on April 25, 2007
A beautiful translation of the poems of Han Yong-un, nom de plume Manhae. The book itself is gorgeous as well, superbly constructed and with a lovely cover illustration. The author does a remarkable job in capturing the essence of meaning, while preserving the aesthetic beauty of the poetry from its original language.
Don't purchase this expecting a collection of romantic Shakespeare sonnets; you'll be slightly disappointed by the lack of lines you can recite to your intended. The closest it comes to "shall I compare thee to a summer day" is one poem which does indeed compare the intended to jade and other precious goods, but begins and ends with lines to the effect of "it's not quite right to call you beautiful." Kind of a mood killer if your goal is to impress that special someone.
What Manhae does provide is wonderful, utterly sublime lines of longing, the pain of seperation, and often unrequited desire. The title does well in capturing the sensibility of the poems - think of a type of love where the entire world and everything in it conspires to remind you of the object of your desire. The oft ambiguous sex of the narrator actually adds to this ambience, and the tone and content of some poems does lend a degree of believability to rumors that some (if not all) of the poems were written by a Buddhist nun instead of the implied author. One can easily see and interpret some of the works in the context of an author active in the nationalistic Korean independence movement
Superb work which will undoubtedly be the definitive translation. Manhae deserves to be brought out of obscurity for western readers and enjoyed, and this translation should do well to accomplish that.
on March 25, 2013
Others have commented on the content of this book - the beautiful translations of magnificent poetry - but there's also the physical book itself. The design of the book is lovely. I admit that I don't much like the cover, but inside you'll find creamy paper with a perfect font. The end papers are a subtle, earthy green which matches the sensibilities of the poetry. The ribbon place marker, usually bright red, is a gentle tan-brown, further anchoring the book's aesthetic in the thoughtful instead of the noisy. I love looking at this book as much as I love reading it. This would be a beautiful gift for someone you love.
on March 12, 2007
When this book was first published in 2005, the poet Robert Pinsky wrote in his Washington Post column: "One of the fathers of the Korean independence movement was Manhae, an important figure not only in poetry but also in religion, culture and politics. An American poet reads with a gasp that Manhae, a monk who profoundly influenced Buddhist thought and practice, was also a coauthor of the Korean Declaration of Independence. As Han Yong-un, he was also a founding modern poet. So here are significant accomplishments comparable to those of Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, all credited to someone born in 1879, the same year as the American businessman-poet Wallace Stevens. (. . .) In Cho's English renderings, these poems have the power to expand an American reader's notion of poetry." That's quite a strong endorsement!
Former American Poet Laureate Robert Hass, reviewing Ko Un's "Ten Thousand Lives" at about the same moment, included a mention of this book too: "Manhae, writing a sort of rhythmic prose in the manner of Tagore, produced something quite new in Korean literature, a book of intensely spiritual love poems. The situation of the lovers is not clear; even the gender of the beloved is not clear, and Manhae wrote a preface to the book which invited allegorical readings. The loved one is not only the beloved; it is also everything yearned for. If all living beings are the beloved for Sakyamuni, philosophy is the beloved for Kant. If the spring rain is the beloved for the rose, then Italy is the beloved for Mazzini.
Han Yong-un's career as a poet begins and ends with this one mysterious book, and its intensities have been read by several generations of poets as an allegory of political oppression, and in the postwar years the beloved became a Korea made whole again. Erotic anguish has become political anguish and also a text in Buddhist spirituality. Han Yong-un died in 1944, just before Korea was liberated from the Japanese by the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Francisca Cho, in her fresh and intelligent rendering of the book, has retitled it Everything Yearned For: Manhae's Poems of Love and Longing. By translating the Korean word nim, "love" in English, with the phrase from Manhae's preface, "Everything Yearned For," she has sidestepped the somewhat sappy diction of previous translations and suggested that muffled and painful quality of longing with which the poems are suffused."
If Pinsky and Hass can write like that about this book, what more can I add?
on April 2, 2015
Honestly, while of course the original author and the translator are excellent, it does appear to me that a lot of the details that Manhae included in his poems, which almost approach a narrative quality at times, are not preserved in the translation. It is all a matter of taste. If you like nearly baroque detail and depth, as well as embellishment and the probable multiple meanings Manhae intended for his poems, then I suppose you would need to read the poems in the original or translate them yourself. I fully respect this translator's interpretation and approach, but to me I happen to prefer retaining more of the complex details in translation. Yes, I have read them in Korean. I think I will continue reading them in the original. Korean not being my first language though, I very much appreciate this translation giving me the opportunity to approach these poems in my own language. Anyways, I do greatly appreciate this translation which brings Manhae into English speaking culture and brings his work even closer to my heart.
on January 27, 2011
While I haven't read it through and through yet, these poems by Manhae are a gem that can be easily overlooked. A Korean buddhist monk turned poet, they have a really nice reciprocity to them. You get a direction to follow like "parting" or "introspection" and then by the end of the poem, Manhae has almost said, "actually, reverse that, it's te other way around." It's not a sense of mistaken purpose or a double-standard, it's a Buddhist mentality working its way into the literature. Does the Yin need the Yang or the Yang need the Yin...? Which one defines the other? Do they even bear a definition? These poems make you comfortable in your own heart and mind, which is like a gift, more than it is a poem.
"Bear with Me"
I have no choice but to leave; bear with this parting.
When you go over the ridge, don't look back.
My being is about to enter a grain of sand.
If you can't bear with this parting, bear with my death.
My lifeboat is sinking in a sea of shame.
Blow, make it drown quickly, and be glad for it.
If you can't bear my death, don't favor me with love.
Instead, make yourself unloveable.
I'll enter your heart and live in you.
Bear becoming one with me.
Love me not and I shall not love you.
Pick up this book and enjoy a fresh feeling of renewal in each one of Manhae's thoughts. Enjoy!