Born in Kunsan (North Cholla Province) in 1933, Ko Un is probably the most controversial and surely the most prolific Korean writer at present alive. He has published well over a hundred volumes of poetry, fiction, essays, translations, and drama. His poetry ranges from the short lyric to the vast epic sweep of the seven volumes of Paektu-san. His fiction includes the Buddhist-inspired novel Hwaomkyong (The Avatamsaka Sutra) and Son (Zen), a fictionalized history of the early Son (Zen) masters of China and Korea. The on-going series Maninbo (Ten Thousand Lives) contains short poems evoking one by one all the people Ko Un has met in his life, as an expression of his deep desire to incarnate in his poetry a radical rewriting of modern Korean history.

Ko Un's life history is equally remarkable. As a child he very quickly mastered the Chinese classics. In his late teens, marked by his experiences during the Korean War, he became a Buddhist monk and was quickly given a series of important positions. After ten years he quit the monastic life and returned to the world, with a deeply nihilistic attitude that culminated in an attempted suicide in 1970. Restored to life, he became a leading spokesmen for the artists and students opposed to the so- called Yushin Reforms of 1972. He was among the many people arrested when Chon Doo Hwan staged his coup d'etat in May 1980. He continued to be identified with the writers opposed to dictatorship throughout the 1980s and was arrested many times. In 1982 he married and went to live in Ansong, away from Seoul.

In the last ten years he has become well-known internationally, having given numerous readings in many countries of Europe, in Latin America and North America, as well as Australia. His work is now published in at least a dozen languages. Identified with the socially active school of literature, Ko Un's name was for long anathema to those whose literary criteria were aesthetic and conformist, as well as to the government. His intense longing for the reunification of Korea is expressed in many places and his main concern has always been to express the historic identity of the Korean people as a whole.

A man of intense emotions, his poetry is often characterized by the rhetorical features of public speech: rhetorical questions, exclamations, exhortatory imperatives. His poetic language is vivid and colloquial, marked by popular speech rhythms rather than by literary conventions. Controversy as to the evaluation of his work continues; he has many fervent admirers, while others criticize the spontaneity, the lack of polish and refinement that at times characterize his work.


Translator:   Brother Anthony of Taize (An Sonjae)
Professor, Department of English Language and Literature
Sogang University

Born in Truro (Cornwall, U. K.) in 1942.

Studied Medieval and Modern Languages at The Queen's College, in the University of Oxford, from 1960 until 1969.

Joined the Community of Taize (France) in 1969.

Taize is the name of a small village not far from Macon and Cluny in eastern France. Since 1940 it has been home to an ecumenical monastic community of brothers known as the Community of Taize. Taize has become well-known in recent decades for hosting meetings where young adults from all over the world pray and share together. The Community's main concern is to promote reconciliation and trust. Here is a glimpse of Taize.

Made Life Commitment in the Community at Easter 1974. Lived in the Philippines 1977-80.

Came to Korea in May 1980, invited by Cardinal Kim. Lives in Seoul with other Brothers from Taize.

Began to teach in Sogang University in September 1980. Now a full Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, teaching medieval and Renaissance English literature and culture. Served as Department Chairman 1992 - 1994. Has written a number of books and articles about English literature, and translated works of modern Korean literature. President of the Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea 1998-2000. Was in charge of the British & American Cultures Major from July 2000, and Chair of the English Department from May 2001. Released from both anxieties July 2003.

Naturalized in 1994 with the Korean name An Sonjae.

While I was translating a novel by Ko Un based on the last part of the Buddhist Avatamsaka Sutra, the Garland Sutra, I came across the story of Sudhana (called Sonjae in Korean), a child living in India at the time of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Sonjae travels all over India in search of enlightening wisdom. He meets a lot of different people, 53 in all, from each of whom he learns something that brings him closer to his goal. Yet even after his journey is complete, he is still only a child, life remains to be lived. That Buddhist 'Pilgrim's Progress' is the origin of my Korean name, which is at the same time an adaptation of 'Anthony'.