Ko Un

Ko Un is a magnificent poet, a combination of Buddhist cognoscente, passionate political libertarian, and naturalist historian.

- Allen Ginsberg (USA)

Ko Un is not only a major spokesperson for all of Korean culture, but a voice for Planet Earth Watershed as well… Because of their purity, their nervy clarity, and their heart of compassion, his poems are not only Korean —they belong to the world.

- Gary Snyder (USA)

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. Beneath his art I feel the mysterious traditional animal and bird spirits, as well as age-old ceremonies of a nation close to its history.

- Michael McClure (USA)

Ko Un has reached the highest peak of intuition.

- Lawrence Ferlinghetti (USA)

Ko Un's poems are wonderful poems. They are short tales of Korea, sometimes brief as epitaphs, making one think of the beautiful cemetery of Lee Rivers. They are Korean pictures, or rather, since they are written texts, they are like elphrasis shwing us, engraved within the poem, thousands and thousands of lives.....

- Michel Deguy (France)

Ko Un is a remarkable poet and one of the heroes of human freedom in this half century, a religious poet who got tangled by accident in the terrible accidents of modern history. But he is somebody who has been equal to the task, a feat rare among human beings.

- Robert Hass (USA)

The recurring motifs of his poems are generic clouds, rivers, flags, winds and skies, and over the course of this book they create a panorama that feels at once very particular and highly abstracted, and a style that is both familiar and original – a kind of amplified Symbolism. These different kinds of cohesion – principled, spiritual, philosophical, argumentative, stylistic – all converge on the same point. For Ko Un range does not mean diffusion but unity. His hungry appetite for experience, the rapidity with which he synthesises it, the nervous energy of his rhythms: all these things are the hallmarks of a poet whose particular interest is to inhabit each moment as it passes, and yet to see all moments flowing endlessly into one another. This is the process by which he inhabits himself and other people. It is what makes him his own man, and a most eloquent citizen of the world.

- Andrew Motion (UK)

Ko Un’s poems are, it’s true, laden with sorrow. They are also full of irreverent play, and they register others with acute poignancy. They explode, like seed pods, with forward-looking narratives, each as vital as the life-force Ko Un has come to exalt in himself. Sometimes all you need is two lines that could only have been written by a man with a deep insight into the lives of others.

- Barry Hill (Australia)

There is no way to keep up with Ko Un. No one has done more for what is coming gradually but ever more clearly to be recognized as Korea's literature of the twenty-first-century.

- David McCann (USA)

Ko Un, unique friend of the mandalas without Allah, tries to draw tenderness from the depths of his season in hell.

- Alain Jouffroy (France)

In his poems there are eyes that hear, tongues that listen, ears that speak. The dawn is awoken by the receding darkness. It is in indeed a world of dawn being awakened by darkness, and so much else. And all this, in a style which seems almost effortless and without striving, and without any of the apparent “unity” that so many poets have struggle so hard towards over long years of writing.

- Micháel Ó hAodha (Ireland)

A remarkable odyssey filled with striking images and timeless characters, Little Pilgrim will capture your heart. Little Pilgrim is a treasure trove.... In Ko Un’s surefooted possession, the story of Sudhana’s passage to enlightenment is liberated from its scriptural confinement into full light of day.

- Francisca Cho (USA)

It is not too much to say that Ko Un’s poetry is not only ‘poetry world’ but ‘poetry universe.’ .... I think Ko Un has reached that stage. The poet who can do as Ko Un does must have a large magnetic field like a big magnet. Pieces of iron, so long as they are within that magnetic field, regardless whether they are small or big, whether confused or not as to their proper place are arranged in the same north-south direction,

- Bang Viet (Vietnam)

I repeat the words, so simple, so evident, and that shine with a translucent, mysterious joy: ‘each man’, his ‘face’, their ‘feet’, his ‘back’. This is the realistic utopia of Ko Un’s poetry: enveloping each human being with poetic attention, woman or man, child or old man, the normal or the sick, and the poor, maybe more than the rich.

- Claude Mouchard (France)

Two points are pertinent here to Ko Un's prolific tendency. It's remarkable not only how many books he's produced (and every word hand-written: no typewriter, no computer), but also how many genres he's made his own: fiction, essay, translation, drama, poetry. Within poetry, his work spans the gamut. Like the wind, which encircles our planet, his writing has encompassed almost every type.
In a word, Ko Un is not only an eyewitness, but also an actor in the history of his time. His poetry incarnates it, an expression of the suffering and hope that characterizes the indomitable resilience of modern Korea, and the human spirit. Whence does he derive his strength? You might as well ask where the wind comes from. Ask and ask, until you yourself feel the breeze at your heels.

- Gary Gach (USA)

We have warmth in the winter with poems of Ko Un. Here is a poet of sadness, simple joys, vast dimensions, unity with universe, continuity with time, rich with past and open for future. His personal suffering has not turned him cynic. He has picked plain and profound wisdom from pain. Reading his poems is more fruitful than any discourse in philosophy.

