Translated by Brother Anthony of Taize and Young-Moo Kim
Copyright 1993 by Brother Anthony

Published by Cornell East Asia Series, 1993

Cornell University, 140 Uris Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-7601, USA

ISBN (paper) 0-939657-68-6

Also available in a bilingual edition published by DapGae (Seoul) and Cornell East Asia Series, 1996.

Journey with Hans

At daybreak today I pulled on rustling clothes
dry like millet leaves, then mounted four-year-old Hans
and off we sped, galloping at random.
The soy-bean field first: empty now, the crop long gathered.
Nothing there to get in our way.

We galloped on. The horse heard it before me:
a bell ringing across the stream.
Then my ears heard it faintly
echoing in the horse's ear.

I suppose my darling daughter is breathing lightly,
tightly hugging her scarlet shoes.
Hans would be the first to be surprised
if she has grown into a girl by the time we return.

Suddenly there we were
galloping down a white ribbon of road!
Hans always knows my thoughts,
I never even need to twitch the reins.

Here and there along the early morning road
relics of the end of autumn lay dozing,
the air, unequalled in competence,
and night, snug under the cabbage-field, lay waking.

Reluctantly I left my darling girl at home
with a set of my childhood village blind man's songs,
the sea that would bring us in two days to China,
the bats... Hans gallops on, his mane erect
giving me all these things.

Where are we going? I entrust my legs to the horse's flanks.
Suddenly he complains that I, his boss,
have interrupted his morning dreams!

The daybreak fields are empty though a farmer
may spend years by the dozen working in them.
One night last summer, very late it was
Hans came to a halt beneath the Great Bear.
I was jolted forwards, dismounted.
Your warm saddle will surely wait, I thought.

But scar-faced Hans, pestered by flies,
quick, let's get home!
Now one shoe has dropped from her grasp
and my daughter wakes. Early despair!
Let's pause here just for a moment:
isn't a place to pause important, too?

Margins of Meditation

A few days ago one of the dead came back from the tomb.
Wearing the same old smile, his everyday clothes restored from the ashes,
he gives a full account of himself. All around him shines a watery light.
He talks his full, then leaves like a letter.
Beside me my young brother, body and heart purified, sees him off.

We spend every afternoon like this, greeting and saying goodbye.
Occasionally I hear the dead of ancient Korea talking.
They usually omit a few things, I think.
How could they reveal everything in one brief resurrection?
Their story, before and after they died, is more than a few words can express.

After seeing them off, my brother stays silent like an empty bowl.
Dressed lightly, he always welcomes our visitors from beyond,
with clear glass barriers of taboo lining the hallway.
Responding simply in a quiet voice to what they say,
his heart is open, ready to receive everything, alone.

Every afternoon we welcome and send off guests from beyond the tomb.
The light beyond the window is a sundial by which we tell the time.
Each word my brother hears from the dead
is first dried in the sun, then preserved.
Truly, this world is the other world, huge and vast;
this world is a tomb.
Tomorrow, let's not send off those that come, let's have them live with us.

Beside Somjin River

Does your heart ache?
Look at the river at nightfall.
I call in a low voice
the nearby hills are sharp-eared
they come dropping down and float there
nearer now, hills dark on the river water.
Even Mount Chiri's high ridge called Nogodan
floats there like a drifting flower.
But look how the river flows on
all alone, a dark soja flood
in the deepening twilight.

Does your heart ache with sorrow?
Look at the river at nightfall.
I stand and watch.
Hills and river grow dark together.
Greater still, tiny fish
drift in swarms close to the banks
as the river flows on, bearing away
one wing of Hwaom Temple's Enlightenment Hall.

Look at the river at nightfall.
Look! For a moment, a thousand years
see how this world's river builds a temple
floating on the water and grows dark
in union with all the people once murdered
in these valleys and hills.

The river water goes flowing on
deeper with the bitter cold.
I stand here watching.
I cannot tear my eyes away
from the nightfall river at Somjin Ferry.
At last the river throws off the hills
throws off the millions of old blind men
the peach blossoms in the foothills
throws off at last the temple's bulk.

Things that live, things that have died
have all now become as one.
The river echoes the fierce laments
of women from the nearby hamlets.
Now the shores have grown into darkness
but towering aloft, night's proper home,
the ridge of Nogodan shines on, bright to the end
uttering sudden sounds of birdsong and such.
So this is how the river water darkens
if someone is watching!
If you have endless ages of pain to spare, watch!
Look at the river waters.


Transformed into arrows
let's all soar together, body and soul!
Piercing the air
let's go soaring, body and soul!
With no way of return
but transfixed there
rotting with the pain of striking home,
never to return.

One last breath! Now, let's quit the string,
throwing away like useless rags
all we have had over the years
all we have enjoyed over the years
all we have piled up over the years
and whatever else.
Transformed into arrows
let's all soar together, body and soul!

