let none live here but those who will die here

Ko Un: New Year’s Day

This is the loneliest spot in the country on New Year’s Day.
I’ve spent the whole long winter here,
devoid of everything.
It’s been a week already since the boats stopped running.
Chuja Island goes on getting smaller
until sad eyes cannot see it.

Don’t overturn the glass from which you drank.
Once you’re past thirty,
you can make friends with an empty glass.

Tell me, wind: what can I hope for on New Year’s Day on this remote island?
After some tedious, very tedious reading
by the light of a small oil lamp,
I mutter a single drunken line
but vowels alone cannot make it audible
as far as that widower’s tomb out there.

So, wind: let none live here but those who will die here.
Endurance is the greatest journey of all.
Even if the boats are completely overwhelmed by the gale,
I’m going to set out, though I’ve got no overcoat.

Tell me again, wind: what more can I hope for on New Year’s Day?
From the guts of a boarding house, coughs flee
one after another, that’s all I can hear…
One day, they’ll return, transformed into the local dialect.
Ah, New Year’s greetings, buried alive by Cheju Island’s wild whirlwinds.

From Songs of Tomorrow, Green Integer’s collection of Ko Un’s dazzling poetry, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé, Young-Moo Kim and Gary Gach. Green Integer, whose motto is “Pataphysics and Pedantry”, is an amazing publisher, who keeps providing a stage and a voice to poetry in translation. Without them, I would have had no chance of finding this extraordinary poet. Read Ko Un. He’s worth every bit of your attention.

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