Introduction by Sir Andrew Motion
Ko Un has long been a living legend in Korea, both as a poet and as a person. Allen Ginsberg once wrote, 'Ko Un is a magnificent poet, combination of Buddhist cognoscente, passionate political libertarian, and naturalist historian.'
When a writer has published as much as Ko Un has in the course of more than fifty years of writing, it is hard to know where to begin, what to translate. For this collection, his translators have selected a hundred or so poems from the five collections published since the year 2002, collections acclaimed by Korean critics as bringing poetry to a new level of cosmic reference. Nothing shows more clearly his stature as a writer than the variety of themes and emotions found in his most recent work. Readers here have access for the first time to many of the poems Ko Un has produced in the 21st century, as he approaches his eightieth year, his energy and originality unabated.
As Michael McLure wrote years ago: 'Ko Un's poetry has the old-fashionedness of a muddy rut on a country road after rain, and yet it is also as state-of-the-art as a DNA micro-chip.' That remains true today.
Ko Un live at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
Ko Un launched First Person Sorrowful - the first UK edition of his poetry - at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival with translator Brother Anthony of Taizé in November 2012. In this video, he reads these poems followed by Brother Anthony the translations in English: 죽은 시인들과의 시간 (Time with Dead Poets), 햇볕 (Sunlight), 작은 노래 24편 중 (from 24 Songs), 그 속삭임 (The Whisper), 작은 노래 24편 중 (from 24 Little Songs), 만약 10년 30년 또는 60년 (Ten years, thirty years, or fifty years), 오늘이 하찮은 날일지라도 (Today may be a trivial day), 붉은 영산홍이 피어 있네 (Scarlet rhododendrons are in blossom), 일인칭은 슬프다 (First Person Sorrowful). The film ends with the finale of another Aldeburgh event at which Ko Un delighted the audience with his rendering of the traditional Korean folksong Miryang Arirang (밀양 아리랑). All the poems are taken from First Person Sorrowful, translated by Lee Sang-Wha and Brother Anthony of Taizé (Bloodaxe Books, 2012). In 2015 Bloodaxe published their translation of Ko Un’s Maninbo: Peace & War.