Ko Un, poet, novelist, literary critic, political dissident and ex-Buddhist monk, is often called kobong, "great mountain peak," by his peers. It seems a fair metaphor, not only because of the enormous volume of work he has produced, but also for its content. His poems resonate with the same awe-invoking mythic power that a great mountain has, a great mountain with its deep valleys and peaks and varied and abundant wildlife, ranging from ancient towering trees to tiny delicate flowers and from beasts of prey to miniature insects.
Ko Un is unquestionably a giant among contemporary Korean poets. His poetic reservoir is filled with memories and experiences ranging from those of his childhood to those of the senior man he now is, he having passed that important milestone of life, the hoegap ("the sixtieth birthday"); he has lived as a precocious boy, a soul-searching monk, a tormented, nihilistic vagabond, a vitriolic dissident and, finally, a devoted family man.
Although he is not yet widely known in the United States, he has been succinctly described by Allen Ginsberg: "Ko Un is a magnificent poet, a combination of Buddhist cognoscente, passionate political libertarian, and naturalist historian.
Read more about him here.
Here's a poem I like:
The Roads Ahead
Let's not say we've reached our destination.
Though it's been tens of thousands of miles,
the road to travel is longer
than the road I've come
and it still lies ahead.
Chance brought me to the day's end,
I spent the night like a sleeping beast,
the road I've yet to travel still lies ahead.
Though solitude has kept me company,
it wasn't the solitude alone;
it was the world
and the roads ahead.
Surely it is
a world of the unknown.
The wind is rising.