Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: "This Side Of Time" by Ko Un

For the month of September, I have created a "to be read" pile that included works from writers that were presumed nominees for the Nobel Prize in Literature. I decided on six books that I may check out and am currently on my fourth, which is usually the pace to which I read. What makes this a delight is that there is a really good choice that I will have the opportunity to come across a writer that is rightfully renowned and I can definitely say that this is the case for Ko Un. Un is a Korean poet that has spent his life fighting for what he believes in. In 1980, as a political protester, he was accused of treason and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was released two years later. Ko Un has proven to have a soft-spoken disposition, but an execution that brands itself in the hearts and minds of anyone that happens to cross his path. His poetry, which is separated based off of their status in his three collections, are short, but their delivery is guaranteed to make an impact. This Side of Time is a poetry collection that can leave a long lasting impression even on a non-poetic enthusiast.

Ko Un's poetry is on average about four lines long, IF that. Some of his poetry is only one line long, but at the same time leaves a lasting impression. A great example, and one that stuck out the most to me, comes from his poem titled "Father." The poem goes like this:

"Food in his kids' mouth, that's Nirvana!" (found on page 86).

Isn't this the foundation that we live on? All you need to do is let his words sink in and you will feel so enlightened by the wise words he has to deliver. If his poetry goes past one page, it is a lot and proves to be a rarity in his writing. Ko Un's poetry is sorted into three of his collections: "Little Songs from Poems Left Behind," "A Few Small Songs from Late Songs," and "More Small Songs from Full of Shame." Out of these three collections, the last one is the ONLY collection where the poems have titles. The rest of them are untitled, which means the first line would take the place of the title. This practice is often attached to the poetry of Emily Dickinson and while I am not the greatest fan of this habit, I feel that great poetry is bound to make up for this. This can definitely be said about Dickinson and certainly the same can be said for Un. In one of his poems, he writes about the questioning of whether or not one can achieve an afterlife for being remorseful or if the remorse simply becomes the swapping of places with the subject of remorse (in this case, a man and his mule) (found on page 25). Un also writes about his take on the Nazis attempt to annihilate anything and everything about the Jews that leaves far beyond the physical actions that they took (page 31).

The poem that stuck out to me the most is one that was just three lines long on page 26. While it was short, the thought lingered in my mind with how one should live their life. It goes:

"The autumn leaves fall dancing.
I'll dance my way out too
when it's time to leave this world."

What a way to embrace the inevitable! I have to agree with his message that one should walk away from what ever they are leaving on a positive, meaningful note. The image of autumn leaves catches my attention as well, for I feel that the way they gracefully break away from the trees and float onto the ground is just a pleasant way to which they demonstrate their demise. The speaker feels a similar need to break away from the body and/or from the world with which he is living in a way that he feels fitting when that particular time comes.

Ko Un has had his name constantly mentioned for the Nobel Prize in Literature. With the 2015 selections on their way, I sure hope that he is awarded or at least considered for this year's prize. I also feel that Haruki Murakami is rightfully a frontrunner for this award, but Ko Un is someone who is less familiar to the American audience, yet certainly needs to be considered. The fact that anyone can grip a reader in as little as one sentence is beyond extraordinary. Quotes have served as an inspiration to audiences across the globe. Ko Un's sentences read as being more than just quotes. They are proverbs that should serve as inspiration to anyone that comes across them. I highly suggest that you check out this collection, even if it proves to be a bit pricey. Unfortunately, poetry collections tend to be thin and expensive, but in the case of This Side of Time, you will not regret paying around the $16. If you enjoy collecting posters of inspirational messages, you will love over eighty pages worth of inspirational messages from a master poet!

You can find his collection here:

Verdict: 10/10

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