- Dileep Jhaveri (India)

Ko Un’s pomes live amid the democracy of all being, looking directly and with great pleasure at this very moment’s bright-leaping essence.

- Jane Hirshfield (USA)

Ko Un is to Korea what Leo Tolstoy is to Russia. A towering literary figure deeply concerned with the great arch of politics as it intersects with the lives of ordinary people who get caught up in history’s trunding, destructive tyres. His body of work—150 books of essays, poetry and fiction— is so mammoth that in Korea he is sometimes referred to as Ko Uns. And it certainly feels as if it would take more than one lifetime to compose his magnum opus Maninbo (Ten Thousand Lives) alone.

- Tishani Doshi (India)

Ko Un is an amazing poet in many ways: the locale of his poetry is firmly Korean but his exploration s and insights have universality. The stubbornly local become effortlessly global. The poetic range is amazingly wide: life, human predicaments, temptation s and anxieties, nature, mortality, contemplation and innovation, echoes of tradition, people, events, images of daily life, everydayness, names, symbols, metaphors, memory etc. Perhaps there is no other poet in the world who has written so much poetry as Ko Un has. He seems not only to be writing but embodying poetry.

- Ashok Vajpeyi (India)

All his life Ko Un crossed the uneasy boundary between poet and rebel, life and death. The more he deepened the reach of poetry, the more he came closer to the essence of life. To no poet, the Delphic maxim, “Know thyself.” applies more profoundly than it does to Ko Un. In a sense, he is the finished work of his own poetry. For Ko Un to write poems is to listen to the voice of the unsaid. He does not own the words; the words own him.

- Ramin Jahnbegloo (Iran)

Dear great poet Ko Un is my mentor. When I was consulted to suggest a great name of poetry, only the iconic name of Ko Un came into my mind. Although we met once, I live with his words for years.

- Ashraf Aboul-Yazid (Egypt)

To me, Ko Un is simply a marvel. All other words seem powerless to describe him.

- Lee Yŏnghŭi

Whenever I try to think of him, he hides behind a mask, one which is undecipherable. If he exists as Ko Un, it is not because of the traces of his presence so much as because of the forms and legends, all that he has carved out beneath the mask, which go to make up Ko Un.

- Kim Hyŏn

Just as in Buddhism we hear of 'supreme patriarchs,' we might say that Ko Un is the first 'supreme poet' in our literary history… What is certain is that we encounter living, breathing Korean language no matter where we open any of his books.

- Yŏm Muŭng

I always feel dizzy at his superman ability, superman passion, superman wildness, and superman accomplishments.

- Song Kisuk

Ko Un is in himself a 'culture.' In a word, in himself he represents a great accomplishment of our culture. If his work is compared to a construction, the building he has constructed is a cultural museum, and in its underground storerooms are gathered all the different spirits which have been forged since human civilization began.

- Lee Munku

A poet we can barely hope to encounter once in a hundred years.

- Kim Yunsik

His imagination, his presentiment insightful into the world, his brilliant and flowing styles….could all these be made(borm) from one person? It would be an incomprehensible phenomenon if multiple geniuses are not swarming(being crowded) in him.

- Kim Byong-ik

Ko Un has accomplished a remarkable achievement, unique in the history of Korean poetry, through his repeated poetic metamorphoses.

- Choi Wŏnsik

There is no one like Ko Un in today's Korea. His life is itself a poem, a poem filled with struggle, pain, contradictions and agony..... For Ko Un, true universality has to be sought in the historical particularities of individual national destinies. Performing his poems with such intense vitality, he is not asking the audience to focus on him but to hear, through him, a voice expressing in vivid poetry the essence of what Korea has been obliged to suffer over the last 120 years.

- Brother Anthony at Taize

Ko Un's writing is often compared to high mountains. It is true. Limiting ourselves to his poetry alone, the feeling we get when we read his poems is like the experience we have as we struggle along amidst high mountains. His poems are high mountain peaks, suddenly followed by deep valleys. It is certain that his work represents one of the highest peaks Korean literature has ever reached.

- Shin Kyŏngrim

Both in quantity and quality, Ko Un's creation is no less outstanding than that of world writers like Goethe, Leo Tolstoy, and Victor Hugo. In the revolutionary passion he has dedicated himself to, he surpasses Tu Fu, Pushkin, Heine, Mayakovsky, Brecht, or Pablo Neruda. On the other hand, in terms of aesthetic integrity and artistic creativity in both vision and action, he is equal with Villon, Poe, Baudelaire, and Oscar Wilde. He surpasses or at least equals Yi Po in drinking, Lord Byron in womanizing. He holds a unique place in every field—be it in his eccentricity, in all kinds of notorious actions, or in his poetry-reading skills. Thinking of all this, I conclude that he must be an eccentric genius, the likes of whom are rarely found in the history of world literature.

