Letter

Ko Un
Translation by Don Mee Choi


 


My bother
a wounded soldier brother
of Vietnam War


I’m drunk
Today I detest lies
hate lies


I never worked
at an office or candy factory


That was all a lie


Seven years ago, as soon as
I arrived at Seoul Train Station
I went on my road
I went on a road of a Jap’s whore


My bother
my brother
crippled brother


I got drunk
Only when I’m drunk
I have a home


Even a whore, a whore has a home


Translated by Don Mee Choi


 


 


Ko Un was born Ko Untae in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province in 1933. He was at Gunsan Middle School when war broke out. The Korean War emotionally and physically traumatized Ko and caused the death of many of his relatives and friends.  In 1952, before the war had ended, Ko became a Buddhist monk. After a decade of monastic life, he chose to return to the active, secular world in 1962 to become a devoted poet. 


Around the time the South Korean government attempted to curb democracy by putting forward the Yusin Constitution in late 1972, Ko became very active in the democracy movement and led efforts to improve the political situation in South Korea, while still writing prolifically and being sent to prison four times (1974, 1979, 1980 and 1989). In May 1980, during the coup d’etat led by Chun Doo-hwan, Ko was accused of treason and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. He was released in August 1982 as part of a general pardon.


After his release, Ko married and moved to Anseong, Gyeonggi-do, where he still lives. He resumed writing and began to travel, his many visits providing fabric for the tapestry of his poems. Since 2007, he is a visiting scholar in Seoul National University, and teaches poetics and literature.
Don Mee Choi see bio in previous poetic translations on in the Author’s page.