To place the small volume Korean Buddhist Poems translated by Professor Noh Jeo-yong into someone? hands is to place a gem into his or her hands. Just as the image of the Emile temple bell on the attractive golden-brownish cover suggests, the timbre and tone of the poems in the book will leave a long-lasting and profound echo in the readers?mind.
The Buddhist poems, ranging from 20th century poets such as the renowned monk-poet Han Yong-un to the contemporary Cho Choung-kwan, bring the refinement and depth of Buddhist-influenced thought and sentiment to the reader. Accompanying the excellently crafted translation of 112 poems by twelve Korean poets is Professor Noh? brief but most informative introduction in which he outlines the Buddhist background of the poems as well as delineating the essence of ?eon?(Zen) meditation as an important part of their fountain of inspiration. That the subject has been taken up with great devotion by the translator is visible in the purity of language and the clarity of image by which their meaning is transmitted. Needless to say, the challenges of translation demand a highly poetic mind.
Although the context of the poems is largely ?uddhist?with its particular Korean fragrance, which as noted in the introduction includes the integration of Taoism, Shamanism and Confucianism, each of the twelve poets brings his own particular experience and individuality to expression in the poems. The poems selected are highly representative and one will find new translations for such well-known and timeless classics as Han Yong-un's The Silence of Love and Seo Jeong-ju's "Beside a Chrysanthemum" as well as poems appearing for the first time in English translation. The poems speak for themselves and here I would like to include just one, by Cho Chi-hun, outstanding for its quiet simplicity, to demonstrate what awaits the reader in this precious book.
Even if you were to begin your reading as an indifferent reader, you would soon become an enthusiast. And, even if not overly familiar with Buddhist thought, you could not help but feel through the poems the peace that the journey to inner truth brings. A journey which is nevertheless, as the poems eloquently show, fraught with difficulties. For the moment of ?wakening?to the truth in its simplicity and the inner joy that accompanies this is usually the result of a process of arduous inner questioning that includes anguish and the confrontation with paradox which leads the mind out of its rational confines. In the carefully selected poems we find the whole spectrum of the broad mystery that is human life. Perhaps the only thing to be wished for is that a woman poet were also represented.
Korea is much praised for and most proud of its technological prowess; but how welcoming it is to be brought close to an aspect of Korean culture that resides purely in the heartland of artistic expression. The poems urge us to step for a moment out of the world of speed and competition and savor the long-lastingness and wonder of the Buddhist stream of the Korean poetic tradition.
Rita Taylor, Professor of English