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,
노동의 새벽 (Nodongui Saebyeok) 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
Dawn of Labor
a Person Is Hope (1997)
You Must Not Disappear
Them, I Am There (Photos)
While he was in prison, a second poetry collection
was published, 참된 시작 (Chamduin
sijak) True Beginning (1993), followed by a
third, 사람만이 희망이다 (Sarmamani huimangida) 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
In 2003, at the United States’ invasion of Iraq, he went
with other peace activists to protect helpless civilians
and promote peace.
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.
In 2010 he finally published a
large new collection of poems, 그러니 그대 사라지지 말아아
(Geuroni geudae sarajiji marara) So, You Must Not
Disappear, on themes such as resistance,
spirituality, education, living, revolution and
then, while 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 나 거기에 그들처럼 (Na geogie geudeul
choreom) “Like Them, I am There,” and
“Another Way.” In June 2019 a new, larger, gallery
and cafe opened at 28 Jahamun-ro 10-gil,
Tongui-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul (Tel. 02-379-1975).
The new gallery can display nearly 40 photos at a
time, each exhibition lasts 6 months or more, and
the poet / photographer composes evocative
captions for each photo. The entire series of
photos and captions (with English
translations) of each of these new
exhibitions has been published as the start of a
series of photo essays, 하루 "One day,"단
수하게, 단단하게, 단아하게 "Simply, Firmly, Gracefully," 길
Photo Essay 1: One
Essay 2: Simply, Firmly, Gracefully
Photo Essay 3: The Path
In 2021 Park Nohae
published a bilingual collection of over 400
aphorisms with photos, at the same time as a new
exhibition was begun with the same title: 걷는
독서 Reading While Walking Along
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, Park Nohae
and the members of “Culture of Sharing”
participated actively, then in 2017 they published
a large album, "Candlelight Revolution,"
for the first anniversary. He continues to be active and to write, while
efforts are now underway to make his work and writings
available internationally in translation.
Lalibela, Ethiopia, 2009.
DRAWING WATER AT DAYBREAK.
Daybreak is life’s mystery. When night comes
walking then the sun rises again, a new life
begins. As day dawns in the Ethiopian Highlands, I
return home from a long journey to draw water.
With this water, I will wash rice, wash myself,
and quench the cattle’s thirst. My steps bearing
such a burden are heavy and slow but if there is
love and hope in the weight of this life’s
burdens, the strength to endure is given. I have
ever lived day by day. I am touched, give thanks,
DAWN MARKET IN KHARTOUM.
In the desert where the Blue Nile and the White
Nile meet the celebrated Khartoum dawn market is
being held. Is there any other market as vibrant
with such rich, varied, tidy, vivid vitality?
After carefully stacking onions he has grown, a
merchant opens and reads a precious newspaper
that many read in turns. Eating and living are
the first priority, of course, but I need to
know how the world I live in is going. He reads
about the world with bright morning eyes.
Potatoes on the Andes Plateau
This is a day for harvesting potatoes by the
village’s combined labor on the Andes Plateau,
birthplace of humanity’s potatoes. The owner of
the field whose turn it is today is grateful. We
of necessity need each other, so he thanks all
who thus share their strength. Glad to see all
the faces gathered together, he keeps handing
round cups of Chicha corn liquor. As the icy
wind from snowy peaks dries their sweat, the
sound of young men and women singing, talking
and laughing is never-ending. The first
potatoes, grown in the Andes 8,000 years ago,
every time the world’s potatoes fall sick and
are in crisis, are shared out again, as the last
remaining ‘seeds of hope.’ Even if today’s world
is swept away, shipwrecked, loses its way, the
‘seeds of hope’ live on in this lofty place, and
so long as the leading young folk who guard them
remain alive, ‘our day’ is not yet over.
war-like night shift once over,
I pour icy soju
onto my aching heart.
I can’t go on like this much longer,
I can’t go on like this for ever.
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.
only I could get free,
if only I could fly free of my fate at twenty-nine,
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.
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.
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,
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.
family of three depends for its living on my boss, so
he’s my heaven.
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.
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.
judges and prosecutors who can turn us into criminals
or save us
are a dreaded heaven.
sitting in government offices who can make us or break
are a scary heaven.
people, people with power, people with wealth
all look like heaven,
and indeed, they really are a black heaven
controlling our lives.
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.
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.
that year was pallid.
People hunched critical shoulders or suffered death,
bodies quaking they said either “Not now,” or again,
“That blue dream will not return.”
The bitter north wind blowing from Moscow shook the
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.
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
muffled screams echoed white through the valleys.
Not a word, there was no need for words.
Other’s things, once considered absolute, came
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
while what remained as ever were people cold and
for whom being alive was a struggle to live, move and
emit rays of light.
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
All kept silent but believed for sure that that long
was the first step toward a new birth.
In winter that year,
my defeat was my true beginning.
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
while kicked stones fall over dizzying precipices,
breaking the primeval silence of the highlands in
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
that a mirage?
Between the perpetually snow-capped peaks,
a dim light gleams.
kerosene lamp of a Q’ero youth
calling us, after we have lost our way in the dark,
night amidst the snow-capped peaks is vast and deep,
that small, faint gleam is sufficient.
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.
know there is a light in the world
that darkness cannot understand.*
I know there is a goodness that great evil cannot
a human spirit that barbarism cannot understand,
a hope that defeat and despair can never understand,
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
one last person is one first person,
if there is just one person, it is sufficient for
Although all the dark and evil in the world are
if there is one person alive who will not surrender,
they have completely failed, they are defeated.
is a miracle,
Each human person is a mystery,
Hope is imperishable.
long as you, one faint light, are still alive . . . .