Five Poems from Maninbo (Ten thousand lives)
Ŏnnyŏn in Siberia
In the 1920ssome Koreansmade their way beyond Mongoliainto Russia,journeyed all the way to near Lake Baikaland settled in a ruined hut that had to be propped up.
Such a long way to go to live.
Despite blizzardsand days so cold their urine froze,they managednot to freeze to death.
Such a harsh way to live.
On a freezing morning, a girl in Korean dress, long skirt and blouse,a water pot on her headwent on her way [End Page 295] to fetch watercarrying a club to smash the ice.
Not yet called Anna or Tatiana,just Ŏnnyŏn, Pretty Girl.
Her father had not come home for several days.Boarding a sledge,he went off to a hunting lodgein Bear Forest.
Ŏnnyŏn hadtwo younger brothersand two younger sisters.
The family had grown as they journeyed on.
They're not yet called Sergei or Josip or Boris butFirst TwinSecond TwinTong-sŏpKŭt-sŏpBelow ŎnnyŏnLittle GirlLast Girl.
Once she turned eight, Ŏnnyŏn became an adult.She had been living the daysshe was destined to live. [End Page 296]
Outside Kanghwa town on Kanghwa Islandthere's Kapkot, a place where breezes blow.In the fields of Kapkot,once the special February wind subsides,the March wind comes along.Skylarks venturing upward are injured by the gusts.
Across the whirlwind-stirred sea,in the haze of the Kimp'o plainsthe April wind makes the seedbeds sprout with young rice.
The seedlings are planted in May.As people are planting the rice they shout:HallelujahHallelujah
Once Christianity arrived at isolated villages,believersand non-believersbecame deadly foes.
In a single village Baptistsand Episcopalians,each other's enemies,could not intermarry,could not attend each other's wedding parties.
A member of the Holiness Church, Kwak Il-kyu,who shouts Hallelujah one hundred times a day,is getting married to Hong Sun-ja of the same church,who shouts Hallelujah two hundred times a day. [End Page 297]
Episcopalians dare not attendthe wedding,even though they're cousinsor distant relatives.
Former co-workers,former close friends and kinvanished,became one another's foes.
The moment the North Korean armies arrivedthose on the left arose, killed those on the right.Once the North withdrewthe right was lefthaving slaughtered all those on the left.
The churches prospered.The churches distributedAmerican relief food and goods.People came flockingto collect wheat flour.They even received a secondhand suit of clothes.
All were forced to shout Hallelujah!Out in the fields at harvest time too:Hallelujah!Hallelujah! [End Page 298]
Yi Jŏng-yi's Family
They walked all the way from Chinnamp'o in North Koreato Hongsŏng in South Korea's Ch'ungch'ŏng Province.They walked and walked,for twenty days they fled.
Yi Jŏn-haeand her sister Yi Jŏng-yiwith their parents following them.
All day long walking with nothing to eat.When they found a wellthey drank then walked on in the flesh-biting cold.
They dreaded the American troopsso they smeared their clotheswith their own shit.
They spread soot from kitchen chimneysover their faces.The mother becamea beggar-mom,her daughters beggar kids.
Their bodies stank of shit.Instead of American troops, dogs came running.
Their robust fatherlikewiseblackened his face. The teeth inside his lips looked stronger still. [End Page 299]
When snow fellthey ventured into a villageand were saved by a shedor an empty cowstall.
Three hundred miles they walked,arrived at Hongsŏng, settled there.
When China attacked in January '51,they never reached there,being held back near the 38th parallel.They began a new life amidst the hills and fields of Hongsŏng,purchased a big hospital.
One daughter, Yi Jŏng-yi got married,became the poet Kim Young-Moo's wife. Never late for Mass. [End Page 300]
Soon after Liberation,Seoulbegan to teem with 370 different political parties and civic groups.Every morning when you woke upseveral more had hung out their signboards.Parties with just five members appeared, lacking even a signboard.
The commander of the occupying forces, General Hodge,detested the Koreans, calling them cats or worse.All the Koreans working in Hodge's headquartersand the Koreans in the streetsoutside his headquarterswere liberally doused with DDT.Smothered in that poisonous powderthe Koreans would giggle helplesslywhile they boiled with seething shame.
Thanks to the Americans who came for the warin 1950 Korea again became a land of DDT,fleas, bugs, and the plentiful lice and nits about their bodies,even invisible microbes,were uncivilized Koreansso the Americans drenched the Koreansin plentiful quantities of DDT.
All the orphans likewisewere baptized in Hallelujahs and DDT.Offspring with neither dad nor mom became the offspring of DDT.
Ch'oe Johan, a war orphan,his family name was that of the director of his orphanage, Zion [End Page 301]
Home,his given namethe John of St. John's gospel.His original name, Pak Sun-Sik, was completely forgotten.
Since his room happened to be next to a stinking cesspool,Ch'oe Johan's blanketalways smelt of a mixture of DDT and sewage.
Ah, home, sweet home. [End Page 302]
His Japanese wife died.Love lost.
Alone he molded clay,chiseled stone.
The sculptor Kwŏn Jin-gyuhad a room in Seoul's Tonam-dong district.
The sculptures were quite at home.The sculptorwas a guest squatting on the edge of a camp bed in a corner.
One clay figure breathing.One sculptor gasping.
It seems there are cliffs in art.He failed to avoid the cliff,walked over the edge,and after that there was nothing.
He ended his life.Not because he hated the worldNot because he hated himself. Art driven out. [End Page 303]
Ko Un, born in 1933, is a world-famous figure, and has published more than 130 volumes of poetry and other writings, including twenty-three of the monumental Maninbo (Ten thousand lives) series. An edition of English translations of poems selected from the first ten Maninbo volumes, Ten Thousand Lives, was published by Green Integer in 2005 and Flowers of a Moment was published by BOA in 2006. A full selection of his poems, Songs for Tomorrow, will be published by Green Integer in 2007. A new edition of his Zen poems What? will be published by Parallax Press in early 2008.
Brother Anthony of Taizé was born in England in 1942 and completed studies in medieval and modern languages at Oxford. He is a member of the Community of Taizé and has been living in Korea since 1980, where he taught medieval and renaissance English literature at Sogang University (Seoul) for many years. More than twenty volumes of his English translations of modern Korean literature have been published. A Korean national, his Korean name is An Sonjae.
Lee Sang-Wha is a professor of English Literature at Choong-Ang University. Her specialty is utopias in literature and she has published a study of British utopian novels in the twentieth century. She has also translated six literary works from English into Korean.