Ku Sang was born in Seoul in 1919 but when he was a small child his family moved to the north-eastern city of Wonsan, where he grew up. His parents were Catholics, his elder brother became a priest but Ku Sang underwent a crisis of faith during his student years in Japan, where he studied the philosophy of religion, and he only slowly found his own understanding of Catholicism. He returned to the northern part of Korea and began work as a writer and journalist, but after the Liberation in 1945 he was soon forced to flee to the south because of his refusal to conform to the demands of the Communists.  
He was for many years an editorialist for the Kyonghyang Newspaper. His first poems were written while he was a student in Japan and he has steadily written and published volumes of poetry, as well as essays on social, literary, and spiritual topics, he has also written a number of plays, and edited literary anthologies. His poetry is marked by a rejection of the refined symbolism and artificial rhetoric found in the often more highly esteemed work of poets such as So Chong-ju. Instead, Ku Sang begins his poems with the evocation of a personal moment of perception, in the midst of the city or of nature, and moves from there to considerations of more general import, where the poem frequently turns into a meditation on the presence of Eternity in the midst of time. A number of poems refer to the poet's struggle with tuberculosis, but many are hymns celebrating the wonder of being alive. Ku Sang has spoken out clearly on the ecological issues that are now popular, pinpointing the pollution of the Han River as not only a crime against nature but as a symbol of the moral corruption of contemporary humanity.  
Ku Sang's work has always found a welcome among readers eager for poetry that addressed the essential meaning of life and sang the simple experiences of truth that mark the poet's own life. The apparent simplicity of Ku Sang's poetic world has meant that until quite recently his work was undervalued in the world of critical opinion. It is now seen that in Ku Sang, Korea has a major religious poet of great originality and utter personal integrity, the authenticity of whose vision is attested by the publication of translations of his poems in French, English, German, and Japanese. 


It is more than  
the deep roots of every emotion,  
big or small, of every kind,  
that squirm and kick like little children  
somewhere inside  

and more than  
the deep-sea fish  
of six senses and seven sins,  
that waves its tail  
like a night-time shadow on a window pane  

more, too, than  
star-dust littering the yards  
of Original Sin and Karma,  
passing through the obscure darkness of the potter's kiln  

and more than  
the oasis spring gushing from the desert sand,  
melting again into foam and flowing  
after filtering through strata of origins and time  
with their rustle of dry grass,  
and the crack in the glacier, or even exploding particles  

more, too, than  
the world, itself smaller  
than a millet seed  
in the cosmic vastnesses  
and more than  
the ether - fullness of the boundless void  
reaching beyond billions of light years   
of starlight  

more, too, than  
the substantiality such fullness gives,  
and more than its opposing nihility,  
more, too, than unknown death  

 more, greater,  
a soundless cosmic shout!  
An immensity embracing Eternity!  


A Pebble 

On the path before my house  
every day I meet a pebble  
that once was kicked by my passing toe.  

At first we just casually  
brushed past each other, morning and night,  
but gradually the stone began to address me  
and furtively reach out a hand,  
so that we grew close, like friends.  

And now each morning the stone,  
blooming inwardly with flowers of Grace,  
gives me its blessing,  
and even late at night  
it waits watchfully to greet me.  

Sometimes, flying as on angels' wings  
it visits me in my room  
and explains to me the Mystery of Meeting,  
reveals the immortal nature of Relationship.  

So now, whenever I meet the stone,  
I am so uncivilized and insecure  
that I can only feel ashamed.  

In All Places 

Are you within such stillness  
as when, above a shimmering pond,  
a dreamlike butterfly gently descends?  

Are you obscurely there  
in the desolate hills under rain,  
their secluded places wrapped in darkness?  

Are you like the compassion  
appearing in hillside temple courts  
where a flowering plantain's leaves  
shelter a single rose-moss flower?  

Are you found forlorn  
beneath the bright hanging moon,  
like shadows cast by a rooftop terrace?  

Are you in some such height  
as where chains of blue-tinged peaks  
rise like screens around,  
but above towers one snow-bright?  

