Han Yong’un

Han Yong’un (1879-1944)
Reformist monk, patriot signatory to the 1919 Declaration of Independence, Han Yong’un’s name is synonymous with resistance to oppression. The central symbol in his poems, the beloved (nim), can be interpreted in terms of nation, ideal or lover.

The beloved is not just the one you love; the beloved is the all you long for.
If all living things are the Buddha’s beloved, then philosophy is Kant’s beloved. If spring rain is the rose’s beloved, Mazzini’s beloved is Italy. Not only do I love the beloved, but the beloved loves me.

If love is freedom, the beloved is freedom. Is there not a fine restrictiveness in this lovely word freedom? Do you have a beloved? If you say yes, then you have not a beloved, you have the shadow of self.
I am a lost lamb, full of longing, wandering back from the darkling plain. In this spirit I write these poems.

My love left, ah, ah my loving love left.
Smashed the green mountain light; broke from me to walk
the narrow track that leads to the autumn forest.
The oath of old, once strong and radiant as a golden flower,
changed to cold dust, flew off on a puff of wind.
The memory of that first piercing kiss,
the kiss that reversed destiny’s needle,
retreated, disappeared.
I am deaf to my love’s fragrant voice, blind to my love’s flower face.
From the moment we met, I worried about leaving, for love is a human thing;
I even warned against the possibility. But parting came so abruptly,
my heart went into shock; it burst in new grief.
I know, however, that the way to the realization of love
is to refuse to turn parting into a well of idle tears;
so I transferred the power of my ungovernable grief;
I poured it over the infant head of new-born hope.
And just as we worry about leaving when we meet, so also when we leave,
we believe we will meet again.
Ah, ah, my love left, but I did not send my love away.
Love’s song is indomitable: it circles the silence of my love.

Others say they love freedom; I prefer obedience,
not that I do not know freedom, but that I desire to be obedient to you.
Obedience, when free, is sweeter than the sweetest freedom.
This is my happiness.

But should you ask me to obey another, this
I cannot do, for to obey another means not to obey you.

I heard the Zen master say,
Suffer not the pain of being bound by love’s shackles;
break the bonds of love; your heart will know joy.

The Zen master is very foolish!
His words belie the truth: to be bound by the bonds of love
may be painful, but to break the bonds of love
is more painful than dying.
To be bound tightly in love’s servitude is to be freed.
In servitude the great liberation is attained.
My love, I thought the love bonds by which you bind me
might be weak, so I doubled the bond strands
by which I love you.

If you are my love, then love me: night after night
you come to my door – I hear your footsteps –
but you never come in, you just leave again.
Is that love?
I have never shuffled outside my love’s door;
perhaps my love has all the love.
Were it not for the footsteps, I would not have wakened from dreams:
dreams would have ridden the clouds in search of my love.

Love, if you want my heart, you must take me too.
Make me one with you.

Don’t just give me pain, give me your heart. And give me
the you whose heart you are: make yourself one with me.

Then, with all my heart, I will love the pain you give me.

I went down to the sea to gather shells. You tied up my skirt:
it was getting mud-splashed, you said.

When we got home, you said I was like a child,
playing tricks while gathering shells.
You went out and bought me a diamond.

That day I found a pearl: I placed it in your inner pocket.
Wherever you go, take the pearl with you; don’t lend it,
not even for the briefest moment.

I did not love you tenderly while you were here:
I had more belief than love, more prudence than joy.
My cold heart,
the constraints of poverty,
your illness
combined to keep us apart.
Thus, my tears when you left were of regret rather than parting.

Come, my love! Come, or just simply go! This coming back when you’ve gone, this turning back when you’re on the way is squeezing out my life without giving me death.

If you must rebuke me, love, do so in a loud voice. Don’t rebuke me with silence: the silent rebuke sticks an ice needle in my sick heart.

Love, if you’re not going to look at me, turn away, close your eyes. Don’t give me that side-eyed glare. The side-eyed glare giftwraps a thorn in the cloths of love.

I’ve made your clothes anew:
I’ve made a coat, I’ve made a robe, I’ve made a set of pyjamas.
What I haven’t done is the embroidery on the small pocket.

The pocket is badly finger smudged
because my pattern is to work, lay aside, work and lay aside.
Others think I have no needlework skills;
no one knows my secret.
When my heart is sick and sore and I work on the pocket,
my heart follows the gold thread through the eye of the needle.
A limpid song flows from the pocket; the song becomes my heart.
I have as yet no treasure worthy of the pocket.
It is not for reluctance of the work that I haven’t finished;
it is for wanting to finish that I cannot finish.

I am the ferryboat;
you are the traveler.

You stomp me with muddy feet;
I take you in my arms and cross the river.
Through waters deep, shallow, fast,
I cross the river with you in my arms.

When you don’t come, I stand in the wind,
I face the snow and the rain: I wait for you from night to day.
Once across the water, you go your way without a backward glance.
But I always know you will come.
Day after day I wait for you: I grow old and decrepit.

I am the ferryboat;
you are the traveler.

LOOKING FOR THE COW (modern shijo)
Looking for the Cow, a symbol of the search for transcendence, was the name of the poet’s house on Inwang Mountain. The house faced away from the residence of the Governor-general so that the poet would not suffer the indignity of having to look every day at a symbol of servitude.

No cow’s been lost;
it’s silly to look.
Were it really lost,
would it be finders keepers?
Better not look at all;
then I won’t lose it again.

THE OLD FISHERMAN (modern shijo)
That old man fishing
in clear mountain water,
reed rainhat slanted low,
what was his dream?
Funny how he jerks the rod
startled by the sound of a bird.

That old fisherman, rod in hand,
seems to have forgotten the affairs of the world.
Yet even he has cares,
else why cup his chin and sigh?
Is it white hair reflected in the waves
that makes him sad?

EARLY SPRING (modern shijo)
Was last night’s drizzle
so heavy? Young grasses,
are you so weighed down by raindrops
you cannot get up?
Don’t you know you’ll be
sun kissed in the morning?

COSMOS (modern shijo)
Cosmos fluttering
in the gentle autumn breeze,
are your petals wings,
your wings petals?
Yours is the soul
of a butterfly!

LOVE (modern shijo)
Deeper than spring waters,
higher than autumn mountains,
brighter than the moon,
harder than a stone.
Asked about love,
this is what I’ll say.

The waterfall rushes down the autumn mountain;
I am ashamed of this remnant of spring in a transient world.
Night and day it flows: whither does it want to go?
I look back at a thousand of the ancients.

At the bottom of the mountain sunlight is bright, bright;
at the top of the mountain snowflakes fly, fly.
Shade and light, each wondrous in its way;
the poet so empty his heart could break.

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