Poems from the compilation "First Person Sorrowful" by Ko Un, Buddhist monk, in the IAACP Session of the Think Tank 2022 Forum on 3 February, 2022.


White Butterfly


One white butterfly,

ghost of wisdom, is flying

over the foolish sea.

All the books of this world are shut.


From inside the house,

a poodle’s tail came out, welcoming.

From inside the house

my heart came out, rejoicing and welcoming.

I removed my helmet,

laid down my gun,

undid my bandolier.

I took off my ox-leather boots,

removed my socks, left sock first.

My bare feet emerged, pitiful

as fresh shoots beaten down.

I looked at my wife’s photo.

I began to weep.

A Boy’s Song

The reason why that sea without ancestors

breaks in waves like that, day after day,

is because it longs to become the sky.

It cannot be otherwise!

The reason why that sky

foolishly, day and night,

produces clouds

and then erases them

is because it longs to come down to the sea.

It cannot be otherwise!

The reason why I cannot live on my own like an empty bottle,

why I cannot live only with kith and kin,

is because I long to become someone else, if just once…


I’ll have to live in ignorance of the countless others

surrounding me in this world.

You people!

Marvel at the boy. Marvel at the boy’s song.

October 19

Autumn reveals my bones.

My heart has been

bruised to the core,

it has become the blue sky.

There is no broken-knife lightning,

no thunder.

Yellow Sea at sunset.

No peacock’s tail floats on the sea;

on the mountain slopes

and inside their shadows the fallen leaves are blowing about.

The soul regrets.

At the seaside a few shells are playing.

Now I

want to learn nothing.

Oh, my ignorance in the autumn!

I am most grateful to have grown up only in this little country

             south of the Armistice Line.



there is no soaring chimney smoke in the village at dusk,

no sound of parents calling children.

I would say that this is how we are today.


A woman, walking alone,


as though she has a companion.

A woman, reading a novel,

weeps with the weeping

of a woman abandoned in the novel.

Isn’t such a woman at times also someone’s mother?

How can the Lady Maya of ancient India alone

or the Virgin Mary alone

be a mother?

And a woman who has no child

yet can search through the darkness after sunset,

isn’t she also a mother?


A thousand years before, I was you,

a thousand years after, you will be me.

Together, we are listening, all ears.

Late in the night snow is falling.



We are both listening.

Song of White

One life

dreams of another life.

Late spring white pear blossoms, their hearts throbbing,

await the moon.

One life

resembles another life.

In the summer night, the field of buckwheat flowers

awaits the moon.

One life

inhumes another life.

It’s winter.

The snow that fell heavily yesterday

awaits the moon with all its heart.

I throw a stone.

Buried in the snow,

it begins another life.

Finally the moon rises.

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