Park Nohae



Park Nohae was born in 1957 in Hampyeong, South Jeolla Province. His original name was Park Gi-pyeong.

While working as a laborer in various factories in his 20s, he began to reflect and write poems on the sufferings of the laboring class. He then took the pseudonym Park Nohae (No = ‘labor,’ Hae = ‘liberation’) and published his first collection of poems, Dawn of Labor, in 1984, under that name.



Korea was at that time under the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan, with strict censorship. Despite official bans, this collection sold nearly a million copies and created intense interest. The unknown poet became an intensely symbolic figure of resistance. The government authorities tried in vain to identify and arrest him. For seven years he was active underground, helping establish the 'South Korean Socialist Workers’ Alliance' in 1989. Finally arrested in 1991,
after twenty-four days of investigation, coupled with cruel, illegal torture, the prosecution demanded the death penalty for the ‘leader of an anti-state organizations’, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.



While he was in prison, a second poetry collection was published, True Beginning (1993), as well as a collection of essays, Only a Person Is Hope (1997). He was finally freed after being amnestied in 1998 by President Kim Dae-Jung. Withdrawing from his previous role, he helped establish a social organization Nanum Munhwa “Culture of Sharing” with Koreans concerned with the great challenges confronting global humanity.



In 2003, at the United States’ invasion of Iraq, he went with other peace activists to protect helpless civilians and promote peace.
At that time, he undertook peace activities in Bagdad and in other Middle Eastern countries for 75 days. In 2006 he was in Lebanon on a similar peace-making mission and publicly opposed the dispatch of Korean combat troops to the Middle East. From the start he combined poetry-writing and photography, as he went to many countries that were suffering from wars and poverty, such as Palestine, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Aceh (Indonesia), Burma, India, Ethiopia, Sudan, Peru and Bolivia.




In 2010 he held his first exhibition of photos, “Ra Wilderness,” and since then he has continued to hold exhibitions to draw public attention to global issues of poverty, human values, and warfare.



Peru

In 2010 he finally published a large new collection of poems, So, You Must Not Disappear, on themes such as resistance, spirituality, education, living, revolution and love.  Since then, living in a remote rural community far from Seoul, he continues, with the members of “Culture of Sharing,” to hold photo exhibitions in a dedicated gallery, the Ra Café and Gallery, in Seoul, also occasionally publishing photo albums, such as “Like Them, I am There,” and “Another Way.”





When the citizens of Korea began to hold candlelight demonstrations in October, 2016, in protest at the corruption of the Korean government under Park Geun-hae, he and the members of “Culture of Sharing” participated actively, then in 2017 they published a large album, "Candlelight Revolution," for the first anniversary of the “Candlelight Revolution.” He continues to be active and to write, while efforts are now underway to make his work and writings available internationally in translation.

For a fuller biography please click here.


Some Very Popular Poems

 

The Dawn of Labor

The war-like night shift once over,
I pour icy soju
onto my aching heart.
Ah,
I can’t go on like this much longer,
I can’t go on like this for ever.

With three wretched meals a day,
covered in grease, in a trial of strength,
all my energy squeezed out, struggling,
though this war-like labor
can’t go on much longer,
can’t go on for ever,
I have no choice.

If only I could get free,
exhausted, phantom-like,
if only I could fly free of my fate at twenty-nine,
but, ah,
I have no choice, have no choice.
Apart from death, I have no choice.
This tough life,
the yoke of poverty,
this fate, I have no choice.

Into my drooping body,
for the sake of tomorrow’s approaching workload,
onto my aching heart at dawn
I pour icy soju,
longing for a tenacity stronger than soju,
I pour wrath and sorrow.

This unavoidable wall of despair
will break and burst in the end
in rough drops of sweat and blood,
as for the sake of our calmly breathing,
growing love,
our fury,
our hope and unity,
we pour a shared glass of icy soju
onto our aching hearts at dawn,
until a new dawn for workers
comes rising up.

 

Heaven

My family of three depends for its living on my boss, so
he’s my heaven.

When I go to hospital cradling a hand crushed in the press,
the doctor can patch it up or leave it crippled, so
he’s my heaven.

Carted off to the police station for organizing a labor union
after two months without pay,
the policeman who says he’s going to have us locked up
though we’ve never once committed a crime
is an always frightening heaven.

The judges and prosecutors who can turn us into criminals or save us
are a dreaded heaven.

The officials
sitting in government offices who can make us or break us
are a scary heaven.

