Ko Un

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This is a Korean name; the family name is Ko.

Template:Infobox Korean name....

Ko Un (born 1 August 1933) is a South Korean poet whose works have been translated and published in more than fifteen countries. He had been imprisoned many times due to his role in the campaign for Korean democracy.[1] Ko is routinely mentioned in Korea as one of the front runners for the Nobel Prize in Literature.[2]


Ko was born Ko Untae in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province in 1933. He was studying at Gunsan Middle School when the Korean War broke out in 1950.

The Korean War traumatized Ko emotionally and physically and caused the death of many of his relatives and friends. During an acute crisis in this period, Ko Un poured acid into his ear, leading to hearing impairment which was further aggravated when he was beaten by police in 1979. In 1952, before the war ended, Ko became a Buddhist monk. After a decade of monastic life, he chose to return to the active, secular world in 1962 and devote himself to poetry. From 1963 to 1966 he lived on Jejudo, where he set up a charity school, and then moved back to Seoul. However, he was not at peace, and attempted suicide (a second time) in 1970.

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. He was sent to prison four times (in 1974, 1979, 1980, and 1989). In May 1980, during the coup d'état led by Chun Doo-hwan, Ko was accused of treason and sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment. He was released in August 1982 as part of a general pardon.

After his release, his life became calmer. However, he startled his large following by revising many of his previously published poems. Ko Un married Sang-Wha Lee on 5 May 1983, and moved to Anseong, Gyeonggi-do. He resumed writing and began travelling. His visits to different cities in each continent provided the fabric for his poetic tapestry. From 2007, he served as a visiting scholar in Seoul National University, where he gave lectures on poetry and literature. More recently, since 2010, he has been a Chair Professor of Dankook University, associated with the University's International Center for Creative Writing. Early in 2013, he was invited to stay for one semester and give several special lectures at the Ca’Foscari University of Venice, Italy, where he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship. On his return to Korea, he moved house from Ansong to a new home in Suwon, to the south of Seoul.

In 2011, Ko was presented with a certificate proclaiming him an Honorary Islander from Jeju-do.[3]

At a ceremony in Seoul on 15 September 2014, Ko Un was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for Peace by the Korean National Commission for UNESCO.


Ko began publishing in 1958.[4] He has published approximately 155 volumes, including many volumes of poetry, several works of fiction (in particular, Buddhist fiction), autobiography, drama, essays, translations from classical Chinese, travel books, and so on.


Portions of his work have been translated into English, often by Brother Anthony of Taizé. His works have also been translated into Spanish (4–5 volumes), Italian, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Czech, Bulgarian, Swedish and Danish, etc.[5]

  • The Sound of My Waves Selected Poems 1960–1990 (Cornell EAS, 1991)
  • Morning Dew Selected Poems (Sydney, Australia: Paper Bark Press, 1996)
  • Beyond Self (Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, 1996; now out of print—republished by Parallax in 2008 as What? 108 Zen Poems)
  • Little Pilgrim a novel (Parallax Press, 2005)
  • Ten Thousand Lives with an introduction by Robert Hass (Green Integer, 2005)
  • The Three Way Tavern (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2006)
  • Flowers of a Moment 185 brief poems (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2006)
  • Abiding Places, Korea North & South. Trans. Sunny Jung and Hillel Schwartz (Tupelo, 2006)
  • Songs for Tomorrow: A Collection of Poems 1961–2001 (Green Integer, 2009)
  • Himalaya Poems (Green Integer, 2010)
  • First Person Sorrowful (Bloodaxe Books, 2012)

Literary Awards[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Stockholm disappoints Korea again: South Korean poet Ko Un misses out on Nobel literature prize". The Korea Herald. 7 October 2010.
  2. ^ "Hopes high for Ko Un’s chance for Nobel prize". The Korea Herald. 7 October 2010. "The local media and literary circles are expressing hope again about the possibility that Korean poet Ko Un might receive..."
  3. ^ http://news.zum.com/articles/270605
  4. ^ 1958년 『현대문학』에 <봄밤의 말씀>, <눈길>, <천은사운> 등이 추천되어 등단.
  5. ^ http://www.koun.co.kr/
  6. ^ 한국문학작가상 수상(1975)
  7. ^ 제3회 만해 문학상 수상(1989)
  8. ^ 중앙문화대상 예술상 수상(1992)
  9. ^ 대산문학상
  10. ^ 은관문화훈장
  11. ^ http://www.munhwa.com/news/view.html?no=2004051101012714123003
  12. ^ http://news.hankooki.com/lpage/opinion/200505/h2005053019033624180.htm
  13. ^ http://www.naa.go.kr/artbiz/artbiz01.asp
  14. ^ "Ko Un is the winner of the "Golden Wreath" 2014". Struga Poetry Evenings. 21 February 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 

External links[edit]

All of the following links lead to English language pages.