.

Besides, even when I am out by the river, I find
no way to renounce the whole world, as you did;
I am so snared in the cords of normality
that as they are tugged, like a puppet I turn
round and round, round and round.

As I am, I follow you
out to the river.

And I hope and believe that if I go,
though only mimicking your simple self-discipline,
then just as you at the weary end of a certain day
met long-awaited Love's Incarnation,
so my poetry too may see the light of salvation:
in that hope and belief
I follow you out to the river.


Over the morning river
lies thick.

Sailing as it seems to the world beyond,
a ferryboat glides away
wrapped in vast whiteness.

In a poplar's branches there on the bank,
one solitary magpie flaps

The submerged sand
shines bright
like a woman's secret flesh.

Swarms of tiny fish
full of inborn joy
go drifting by.

Golden sunbeams striking down
create a garden, a dream.

And I too, in the midst of all this,
am surely no mere rice-eating brute.


Wrapped in monks' sombre robes,
the hills draw near and settle down.

The silence of a shrine flows round.

The grass-green river waters
flushed with a ruddy glow,
are patterned with silver, with gold,
then become a snowy waste,
then put on black veils.

The village across the river,
like an altar,
sends up incense smoke

and from a jetty,
in a fragile bark lit by a lantern
a lonely soul sets out.


The river is holding its breath.
It flows on submissively,
as if covered with oil.

In its bright polished mirror
the sky stretches cloudless,
infinite and deep.

From the river plunged in meditation
I too grow bright within,
peace comes.


No breath of wind, yet the river
is extremely agitated.

And in this silent hour
from my deepest heart
a shudder rises.

Mutability makes us weep, of course,
but is tranquillity too so intolerable?

Just as in our lives
there are always ripples,
the river has its eddies,
large and small.


Wind rises over the river.
Dark green ripples surge
furrowing the surface,
and sending waves slapping
onto the sandy shore.

Then can it be that the river too
bears a grievance it cannot express?
It chatters on, as if complaining,
and makes such a fuss!

The sky spits inky clouds,
and the wind twirls entangled in linen shrouds.

From off the pale cowering sands
clusters of jackdaws fly up and away
over hills wrapped in a misty rain.