Sunday, April 22, 2007

Korea: Poetry

I'm back, after a week-long trip to and from Seoul for my son's wedding and another five days of dealing with New England power outages and jet lag. This was the most lovely, most glorious, most meaningful wedding I've ever attended -- and if that's partially the effect of knowing the people involved, so be it. My daughter-in-law's family lives in Seoul and made me welcome with warmth, style, and gusto. Our week together was spent braiding together a new family.

Before and during the trip, I took time to dig into a bit of Korean poetry. I focused on one of the very accessible poets: Ko Un, whose work has been extensively translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé. Intense emotion, passionate monasticism, and an equally passionate desire for reunification of his truce-divided peninsular nation characterize the life of Ko Un, who was born in 1933. Here's one of his poems, in Brother Anthony's translation. I like the sparseness in the re-wording.


No one ever went to Eoh Island.
They say someone went, though,
went and never came back.
But where is Eoh Island?
Down the waves' broze valleys
south-east, south-east, lies
only the eyeball-searing horizon.
But where is Eoh Island?
Row as hard as you can
skim with all sails set!
Perhaps that island, Cheju's dream,
deep in its fishermen's blood,
lies somewhere near?
Where is Eoh Island, the blind man's island
glimpsed at sunsrise over Songsan?
Waves, endless waves, alone
thunder on, waves, thunder to the world.
Arise, white clouds.
Mighty surf, come rolling.
But where are we?
Where are we?
The sea comes breaking, no return.
In the waves hear the sound
of my daughter crying, left behind.
Is Eoh Island anywhere near
the thousands of years spent fishing here?
It is there, though!
It was there, then it vanished.
Is Eoh Island anywhere near?
No one ever went there.
Yet someone went
went and will never come back again.
Oh it's there, for sure, it's there.
Oh no. Only waves.
Nothing but overpowering waves.

The intense introduction to Seoul and its history that my daughter-in-law's family planned for me (thank you, sadon!) included a tour of a 600-year-old palace, where there are trees nearly as old. I include a short response of my own:

The Plum Tree

To be four hundred years old
and thrust forth a limb of purple flowers --
ah, grandmother,
how bold you remain.

TOMORROW: A look within the work of two wild Vermont women, Ellen Dudley and Joan Aleshire, who will read at the Kingdom Books Poetry Brunch here on Sunday April 29.

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