High-up people, people with power, people with wealth
all look like heaven,
and indeed, they really are a black heaven
controlling our lives.

Can I ever become a heaven
for someone somewhere?
Powerless, I have ever lived at the very bottom, so
there is only one person,
one just beginning to toddle about,
our so lovely little baby,
for whom I am a small, shaky heaven.

Ah, we too want to be a heaven.
Not a black-clouded heaven weighing down;
we want to be a world where each of us is a blue heaven for everyone,
supporting one another.

 

The Winter Tree that Year

1

Winter that year was pallid.
People hunched critical shoulders or suffered death,
bodies quaking they said either “Not now,” or again, now again,
“That blue dream will not return.”
The bitter north wind blowing from Moscow shook the world
as it bore away in a flash once-fluttering leaves, birds, and songs, too.
From the ashen sky, flocks of crows swooped down as if to arrest me,
binding my weary body with merciless cords.
In winter that year,
my beginning was my defeat.

2

It showed no regret, only ever-deepening shame as
completely stripped, stark naked, neither bright nor disgraced in appearance,
it stood facing the bitter wind.
Snow fell onto frozen ground.
Snowflakes piled up stiflingly, broke the remaining twigs,
muffled screams echoed white through the valleys.
Not a word, there was no need for words.
Other’s things, once considered absolute, came crashing down,
a predetermined fall.
Its body stood there alone, a flagpole, considering itself with sorrowful eyes,
shaking off the old and embracing what still lived to keep that alive.
The earth, simply full of contradictions as it is,
the roots with their tenacious life simply remained as roots,
while what remained as ever were people cold and sorrowful, ah,
for whom being alive was a struggle to live, move and emit rays of light.

3

Nobody could say when the winter would end.
Haggard faces, seeming dead, sick with self-criticism,
knew full well that there was no where, no where they could stand secure.
Thickening joints, increasing growth rings, the roots raised red frozen hands
produced and raised moist light for themselves.
Only the green, rising within its blood and bone,
was its faith that winter.
A worm of desire came down, crept into the ropes binding its waist,
and finally the winter tree plucked off the ropes attaching it, coughed deeply and blazed up.
A biting night wind raged and all through the winter,
only an aching silence reverberated like a bell within.
All kept silent but believed for sure that that long silence
was the first step toward a new birth.
In winter that year,
my defeat was my true beginning.

 

Once Again

A person full of hope
is already hope.

A person seeking the way
is already a new way.

A truly good person
is already a good world.

It’s within that person.
It starts with that person.

Once again:
only a person is hope.

 

So You Must Not Disappear

 On our way to visit the village of the Q’ero tribe
who live in the highest, deepest region
of the perpetually snow-capped peaks of the Andes
In the rarefied air we are panting after only ten steps,
while kicked stones fall over dizzying precipices,
breaking the primeval silence of the highlands in pitch-dark night.

Has darkness ever been so heavy, dense, and fearful?
Just as we are about to be seized with the fear of death, overwhelmed by cold and exhaustion

Is that a mirage?
Between the perpetually snow-capped peaks,
a dim light gleams.

We are safe.

The kerosene lamp of a Q’ero youth
calling us, after we have lost our way in the dark,

Though night amidst the snow-capped peaks is vast and deep,
that small, faint gleam is sufficient.

Though today’s world is dark as pitch
and our hopes grow weak, having lost their way,
so long as there is just one chance glimmer of light
we are not yet finished.

I know there is a light in the world
that darkness cannot understand.*
I know there is a goodness that great evil cannot understand,
a human spirit that barbarism cannot understand,
a hope that defeat and despair can never understand,
still glimmering,

Even if such a powerful, tenacious spirit of evil rules,
if there is one person who has not lost his soul and stands as a faint light,
one last person who to the very end refuses to yield,
no matter how powerless, in an age when no hope can be seen anywhere,

Since one last person is one first person,
if there is just one person, it is sufficient for hope.
Although all the dark and evil in the world are mobilized,
if there is one person alive who will not surrender,
they have completely failed, they are defeated.

Life is a miracle,
Each human person is a mystery,
Hope is imperishable.

So long as you, one faint light, are still alive . . . .

So you must not disappear.

* Ivan Illich

 

When One Road Ends

When one road ends,
a new road opens.

When one door closes,
another opens.*

When winter grows deep,
a new spring comes walking

When I fall,
a larger I rises.

The finest end is a true beginning.
Honest despair is the beginning of hope

 

* Helen Nearing

 





Pakistan