Asking the Way

You fools who ask what god is
should ask what life is instead.
Find a port where lemon trees bloom.
Ask about places to drink in the port.
Ask about the drinkers.
Ask about the lemon trees.
Ask and ask until nothing’s left to ask.

— Ko Un
(Trans. by Suji Kwock Kim and Sunja Kim Kwock)

Korean poet Ko Un joined the democracy movement in South Korea in 1972. As a result of his activism, he was imprisoned three times in the 1970s. In prison, he was beaten and tortured. In May 1980, during the military coup d’état led by Chun Doo-Hwan, he was arrested again, charged with treason, and sentenced to twenty years. He was released in 1982 as part of a general pardon. He was denied a passport until 1990.

[Research note: Nicholas D. Kristof, “Voice of Dissent in South Korea Speaks in Verse,” New York Times (July 31, 1987)]

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