The Poetic Gardens of Ko Un

Ko Un shows the poem "The Man Who Climbed the Himalayas " wriiten by Ashraf Aboul-Yazid , published in 'He is Beyond Our Longing', an anthology in 440-pages dedicated to Ko Un on hos 90th birthday

Ko Un shows the poem “The Man Who Climbed the Himalayas ” wriiten by Ashraf Aboul-Yazid , published in ‘He is Beyond Our Longing’, an anthology in 440-pages dedicated to Ko Un on hos 90th birthday

By Ashraf Aboul-Yazid,
President, Asia Journalists Association

SEOUL: In an exceptional meeting, I had the chance to receive the great Anthology dedicated to the iconic Korean poet Ko Un celebrating his 90th birthday.

The front book cover of the Anthology with the title ‘He is Beyond Our Longing’, which is 440-page long, has the contribution from 202 poets, artists, both home and abroad, and intellectuals and cultural people.

It was wonderful moments when Ko Un read the poem I dedicated to him on this occasion, publish in pages 190-191, commenting that everyone loved it.

Ko Un painting by his wife professor Lee Sang Wha

Ko Un painting by his wife professor Lee Sang Wha

I wrote:

Ko Un | The Man Who Climbed the Himalayas

The man who climbed the Himalayas

To pluck clouds from the grove of Tibet

Coloring some of them to make butterflies

Distilling others to become rain

Irrigating his notebook by words

 In a heavy rain

Nobody feels

a lonely drop of water.

From Kathmandu I was watching


The man who climbed the Himalayas

My plane was flying by

As he was making snow birds with gloves

He whispered in their mouth, sending them,  joyfully, flying towards me,

Tweeting his name.


The man who climbed the Himalayas

His feet drew a map of love and hope

On the white ground

Oh! He’s building something!

Is it a tower? Or is it a pagoda?

Is it a monastery? Or is it a temple?

Is it a church? Or is it a mosque?

No. It’s a heart, where

A thousand and one life live.

Giant Future Buddha

Giant Future Buddha

The commemorative anthology ends with my words”My dear great poet Ko Un is my mentor. When I was asked to name a great poet, the only name that came to mind was the iconic name of Ko Un. Although we only met once, I have been living with his words for many years.”

Thanks to his wife, Lee Sang-Wha, the Emeritus Professor at Chung-Ang University, who translated my poem and notes into Korean. She has published six translations into Korean of literary works, including two of works by Gary Snyder. She has collaborated with Brother Anthony on several volumes of translations of work by Ko Un.

One of the surprises Lee Sang-Wha had in the 90th birthday party was giving a book she wrote to her partner. The front book cover of her love poems, dedicated to Ko Un as ‘a surprise’, the title is Joy with Ko Un. The book’s title and painting are hers (the title of her painting is Ko Un’s Hands. He is writing on a blank page against the sky).

To the Future Buddha Temple

To the Future Buddha Temple

We had a special time to know a lot of our poet, as an artist and a calligrapher, the two couple will definitely have a daughter who has become an artist herself. The house looks like a poetic garden where verses dance with colors, the portraits created by SangWha, the hanged calligraphy stripes by Ko Un and the paintings in acrylic by their daughter.

On a nice corner there was the final volume of English Maninbo, published on Ko Un’s birthday to celebrate his ninety lives.

Ko Un at one of his desks to work

Ko Un at one of his desks for work

The celebration took place on July 26 in a huge Ecology School auditorium in Yang Pyeong, near Seoul, and some 200 people– poets and writers, artists, intellectuals, cultural people, gathered from all parts of Korea to celebrate Ko Un’s birthday. The place was decorated with many placards made with calligraphy and Ko Un’s photos.

The ceremony and celebration lasted for about 5 hours with 2 Parts, with several congratulatory speeches, songs traditional and modern, including their national beautiful pop song ‘Senoya Senoya’ set to Ko Un’s lyrics. (There are 3 songs set to Ko Un’s beautiful, simple and deep lyrics, ‘Senoya Senoya’, ‘Autumn Letter’, ‘A Little Boat’, all much loved by Korean people.), playing the traditional instruments, dances, with wonderful Korean food and drinks, all through the evening.

With Ko Un, Snga Wha, at home

With Ko Un, Snga Wha, at home

Ko Un made a brilliant, much -loved speech, this time concentrating on the ocean waves. At the end of the First Part with Ko Un’s speech, SangWha went up onto the platform, as nobody knew nor expected, to dedicate her secret book of love poems which she had secretly prepared with the publisher for months to Ko Un, an utter surprise, and it was received with great cheers and much pleasure by the participants. Ko Un was really surprised!

I also say Ko Un’s great grand epic of 1100-page ‘Cheong'(Song of Sim Cheong) last autumn, and 3 new poetry books will be out in the Spring this year.

'He is Beyond Our Longing'

‘He is Beyond Our Longing’

We left the home, for a wider world, visiting the temple with future giant Buddha, the Gyronggi Province Museum,  and the Korean Folk Village, which celebrates its 50th anniversary. This certain village was the spot I visited almost 17 years ago. Inside, I recalled the studio I had its photos, while old houses reminded himself with the house he was born and raised in. It has been a full day, from noon to sunset but it summed up a whole life, with love and sincerity.

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