Are you in such perfect composure  
as the long river timelessly flowing,  
reflecting the sun and the moon?  

Are you in the transparent frost  
that unfolds on chill autumn mornings,  
coating the naked branches?  

Are you within that abundance  
that undulates in the fields,  
gold in the setting sun's slanting rays?  

Are you too reduced to original silence,  
like the soil ravaged by long winter's cold,  
all fever spent?  

Are you in such solemn power  
as when the typhoon surges  
and tidal waves race,  
with clashes of lightning and thunder?  

Are you as far removed  
as the blending of vast blue immensity,  
sea and sky made one  
beyond all boundlessness?  

Are you resplendent  
as daybreak in the eastern sky,  
high above the sevenfold rainbow's gleam,  
like constellations' jewelled thrones?  

Are you within the inborn joy  
of swarms of fish flashing in jade-green streams  
and the birds that chirp  
while plum and peach delicately bloom?  

Are you in the impassibility  
of the mountain sheep  
that nibbles grass then chews the cud,  
looking up now at a cloud, now at a hill?  

Are you in such spotless innocence  
as shines in the eyes of a child  
that gazes up at its mother and clasps  
her breast through an open blouse?  

Are you looking down on us  
with the profound white-bearded smile  
of drawings of Taoist Mountain Wizards?  

You who fill all space and time,  
whom I cannot serve under any such forms  
but who resemble the white spaces in pictures  
where the brush did not pass!  

In no place confined,  
by nothing defined,  
everywhere present,  
Lord God of all!  

Christopher's River 6. 

The river  
continues the past,  
is not imprisoned by the past.  

The river,  
while living today  
lives the future too.  

The river,  
though innumerably collective,  
keeps unity and equality.  

The river  
makes itself an empty mirror  
in which all things view themselves.  

The river  
at all times and in all places  
chooses the lowest place.  

The river,  
unresisting, accepts  
every violence, every humiliation,  
and never denies itself.  

The river  
gives freely to all that lives  
and looks for nothing in return.  

The river  
is its own master,  
free despite all bonds.  

The river,  
caught between generation and extinction,  
reveals Eternity within impermanence.  

The river  
every day in its Pantomime  
teaches me many things.  

Christopher's River 30. 

The river flows...  

as the bier carries off the days long past,  
and the procession is filled with things yet to come,  
so, bearing all the vast emptiness of a long, remote story,  

the river flows...  

bearing the mysterious wonder of the birth  
of a tear-like dewdrop that has passed through the earth,  
from a secret source like a virgin's fountain  
the river flows...  
murmuring all its mottled yearning,  
touching the wounds received in falling  
against the rocky sides of bottomless chasms,  
slipping through the stony labyrinths of knowledge,  
the river flows...  
tingeing with hope and shame  
all the passionate romanticism of the world's vast plains,  
the solitude and prayer that arise in marshes,  
and, ah, the bitter memories of wandering and chill,  
the river flows...  
now beneath Time's indifferent stare,  
bearing in its breast the playfulness of water creatures,  
on its back craft of painful labor and of pleasure,  
gliding below bridges where good and evil, love and hatred pass,  
hearing whispers of love and songs of parting,  
groans of birth, groans of death, the grief of bitter souls,  
making symphony with the rhythms of all that lives,  
the river flows...  
in sources and rapids, falls and streams,  
all the hosts of being join, mingle, unite,  
begetting, dying, flowing into the azure sea  
to become the origin of new generation  
until history at last, in sinuous fullness, perfectly ends,  
the river flows...  
without any shadow of past or future,  
with a constant identity in a world of change,  
with a love more solid than any rock,  
breathing each present moment in Eternity,  
the river flows...  
with no concern about imminent evaporation,  
weeping with desire for non-being,  
smiling at the flower of illusion,  
the river flows...  
River! Essence of the unbeing Void!  

Translattion and Note by Brother Anthony, of Taize

Brother Anthony's translation of Ku Sang's poems were originally published in Wastelands of Fire(London: Forest Books. 1990)