Pak Tu Jin is one of the best known contemporary Korean poets, widely appreciated by both the reading public and the critics. His work has been taught to school children for years in the standard curriculum of Korean literature. He has received virtually every award and prize for which he is eligible in Korea. His work reflects both a fertile imagination and much of the history and aspirations of the people of Korea during his lifetime.  
Pak Tu Jin was born in Ansong, not far south of Seoul, in 1916. His early works were published beginning in the 1930's but the Japanese suppression of Korean language literary publications imposed a silence during the height of the Pacific War in the 1940's. Pak and his colleagues Pak Mok Wal and Cho Chi Hun had been writing secretly during those years, however, and they together published the Green Deer Anthology in 1946. The book had a decisive influence upon modern Korea poetry, in that it led the way in moving beyond a spirit of decadence to receiving fresh inspiration from nature.  
Pak Tu Jin's work continued to remain close to the natural world, but is wide-ranging in tone and subject-matter. Often his poetry is rooted in the natural world, while at the same time venturing widely into philosophical, cosmological, mythological, and even religious themes. He incorporates a great deal of Korean mythology, folklore and history into his work. It is well-known that Pak is a Christian believer, although he has been dissatisfied with the organized expressions of that faith and remains at a distance from most church activities. There is an intense Korean specificity in most of Pak's work, combined with the widest possible sense of cosmic universality. Allusions to Asian and Korean culture abound, yet there is always a rooting in the immediacy of present life.  
As with many, if not most, leading poets, Pak stands on the cutting edge of the creation of new forms of language and expression. His poetic diction is not only captivating in its versatility and charm, but he pushes the Korean language to its limits and suggests new frontiers as he explores new areas of thought and articulation. Like many of his contemporaries, Pak Tu Jin has been a prolific writer, and has in recent years undertaken several long series of poems under a unified theme. There have been, for example, a series of religiously-oriented reflections titled The Acts of the Apostles and another long series of 200 poems in two volumes called The Lives of the Stones. The latter series are works based upon natural decorative stones, some quite large, others smaller. Four of the five works translated here are from the first volume of that series.  

Return of the Night Sea 

In the beginning a hill formed of light upon light,  
Morning breast,  
Upon the tender and tight embrace  
In an endless communion  
Fell the curse of night  
The swirling spray of blood  
A whirlwind  

The sweet, sweet caresses are a calculated betrayal,  
The whispering  
Sad deception,  
The boiling a frigid descent,  
Conception is the whitest white  
Promising of death to come  
In finite distance, looking bark to measure the span  
At that return to hopelessness  
The vast sabbath rest once understood,  
Still tender  
Surging of the first morning,  
With the manifold scstasy  
The bursting asunder of the roses,  
Today is the yearning  
For that dark purity  
At this writhing, this sobbing  
The heavens remain to the end  
Free voyaging of the far distant constellations!  
Light of the night, this palpitation of the heart  
Of the sea of night,  
Yourself wielding the scalpel upon your suffocation,  
And by night keeping vigil  
Blue watchers of the night,  
That writhing of the waves  
Can be heard through the night. 

Insu Peak 

You who tread and pause  
Upon my forehead blue above the clouds,  
Upon my breast  
Embracing the restless sea quieted into sleep,  
Do you know  
What weight my body carries  
Damping the motions of the very axis of the earth?  
Do you know  
How my heart can be broken  
While silently enduring  
The torment of the thunder and lightning  
When I see the limping  
Flock of deer  
Their drops of blood flowing,  
Their cries,  
When I see the panic  
Of the doves fleeing the eagle, or  
The aching of the tiny creatures in the grasses  
Calling out for their mates?  
Do you know  
The tenderness of my heart  
Sighing before the slanting rays of the sunset,  
Sobbing beneath the twinkling of the far distant stars in the night?  
Do you know  
Of my fiery eruptions  
Spouting forth from the depth when I am angered  
Out of this body forever inured to the icy moonlight,  
This fire,  
Mighty, dazzling heat deep within my inmost being?  
Ah! This deep fire in my resolve, still enduring!  
Do you know?  

Head of a Bronze Horse 

Your neck encircled  
By white clouds,  
Tears of purest blue from your eyes  
Drench the universe  
Your wracking sobs  
Lay waste the castle,  
The distant river, distant sea, distant sky  
A dream,  
In the loess-laden wind at sunset  
The lightning flashes,  
Galloping, galloping upon your bare back  
The moon plummets. 

Inscription Etched by Water 

One stroke at a time, now and then in spare moments  
Retracing the strokes with water  
During ten times a hundred thousand years  
I wrote one word.  
After a time, later again  
Quietly searching out the place, then  
My hand's touch exploring gently,  
Retracing each of the strokes,  
After yet again ten times a hundred thousand years,  
I wrote one word.  
In the etched form of each stroke gleamed  
A gorgeous rainbow.  
In the sun's rays lighting the water  
A rainbow of the currents.  
There were times once when I listened,  
Inclined my ear to the messages, but  
Having heard  
Then afterward, and afterward  
Recorded the inner sense of those words,  
Now I find that  
After carving a few ancient characters  
Year upon year, for too long,  
I have completely forgotten  
What words I wrote.  

Waterfall of the Diamond Mountains 

The leaves shake  
The branches  
The trees  
The forest shakes  
The mountains shake  
The axis of the earth trembles,  

The collapse of the water shuddering as it ascends  
Collapse of the clouds  
Collapse of the sounds  
Collapse of the sky,  

I scan the sky but there is none beside me  
There is nothing else at all  
No rainbow, no bucket for the well,  
There is nothing else at all  
No hem on my clothing, no belt  
There is nothing else at all.  

Waterfall! Somewhere in the depths of the sea  
The sound of your solitude and mine  
Echoes in a darkening place  
Both yours and mine,  
This solitude.  

The sound of the horse's hooves which once rang  
Is now no more,  
The sound of the hooves of the sky horse  
Is now no more;  
Here where only the sound  
Of the quaking rolls forth  
From the sky beyond the mountain ranges,  
The night gathers. 

Translated by Edward Poitras