Oh Sae-young

Oh Sae-young (1942- ) was born in Yongkwang, South Cholla Province. He graduated from the Korean Language and Literature Department of Seoul National University, where he is at present a professor. He initiated his literary career in April 1965, when poems including Saebyok and Nalgae were recommended and published in the review Hyondae Munhak. His published volumes of poetry include Pallanhanun pit'(1970), Kajang oduun nal chonyoke (1982), Mumyongyonsi (1986), Pult'anun Mul (1988), Sarangui chocchok (1990), Kkotturun pyorul urorumyo sanda (1992), Orisokun Hegel (1994), Nunmure orinun hanul kurimja (1994).

He was initially fascinated by Modernism, and attempted to represent inner landscapes of the dislocated self produced by industrial society. From there, he gradually moved in the direction of a quest for an ontological authenticity in life. Later, he attempted to explore the existential meaning of things by means of oriental modes of thought.

His poetry as a whole is characterized by the pursuit of a harmonious fusion of the lyrical with the ideological, and the desire to give new formal expression to tradition by the techniques of Modernism.

A Bowl

A broken bowl
becomes a blade.

When might goes astray
amidst moderation and balance,
broken circles
make a sharp edge
and force open reason's
ice-cold eyes.

Ah, potsherd aimed
at unseeing love,

I am barefoot now.
I am flesh
waiting to be slashed.
A soul maturing since the wound is deep.

A broken bowl
becomes a blade.
Any broken thing
becomes a blade.


When their leaves have fallen
the winter trees
turn into musical instruments,
ringing out at the wind's fingertips
following the notes hanging in the sky.

And not only trees.
Listen to the streams in the valleys.
Water bouncing off rocks as it flows
echoing under sheets of ice
is music too.

The tree where high notes ring from high branches
low notes from low branches
is a stringed instrument,
the valley where loud notes ring from big rocks
quiet notes from small rocks
is a wind instrument,

On a day like today
when snow has fallen white over the world,
the image of the one we yearn for effaced,
I want to listen to music
leaning here beside my window.

Emotions come through the ear
rather than the eye,
winter is a rainbow emerging through hearing.


Only one who has experienced sorrow
that water can also burst into flames.
Only look at the crimson blaze
rising from the horizon on a summer's day
beside the sea at sunset.
It's as if it is so sad about something
that it has wept until its eyes are red.
White salt
crystallizing on the mud
like traces of tears on a cheek:
salt is the charcoal of love.
If we say that love is light
rising as fire,
sorrow is light rising as water,
and tears rising gently in the eyes
make the darkness bright.

There is darkness in God's heaven too

Just as I scatter letters one by one
a, b, c, d. . .
on the empty lines of my page,
God scatters stars
in the evening sky.
Why should empty space be so frightening?
God's space up there,
eager to stop up with light
the void of the Absolute,
while I try to fill it
with words.
When I scatter letters one by one
a, b, c, d. . . on the empty lines of my page
the seeds that fall to the ground
grow into flowers, and plants, and
trees but yet
sooner or later they all return
back into empty space.
vanishing like the blaze of a shooting star
in the distances separating you and me,
and since there is light there is darkness
in God's heaven too.


If I shout "ah!" an "ah!" comes back.
"Ah!" is one thing, "oh!" another
and the echo in the hills
unfailingly sends them back differently.
On wild cherry trees wild cherry flowers blossom
on wild plum trees wild plum flowers bloom:
I wonder who called them forth?
Love and hate are just the same.
If you call for tears, tears will come,
if you call for smiles, then smiles will come.
Standing by the river at sunset in springtime
yesterday sent you off and today in turn
sends me off.
This solitude
on a spring afternoon, the sky dazzlingly blue,
as I gaze at my quite empty face
reflected in the flowing water.


Still water becomes a picture,
but flowing water
becomes language.

The lake is a water-color holding the hills,
the sea the sky,
the stare
of those lonely spaces.

So now the flowing water tries to hold in words
the hills
and the sky.
Its sound great or small,
deep or shallow,

murmuring as it passes bushes in bloom,
babbling as it encounters shallows,
roaring as it breaks against rocks,
is ah... a cliff.

The fate of the protagonist
ruined by an hour of passion,
that fall!
The drama is falling water.

Flowing water becomes prose
but a waterfall's water
becomes a drama.


I wonder why all the fruit in the world
have to be round.
On the spiny branches of the thorny orange
the scented fruit alone are round.
The roots delving down down into the ground
are sharp,
the branches stretching up up into the sky
are pointed,
but the fruit, quite able to ripen and drop for themselves,
show no signs of any angles.

A single crab-apple
that can be bitten and devoured in a single
the teeth of the eater may be sharp
the crab-apple being eaten is soft.

Did you ever realize that
everything that is coming into being is round?
that fruit, knowing they are going to be eaten,
never develop angles?


Far-off things
are beautiful.
Rainbows, stars, or flowers blooming on cliffs,
far-off things,
are beautiful
because they can't be touched.
You who love me,
do not grieve over parting
for parting at my age is
not separation but merely
a simple matter of moving farther off.
The age at which I need glasses
in order to read your last letter,
growing old,
is something
that sends the one I love farther away.
It's a matter of knowing
how to see from far away.

Fruit Falls

The tree that grows up and up toward heaven
longs to bear fruit
in the highest place in the world
but it does not realize
that it is bound to fall down
as far as it has grown up,
that the pain that comes from falling
as far as it has grown up is great.
Just as only water that falls on and on downward
finally reaches the sea,
the day when it finally realizes that it
cannot get any closer to touching the sky,
a tree learns despair.
At the foot of the cliff of despair
like falling tears


Translated by Brother Anthony of Taize