• Book
  • English(English)

상화 시편

  • Author
  • Country
    Republic of Korea
  • Publisher
  • Published Year
  • Genre
    Literature - Korean literature - Contemporary poetry



    Title: Poems for Sang Wha – Planetary Love

    Author: Ko Un

    Genre: poetry


    LTI Korea staff: Alex Baek ( / +82-2-6919-7741)


  • About the book


    The love poems of the internationally acclaimed poet Ko Un


    Poems for Sang Hwa - Planetary love contains the first love poetry of the internationally acclaimed poet Ko Un in his 53-year literary career. The book is dedicated to his wife, Yi Sang Hwa, who has greatly affected the poet’s life since their marriage in 1983. The book honestly depicts the poet as ‘a man’ who yearns for love and learns through love. Conveying the details of the poet’s everyday affairs, his personal history, and his thoughts as he was becoming an internationally acclaimed poet, the poems remind us what a blessing it is to love someone. We sense the poet’s bearing as a great poet through his subjective way of extending human love to the infinity of time, and the dynamic energy of the universe. These poems represent a monumental achievement within Ko Un’s body of work.


    In order to love / it is necessary to return in the poor empty body


    In the introduction, the poet states ‘Nobody must have expected that I would write love poems at the age of 80’. After finishing Ten Thousand Lives, the poet entered ‘the sudden change of the river from its slow flow to a breathtakingly fast flow’.

    In this way, the poet's 'love poems' portray 'the ultimate form of life,' merging his personal and literary worlds. His wife Yi Sang Hwa's poem ('Came from what planet’) at the beginning of the book shows how this book can be the concrete and abstract result of their collaboration, and offers love we may all share in the present time.


    From the beginning, the poet talks about love without hesitation. His unique writing style, bold and passionate, depicts the love that was conceived at the beginning of human history and has been the foundation and body of human existence. Hence, the loved one, to the poet, is ‘mother of mother of mother’ (‘You Are a Remote Root’) and the origin of existence: ‘the two naked bodies push away the moonlight of the ancient time and cross over to the present’ (Moonlit Night).


    To the poet, love is not something that remains as a concept or an idea, but is an actual, concrete entity, built on the substrate of life. It is located ‘before and after numerous definitions’ that ‘cannot be ever defined’ (‘The Place that has not been visited’); and at the same time, it is a subliminal fate formed in history from time’s beginning.


    The horizon is love / Over the horizon is love


    In Ko Un’s Ten Thousand Lives, a grand project unprecedented in Korean literary history, we already witnessed the poet’s capacity to conceive a human history beyond spatial and temporal bounds. Likewise, Poems for Sang Hwa displays the poet’s world-view, which ignores limits. He pushes the foundations of thought to Europe through Siberia, and from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. He simultaneously acknowledges the limits and possibilities of mortal existence within infinite time, and offers an extended poetic thinking that sees life and love through the movement of the universe.


    The look of your eye is dozens of cosmic eons old / that of now / that of dozens of years later / that of now / the expression of the eye without any distance / Late night, not much night left  / Then / A call from our daughter came / The look of your eye goes from somewhere in the universe to our daughter in the western hemisphere / Unaware of it, I sleep the sleep of a river outside your womb (from ‘The Look of Your Eye’)


    When revolving around my wife / I shine


    The poet often calls ‘Sang Hwa’ directly. This name belongs to his wife, and it is also a inclusive name for love. Since love is consistently contemplated in the context of eternal time, that name, and the title of ‘you’ or ‘my dear’ become part of all things in the universe.


    How beautiful love is, when it is congruent with ‘me’ in this way, away from the spatial and temporal. His wife and poetry are forms of deep, infinite love to the poet; and, in this sense, do we not all have such objects of love? He reminds us of the words of another writer (Tagore): ‘You without me, and I without you are nothing’. The poet, who lives in our time, allows us to understand that living with that love is the biggest blessing for each of us and for humanity as a whole.


    About the author


    Ko Un was born in 1933, and entered the Buddhist priesthood at 18. While leading a monastic life, he started his literary career with solicitations from the journals Modern Poetry and Modern Literature. Since his first poetry book, Pi-An-Gam-Sung: Sensitivity to the Other World (1960), his writing progressively matured and evolved, consistently displaying artistic tension and passion. He has about 150 publications to his credit, including the anthology A Certain Wind, a collection of epic poetry titled Mount Paekdu (7 volumes), Ten Thousand Lives (30 volumes of sequential poems), Ko Un’s Selected Poems (2 volumes), Ko Un’s Complete Works (38 volumes), and Untitled Poems. Since 1989, his poetry books and anthologies have been published in over 20 languages, including English, German, French, Swedish, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Turkish, Polish, Greek, Russian, and Egyptian, receiving favorable feedback from readers and the press, worldwide.


    He served as the Chairman of the Association of Korean Artists, the President of the Association of Writers for National Literature, a visiting professor of Korean literature at UC, Berkeley, and a visiting research scholar at the Harvard Yenching Institute. Currently, he is serving as the President of the Joint South-North Editorial Committee for the Compilation of a Grand Korean Dictionary, an invited professor at Seoul National University, and an Endowed-Chair Professor at Dankook University.


    Ko Un has received the officially sponsored Korean Literature Prize (1974/1987), Manhae Literature Award (1989/1998), the JoongAng Culture Prize (1991), the Daesan Prize for Literature (1994), the Order of Merit for Culture (Silver Crown) from the South Korean government (2002), the Danjae Prize (2004), and the Shim Hoon Literature Grand Prize (2015, the second time this prize was given).


    About the translators


    Soyoung Park is a visual artist and dancer residing in Canada. She has revised Korean translations of A History of the World in 100 Objects (a 640 page history book by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum), All the Light We Cannot See (a novel by Anthony Doerr) and Oscar and Lucinda (a novel by Peter Carey). She was a translator and research assistant for Paul Fischer on his recent book, A Kim Jong-Il Production. She is currently revising a Korean translation of Dorothy Parker’s Short Stories.



    Media Response/Awards Received


    - The heat and passion of love in Poems for Sang Hwa exceed those of people in their twenties. (Hankook Ilbo)

    - Ko Un confesses love for the first time in his 50 years of writing poetry. (The Kyunghyang Shinmun)

    - To the poet Ko Un at the age of 80, meteor showers pour down. (Hankyoreh)


    -The Bjornson Order for Literature (Norway, 2005)

    -The Cikada Prize (Sweden, 2006)

    -The Lifetime Achievement Prize of the Griffin Fund for Excellence in Poetry (Canada, 2008)

    -The America Awards in Literature (2011)

    -Membership in the Honor Committee of the World Poetry Academy (2011)

    -The Golden Wreath Award at the Struga Poetry Evenings (Macedonia, 2014)

    -The 6th NordSud International Prize for Literature (Pescara, Italy, 2014)

    -The 1st Grand Prize for Poetry from Poetry and Poetics (2014) 


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