from Poems for Sang Hwa—Planetary Love

Ko Un

Love Is in Want of Love

It was May, and then it was June
Dendrobia orchids blossomed on the stems
Further ahead
small white daisies came into blossom and went away  

A day like this
fading sunset
a cool breeze

I came to know now secretly

The world
is in want of the world
Love, ever so much
is in want of love

What shall I do

Like the day decades ago
I dare tremble even today, as when love first came
Putting on clothes, unironed
awkwardly, it’s much too early
on the way to meet Sang Hwa

I go and go, not knowing the end of love in this world


I won’t set you on fire
I won’t scatter you in air
I won’t feed you to birds
on the Ari hill in Tibet

I won’t leave you to anyone, even to the old master

Rejecting Heart Sutra

I will wash you
I will clothe you
After I enshrine you
I will nail the coffin
with my crying and my sobbing
I will nail it severely

I will dig the soil
I will bury you

I will awaken and set a small tombstone
that says love lies here
In about a thousand years
neither a butterfly nor a swallow from the south
will dare to know whose white bones are in this grave

Places to Visit

Some birds sing only once before they die, no one knows why
The bamboo tree, they say
blooms once and dies
The pine tree, they say
grows for twenty years
to bear pines
I dare to wish to go to such a place
where there is only life or death
I wish to go to such a place and
stay there for several days, wet with decayed tears

Love has its place to go
Sang Hwa and I
have places to visit
The Sea of Okhotsk
The Aleutian Islands
The Canary Islands in the sea in front of North Africa

Sang Hwa and I
looking at names of countries
names of lands
the river ‘Rena’
the mountain ‘Wolchulsan’

Let’s go there
Let’s go there

Sang Hwa and I have places to visit
Dolsan Island in Yeosu, where camellias fall,
Geomun Island across Dolsan Island,
and Baek Island

Western Siberia,
crowded with wild berries
We’d like to go there
and stay several days

Sang Hwa and I
have places to visit even after we die
Past ten thousand billion nations
we must go there in the other world
and pass another life, together or not together
Thus love has places to go and to have gone
on a hill where wild grape and hardy kiwis grow together,
we may become the kinfolk of fully aged wine
then sober
at dawn
and leave again

Love, an eternal fool, is a perpetual wanderer of the ancient country
               along the river

Night of the Moon

Is it a bird, awakening from sleep,
flying up, whiffling
Is this a mottled flock of departed souls
coming back for something

Neither this nor that

Right now, the moonlight comes to the village, coming from eons ago
The whole village called for the moonlight
The moonlight is coming
Passing the village,
the moonlight is coming here, short of breath

It cannot be helped

On the second balcony, the primordial two are here
The moonlight has come here at last
On the ground downstairs the young grapes are
hanging from old grapevines

It cannot be helped

The two clasp each other
Moonlight tomb
Moonlight hollow
The two naked bodies stir all their organs
The primordial two
become the primordial one

It was cool moonlight, it was hot moonlight
The two lives of this world
had to become the ghost of one body

breathing its last
breathing its last

Moonlight sobbing
moonlight moaning
moonlight joy
sorrow from the moonlight joy

The grapes on the ground cried globe by globe

Moonlight lament

The two naked bodies are quietly still
So soon
the moonlight is already over there

It cannot be helped

The two came back to the present, it was cold


Narcissus is blossoming, gathered together
looking like the bill of a swallow chick,
narcissus is blossoming
There moss is growing,
as the radius from last night lingers at high noon
Brackens live there together, whispering
The underground roots of the brackens spread
as their sorrowful mother hears their cries, with nobody knowing
There the eulalia flowers drift and leave for somewhere
There the white rocks, covered with seagull droppings
day and night,
wake from sleep at the sound of waves
Here I,
cross the boundary between lyric and narrative
before my wife and
after my wife,
cross the wall
cross the fence
cross the ridge
cross 30 years
out of 56 hundred and 7 million years

Spring water, immensely deep, steaming as in the beginning

translated from the Korean by Soyoung Park