- Lim Hŏnyŏng

Ko Un is a living myth in the history of Korea's literature and intellectual history.

- Kim Jaehong

The result of Ko Un's volcano-like explosions of creativity, his explosive use of language is, paradoxically, a kind of roaring silence… Ko Un is the first truly major poet Korea has ever produced.

- Kim Yŏngmu

About Ko Un, it is more appropriate if we say that he lives literature, that he lives poetry, rather than saying that he writes them.

- Kwŏn Yŏngmin

In spite of all limitations, he tries to transport his existence in total terms, himself and his works, to another plane or space, to a world where the ordinary, the commonplace, and the common are all annihilated.

- Lee Dongsun

A poet for all seasons.

- Clare You

Ko Un is a phenomenon of energy unequalled in our time, one which can neither be named nor expressed. His is a ghostly mask blooming within so many roles : ringleader of nihilism amidst fathomless, endless rumors in the 1960s; grotesque poet of diabolism; constant potential suicide; utter aesthete; buddhist monk returned to secular life; high-point of dark, dazzling scandals in the bars of Cheongjin-dong.

- Kim Sŭnghŭi

Without Ko Un, we cannot conceive of the history of Korean literature.

- Kim Taehyŏn

To me it seems that Ko Un writes poems not with his will but with his breathing. I have a feeling that for Ko Un, poems are not written but flow.

- Hwang Jiwu

Perhaps Ko Un breathes his poems before putting them to paper. I imagine his poems springing from his magic breath rather then from his pen. To use bolder language, Ko Un seems to be a shaman, a medium of poetry. His breathing is the breath of poetry, spiritually and physically. It strikes me as something mysterious, unable as I am to keep up with his breathing. When his breathing deepens it becomes a poem, one which needs no further explanation.

- Sŏng Minyŏp

Ko Un is standing as a stately towering peak after going through an almost legendary poems and the hard ways of life. Even though ‘poetic death’ comes to him today, it would be difficult to tear off the labels attached to him such as ‘the greatest poet in the history of modern Korean literature,’ ‘the greatest national poet of Korea,’ ‘the highest peak of cirtical realism,’ or ‘a government or a state.’

- Lee Kyungsoo

Ko Un is a poet who makes people jump to their feet, for he is armed with the artless and endearing naivete of a child romping about with his little sex sticking out of a hole in the bottom of his pants.
He is a poet of the kind who comes to this world once in a hundred years, armed with a voice like thunder and lightning and a limitless power of imagination like a waterfall. He is destined to be 'God's gift and blessing.'.... He is fresh and green like a zelkove tree which is said to live 1.000 years.
His poems are unhindered and without obstacles, not knotted or gnarled. They flow proudly like rivers. They flow far far away like the Han River, the Naktong River, or the Chungchon river, but never overflow their banks. Flowing endlessly, they nurture all. The river in which he swims nurtures mullets and crucians, while a dragon poised to fly up into the sky lives there too, without fail. The world of his poems is so wide, so big and so strong.

- Kim Joontae

Ko Un's poems could perhaps be plagiarized, but not his life. Every witness agrees in describing him as an 'unprecedented, utterly unexpected event', whether he is seen from the left, the center or the right.
Ko Un's footsteps, that have traversed the pathless, un-signposted wilderness, should be recorded in the wild (as opposite to the intellectual) history of Korea. If you walk along an already existing road, even alone, you are accompanied by countless footprints, but while walking through the pathless wilderness you have only your own solitary shadow. Fifty years of poetry writing! Through all that long period of time, Ko Un has always walked, not 'with the system' but 'alone,' like J. J. Rousseau. And those countless moments of blessing and scorn that he has scattered along the city streets, like the dreams of a solitary walker, have all become the annual growth rings of modern Korean poetry.

- Kim Hyungsoo

Ko Un is a poet who would kindle a fire of poems even in the desert. He is poetry’s river flowing endlessly, its ocean: how magnificent he is. He is a storeroom of songs that refuse to dry up.
Ko Un doesn’t hide the reasons why he writes poems, why poems come to him, just as a waterfall doesn’t hide its voice and the typhoon does not deliberately lower the volume of its noise.
He is a poet who always stands in the middle of the age he lives in, confronting it and overcoming it; and by his method of confronting and overcoming, he is a poet resolved to write for his age.

- Do Jung-il

Ko Un is a genre in himself: the Genre Ko Un.
Asking Ko Un something is very un-Ko Un. And it is genre Ko Un that makes a home even for this un-Ko Un. Generally, poets have words, but Ko Un also holds a knife as an activist, and a liquor on his breath that makes the whole world drunk. Words, liquor, and knife are all one for him. This is Genre Ko Un, and that’s all.

- Suh Hae-Sung

Ko Un is an interweaving of eruptiveness, drama and stoic resignation. He finds speech sacred, which is very well shown in his stage performances, where he accompanies his poems with unarticulated sounds and often sings the verses like an ode to life.«

- Delo, newspaper (Slovenia)