“Love is the Lack Thereof” by Ko Un

Ko Un (image source)

Was it May? June?
Seokkoku stems’ blossoms had flowered.

If you walked on,
settling waves of white Cow Parsnips would be in bloom.

A day like this—
the last traces of fading sunset,
a chill and dreary wind—

I realized quietly

that life
is the lack of life.
the overwhelming lack of love.

And what of me?

Several years ago
and today, the first determined tremblings of love.
In unironed clothing,
so awkward and absent-minded
I go out to meet L.


석곡대 석곡 꽃송이 피어왔습니다

더 가노라면
잔 어수리 흰 꽃들 피어왔습니다

이런 날인데요
바람 을스산스럽습니다

이제야 가만히 알아버렸습니다

세상의 부족입니다
사랑은 자못
사랑의 부족입니다

나 어쩌지요

수십 년 전 그날로
오늘도 나는 감히 사랑의 떨려오는 처음입니다
다리미질 못한 옷 입고
벌써 이만큼이나 섣불리 나선
S를 만나러 가는 길입니다

Note: The final line in Korean is ambiguous. In Korean literature, authors sometimes use the first letter of a person’s name to refer to someone when the name itself is not important or to avoid confusion with real people. Here, the narrator could be speaking about meeting a person whose name begins with S, meeting love personified (‘sarang’ in Korean), or both. To keep the ambiguity, I substitute L for S in the translation.


Ko Un (1933—) is easily one of the most well-known, widely translated, and most prolific literary figures from Korea. So has much been written about him, there’s not much point in me attempting to add anything else to the conversation.

For more examples of his poems in translation, visit Words Without Borders. For an extended biography and discussion of Ko Un’s influences, visit his website.

“Love is the Lack Thereof” (사랑은 사랑의 부족입니다) originally appeared in Daum – 70 Representative Korean Poets.