The air is shouting! Piercing the air
let's go soaring, body and soul!
In dark daylight the target is rushing towards us.
Finally, as the target topples
in a shower of blood,
let's all just once as arrows

Never to return!
Never to return!

Hail, brave arrows, our nation's arrows!
Hail, Warriors! Spirits of the fallen!

In a temple's main hall

Down with Buddha!
Down with handsome, well-fed Buddha!
What's he doing up there with that oh so casually
elegant wispy beard?
break down that painted whore of a crossbeam!
A dragon's head? What use is that, a dragon's head?
Tear down that temple,
drive out the monks,
turn it all into dust and maggots!

Buddha with nothing, that's real Buddha!
Our foul-mouthed Seoul street-market mother,
she's real Buddha!
We're all of us Buddhabuddhabuddha real!
Living Buddha? One single cigarette, now
there's a real cool Holy Buddha!

No, not that either.
For even supposing this world were a piece of cake,
with everyone living it up and living well,
all equally able to rig themselves out
in high-class gear,
with lots and lots of goods produced thanks
to Korean-American technological collaboration,
each one able to live freely, with no robbing of rights,
Paradise, even,
Paradise, even,
utter Eden unequalled, all plastered with jewels,
still, even then,
day after day people would have to change the world.
Why, of course, in any case,
day after day this world must all be overturned
and renewed to become a newly blooming lotus flower.
And that is Buddha.

Down for sure with those fifteen hundred years
rolling on foolish, rumbling along:
time fast asleep like stagnant water that stinks and stinks.


What is our country's deepest point? Indangsu.
Where are our country's deepest thoughts found?
Not in Toegye, the noted scholar,
but in the firm resolve of one destitute girl
from Mongkumpo, by the name of Sim-ch'ong.

Come, clouds, driving furious!
Beat out, deep drums!
Sharp waves in Mongkumi Straits,
tear away at the loose rock slabs!
Open your eyes, everyone!
Blind father, open your eyes!
Go sell yourself for sixty bushels of rice!
Little girl, poised on a gunwale
with seventy boats at your water burial
out there off Changsan Cape:
your body's the world with its icy winds,
your body's the world rising up again,
your body's now the lotus blossom.
One body freely tossed
with your head muffled in deep blue skirts,
tossed into the water off Changsan Cape:
awake now, world! Awake, everyone,
like a battle!
After being a battle speeding,
with all our people wielding their tools,
the battle can turn into a dance
and merrily go dancing along!
Look: the world made new!
With open eyes!
Sim-ch'ong, ah, Sim-ch'ong, my dear!

* In one of Korea's most famous traditional tales, the young girl Sim-ch'ong allows herself to be thrown into the sea at a spot called 'Indangsu,' in sacrifice by fishermen, in the hope of helping her blind father recover his sight. Taken into the Dragon King's undersea palace, she is later released and found by fishermen, floating in a lotus blossom. At last, by her daughterly virtue her father's eyes are opened.

Headmaster Abe

Headmaster Abe Sudomu, from Japan:
a fearsome man, with his round glasses,
fiery-hot like hottest pimentos.
When he came walking clip-clop down the hallway
with the clacking sound of his slippers
cut out of a pair of old boots,
he cast a deathly hush over every class.
In my second year during ethics class
he asked us what we hoped to become in the future.
Kids replied:
I want to be a general in the Imperial Army!
I want to become an admiral!
I want to become another Yamamoto Isoroko!
I want to become a nursing orderly!
I want to become a mechanic in a plane factory
and make planes
to defeat the American and British devils!
Then Headmaster Abe asked me to reply.
I leaped to my feet:
I want to become the Emperor!
Those words were no sooner spoken
than a thunderbolt fell from the blue above:
You have formally blasphemed the venerable name
of his Imperial Majesty: you are expelled this instant!
On hearing that, I collapsed into my seat.
But the form-master pleaded,
my father put on clean clothes and came and pleaded,
and by the skin of my teeth, instead of expulsion,
I was punished by being sent to spend a few months
sorting through a stack of rotten barley
that stood in the school grounds,
separating out the still useable grains.
I was imprisoned every day in a stench of decay
and there, under scorching sun and in beating rain,
I realized I was all alone in the world.
Soon after those three months of punishment were over,
during ethics class Headmaster Abe said:
We're winning, we're winning, we're winning!
Once the great Japanese army has won the war, in the future
you peninsula people will go to Manchuria, go to China,
and take important positions in government offices!
That's what he said.
Then a B-29 appeared,
and as the silver 4-engined plane passed overhead
our Headmaster cried out in a big voice:
They're devils! That's the enemy! he cried fearlessly.
But his shoulders drooped.
His shout died away into a solitary mutter.
August 15 came. Liberation.
He left for Japan in tears.