Born in Seoul in 1949, Cho Ch˘§ong-kw˘§on studied English Education at Chungang University. His poems were first published in 1970 on the recommendation of Pak Mok-wol and his first collection Pir˘§ul parapon˘§un ilgopkaji ma˘§um ˘§ui hy˘§ongt'ae (Seven forms of mind viewing the rain) was published in 1977. Since then he has published a number of volumes, including H˘§osimsol (Empty-minded pine, 1985), Han˘§ul ib˘§ul (sky bedding, 1987) and the particularly noted Sanj˘§ong myoji (Mountain grave, 1991). He was awarded the Nokwon Literary Award in 1985, and in 1991 received both the So-Wol Literary Award and the Kim Su-yong Literary Award. He continues to write and publish.
Like so many other Korean poets, he very frequently makes some detail of the natural world the starting point for his poem. This was particularly true in his early work. From the awareness of the power inherent in Nature he has developed a deeper metaphysical focus, based on a variety of sources in oriental thought. Almost inevitably, his often austere celebrations of the sublimity of the natural universe, and his exploration of the higher levels of spiritual abstraction, imply a criticism if not an outright rejection of the real world inhabited by human society. More recently, time spent in Europe has brought the corresponding western spiritual tradition into his work as he continues to search for links uniting the world of daily life with the realms of the spirit.
Beyond the limits of the strictly poetic, he has a wider concern with the arts in general, music especially, and this can be discerned in his poetry.
The Mountaintop Graveyard 1
Climbing the winter mountain I see
The loftiest in the cold
Glisten like ice,
The resolute silence of the frozen falls.
The most noble spirit
Moves and is alive in the cold,
Sings the white freezing asunder of valley
And valley, rock and rock.
Early morning when last night's snow has melted,
Entirely drenched in its covering of ice
Upholds the light.
If I have been dreaming of a celestial palace,
I will yearn for a corner of that heaven where God abides.
The highest spirit aspires to the coldest place.
What flows beneath will not freeze
But keeps silence.
What moves will not cease
But keep abreast of silence, a song of silence.
What has once fallen asleep
Unless it is beaten with a cane
Will not emerge from its slumber.
So too a form
Unless it is beaten with a stick
Cannot take on another form.
Flesh is but rags.
Days of wasted rest and sleepy wanderings.
If my soul
In this silence
Cannot make a loud noise of clapping,
I shan't dream again of any form.
Now is the season of freezing; at night
Earth and water embracing each other
Will sing underneath my feet a song of freezing.
The streams of water that flow throughout summer
Intoxicated with their own power,
Riding the falls and rumbling through the valleys
Are now frozen up.
The masses of ice lie low
Between valley and valley
Intoxicated with their own power.
Whirl into my veins,
Pierce my whole body
From head to toe.
The mountaintop birds
On top of the dry tree
Dream of intoxication with wings folded;
Fruit changed to dry seeds
Are intoxicated in the shell.
The root that kissed raindrops throughout summer
Is intoxicated with its teeth biting into the soil
Beside the rock frozen hard;
Intoxicated with its own stolid weight, the rock
Is trembling of its own joy.
Look, the rock weighed down by its own weight
But the sky is innumerable hearts dedicated to emptiness.
Haven't countless hearts risen into the vacuum
And numberless wrists holding candles
Ascended the raw-wood steps of the blessings of light
Offering a blaze on each heavenly step?
Haven't my eyes dreamt of the time of intoxication?
But to the contrary, because of the weight of radiant maturing
Hasn't my time descended, submerging?
Night, now issue an order for action.
Occupy, ravish, pierce
My veins, my bones
Closer ever closer.
The darkness of the days that approached me in the form of sleet.
The darkness of the days that approached me in the form of wind.
And again the darkness of the days that approached me in the form of water and fire.
The vain resting and long waiting of that darkness.
Have I not greeted the sleepless nights of the worn-out soul
With the weight of my days?
Darkness is the fragrance of a living tree strewn in the presence of being;
How my soul has longed to soak in that fragrance.
How ardently have I dreamt
Of the brilliant white nights of self-blessing?
Flesh is no more than rags carried by the wind
Unless the soul can press down on it gently.
The Mountaintop Graveyard 19
Are humans born on earth and stranded on earth.
Humans strenuously pursuing a height beyond our reach,
We lie down at last
On winter earth that gathers the cold and spews out frost.
Early one spring they found a single green tomb,
The smell of grass that leapt at you all at once
Is the reason we had to live to the end.
The Mountaintop Graveyard 20
¦ˇA Little Corpse
A bird is dead. A sparrow.
Stepping up with care
I shall cover it
With a piece of the sky I tore out.
I wish someone had blown a bit of warm breath on it.
Climbing up a mountain path at dawn, you find a bird on occasion
That has come to a fountain early and walks about with mincing steps.
You often pass it by
Or even forget
It wants to be remembered by a human.
A bird is dead.
Why has God given it only the songs and the wings
And the two slender ankles,
But no grave to be buried in on its last day?
God lets that bird return to life
He lets it be born again.
Into the white snow
That falls on Salzburg, the most beautiful city of music in the world
Where Mozart was buried
The town where flowers bloom throughout the year, and people go skiing
Where good people live
He lets it live there.
Are song bags.
Song bags molded by God.
They were song bags from the beginning
They are song bags, remain song bags, and sing even in death.
A Winter Scene
My house is one that lies down sick
A tree with strong leaves and branches
Where looking up at the sky you meditate
The large room where you can listen to music
The owner of my house has gone out to watch the snow
And only the wind is leisurely sweeping the garden
A Cloud's Letter
In my first volume of poetry
There are twenty eyes
That see the eyes of newly born Jesus.
There is an active sense
Of leaning against a tree
Listening more closely to a place far away.
There are also
The ears that marched against the typhoon
And the breasts that hoisted the flags of expedition.
There is the ordering oneself like an emperor
And the noble labor of obeying like a slave.
When I open up my first collection of poems
I hear raindrops that sound like nails.
I also hear a lizard plunging into the swamp.
But in the first volume of poetry is also painfully buried
The pistol you tried to shoot yourself with.
The sunbeams you once loaded on your back
And took to the post office one May to send to your dear rivals
Are now melted and gone.
A maiden volume of poetry is a permanent longing.
You too once had the past of a pure soul
That hesitated sending.
A maiden volume of poetry is a permanent longing.
That's because your rival was yourself.
If in case
I come to publish my last collection of poems
I shall hand over my copyright to a white cloud.
To my lord
That is the cloud,
Also the royalty from my life.