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positions: east asia cultures critique 8.2 (2000) 557-558

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Four Poems

Ko Un


To mountains at dusk
What are you?

What are you are you …

A Rainbow

There are such things, straightening clothes.

Asking the Way

You blockheads who ask what Buddha is
should start asking about every sentient being
instead. [End Page 557]
Ask about everything.
When you're hungry
    ask about food.
Ask the moonlight about the way.
Find a port where lemon trees bloom
    where lemon trees bloom.
Ask about places to drink in the port.

Ask and ask till nothing's left to ask.


Discontent! What a powerful thing it is.
We all should have
    more discontents that ought to be
than discontents that are.
The discontent that I feel for myself
when at midnight I inspect myself
under direct light from a lamp.
Half-written texts
books as yet unread
a watch gone dead
these are surely my strength.
Outside the window
I see cars rushing down Route 38 by night.
Even they
are my discontent.
What a powerful thing!


“Echo,” “A Rainbow,” and “Asking the Way” are from Beyond Self: 108 Korean Zen Poems by Ko Un, trans. Young-Moo Kim and Brother Anthony (Berkeley, Calif.: Parallax Press, 1997). Reprinted with permission of the translators. “Discontent” is from Ko Un, Songs of Tomorrow, trans. Nak-chung Paik, You-me Park, and James West (Seoul: Changbi Publishers, 1992). Reprinted with the permission of the author and translators.



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