What is this world?

Here’s a butterfly fluttering by
and there’s a spider’s web.

Two people are eating
sitting facing each other

An ordinary everyday thing
and at the same time
the best thing

Like they say, it’s love


Rowing with just one oar
I lost that oar

For the first time I looked round at the wide
stretch of water


[from WORLD LITERATURE TODAY, March-April 2006; Translations from the Korean by Brother Anthony, Young-moo Kim, and Gary Gach]

Ko Un was born in 1933 in Cholla Province, Korea, and grew up during the Japanese Occupation (1910-1845). During the Korean War he was conscripted by the People’s Army. In 1952 he became a Buddhist and lived a monastic life for ten years. For his activism in confronting South Korea’s dictatorial military government, in was imprisoned and tortured. In prison he began an epic cycle of poems entitled 10,000 Lives… He has published over one hundred volumes of poetry, essays, fiction, drama, and translation of Chinese poetry.