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Around Unmun Temple at Ch'Eongdo

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All day long I've been hidden, enmeshed, locked in
the shadow of the holy mountain,
my body covered with shame.
I'd hoped there would be a dog
barking furiously.
Unable to go forward,
unable to go back,
at least with the sound of a dog barking
I'd attain something . . . something.

Instead of a dog barking there was silence,
then the sound of a drum beaten loud & fast
by a young nun.

Into this temple come none of the grand sounds,
none of the great thoughts.
In the cabbage field, heads all the same size
are profiles of young novice nuns & the priestesses
sitting in Unmun Temple.
Young faces
like dew,
like hoarfrost.

Ko Un, "Around Unmun Temple at Ch’Eongdo," translated by Sunny Jung and Hillel Schwartz, from Abiding Places. Copyright © 2006 by Ko Un.  Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press.
Source: Abiding Places (Tupelo Press, 2006)
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Around Unmun Temple at Ch'Eongdo

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  • Korean poet, writer, and activist Ko Un was born in Gunsan-si, Jeollabuk-do. He was drawn to poetry after discovering the early work of Han Ha-Un, a nomadic Korean poet with leprosy. After witnessing the devastation of the Korean War, Ko entered a monastery and became a Buddhist monk. He left the Buddhist community in 1962. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Ko was detained, tortured, and imprisoned repeatedly for his opposition to the military regime. After being granted a passport in the 1990s, Ko visited North Korea, India, Tibet, and the United States. In 2000, he shared his poetry at the Korean unification summit in Pyongyang and spoke at the United Nations Millennium Peace Summit.
     
    Ko’s poems range from epigrammatic couplets to longer epics and discursive poems, and he engages natural and social themes using the rhythms of informal speech. In a 2012 interview for the Guardian, he discussed...

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