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Ten Thousand Lives (Green Integer) Paperback – September, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


... masterwork ... recording the life of every person Korean writer and activist Ko Un has ever known or known of. -- Buddhadharma, Fall 2005

... one of the most extraordinary projects in world literature in this part of the century. The poems are exquisite. -- Robert Hass, Korean Culture, Spring 1999

The unique space where anti-traditional Modernism and anti-western Traditionalism meet is where the poetry of Ko Un originates -- Choi Wan-Shik, Conference on

From the Author

In May 1980 I was arrested and going to be court-martialed by the emerging dictatorship, accused of "rebellion." The people arrested with me were the now-deceased priest, Moon Ik-hwan, and the now-former president, Kim Dae-jung. We didn’t know where anyone was, whether alive or dead. If the single weak electric bulb went out, it was a black room, so we were full of fear, for we felt we might be killed at any moment -- and the thought that really sustained my life at that moment was that if I were to get out of here I would have to write these poems. I thought that even if I didn’t do it, that thought in itself would be a source of strength.

These poems represent my other-centered poems. So much modern Korean poetry is centered on the *self*; even if it is love poetry, the other person, the one I love has to come to me -- or else it is the I who is there walking, it is I who is smelling the flowers.

This "I-centered way" of experiencing life distorts -- the others are there and they become the object of my poem. I have many other kinds of works, but if this were not in my body of work, somehow I would have failed in my task, not only in the matter of depicting others, but also in the way of somehow transcending "self."

It is the obligation of the poet to celebrate each person.


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Product Details

  • Series: Green Integer (Book 123)
  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Green Integer (September 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933382066
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933382067
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,890,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Rob Wilson on June 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
As Allen Ginsberg has remarked of this singular quasi-beat poetic mingling of cosmic perception and the ordinary life, Ko Un's Son poems are as "hard nuts to crack--yet many seem immediately nutty and empty at the same time." While in prison and thinking of the lives of all the people he knew, Ko Un decided he would write a poem about every person he had ever met. He would call this work Ten Thousand Lives: I agree with Robert Hass's suggestion that "This project itself, just the idea of it, should be enough to put him on the short list for the Nobel Prize."

By way of some context, Ko Un was born the son of a farmer in 1933 in Southwestern Korea, Cholla Province (a region that prides itself on its relentless antagonism to the party politics of Seoul). A precocious scholar from the start, he studied Chinese classics as a youth and learned to read and write Korean from a neighbor's servant (when Korean was prohibited as a public school language by colonial Japanese). In his late teens, marked by his experience during the Korean War, he became a Buddhist monk. After 10 years and after becoming an abbot at Haeinsa Temple, he quit the monastic life and returned to the worldly world, but with a deeply nihilistic attitude that culminated in a suicide attempt in 1970.

On the relationship between Son (zen meditation) and poetry, Ko Un has written: "Before I became a disciple...I was very knowledgeable about western philosophy, sutra study, and the teachings of the old Son Patriarchs. In fact, I was pedantic and loved showing off; seeing this, my master said, "Be patient in everything. Let go of everything and only meditate on "mu" (emptiness). Mu is your breath, your farts, and your father. Let go even of emptiness. Flee from words.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Inhabited descriptions of individual lives, with little direct comment, going far beyond the life of each subject. Sometimes harsh, always complex. Unexpected sensitivity to the subject without any hint of self reference. There is tragedy, there is violence. Concise, with Shakespearean historical themes. An excursion into the mind of a 20th century Korean man of perception, measuring people according to a scale one infers from what is never mentioned. Quite interesting.
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