Veterans Poetry of Peace: Beyond Armistice in Korea

In honor of Armistice Day: Beyond the Armistice, what peace would look like written by Korean poet Ko Un, a veteran of the Korean War

Poem for Peace
Peace is a wave,
a rolling, living wave.
Beneath that wave
swim every kind of fish.
And all kinds of coral grow.
Above that wave
no one thing is higher than any other.
It brings freedom and equality to all
as far as the sunset horizon.
The white sails speeding across that wave of peace billow full.

Peace is food.
In bygone days, sacred was the smoke
rising from the chimneys in Korea’s hillside village homes
as rice for the evening meal was boiling.
Lovely the rising smoke each morning as bread was baking.
Peace is rice and bread.

Before cooking, they are grains of rice or wheat or corn.
Peace is as urgent as rice and bread.
In the ideograms of Northeast Asia, one sign for peace
shows rice entering a mouth.
Peace begins as a day
when everyone in the world can eat.
Peace is a day when
everyone in the world eats bread together as friends.
Banishing starvation from the earth is peace.

Peace is a flower,
beautiful as a flower.
What if the world had no flowers:
if after days of torment
nights of grief
there was not one single flower,
we would never know what peace is.
If, between person and person,
village and village,
nation and nation,
tree and bird
there were no quiet smile
offering a flower,
peace would merely be the despair
felt when a long-awaited lover fails to return.

Peace is a child.
so pretty,
what in the world can equal a child?
There must be a child
for a family, society, to come into being.
Centered on a child
people become Mom and Dad,
Grandfather and Granny,
Auntie and Uncle.
With a child comes the future of the world.
Therefore everyone’s main concern
must be to raise that child with every care.
Peace is a child [to be] raised like that.
Peace is such a child’s friend, uncle, neighbor.

Peace is a star.
The first thing a child encounters discovers in the universe
is peace.
Looking up at the stars,
he wonders “Who am I?”
And looking up at the stars
he steers his ship.
And deep in the heart of any voyager
is the peace that overcomes every difficulty.
For millennia, humanity has died during long ages eras of war
and living through only very brief moments of peace.
And those very brief moments of peace
mainly served as times for breeding desire for more war.
Peace was always in crisis.
has always been a prisoner of war, caught between war and war.
Why, all the achievements of civilization thus far
have been just means of war by another name,

Peace was a bird.
As gunfire rang out, all the birds disappeared.
The 20th century was an age of huge wars.
They in turn led to the long, drawn-out Cold War.
What a tragedy!
The Cold War became a doctrine.
The birds wandered, lost.

As the 20th century was the age of Korea’s division
the 21st century must move on to the age of Korea’s
We must cast aside the old days,
welcome the new age with a fusillade of drumbeats.
Korea rose again from the ruins in North and South.
Rivers and forests returned to utter ruins.
But division was, at first, a wall
then we grew used to it
so it turned into a mere fence.
The years of contradiction were long indeed.
The hatred born of that sickening division now removed,
we are becoming a people that breathes in harmony.

Peace is a bridge.
War blows bridges up.
Only peace can rebuild them
so people once again can come and go.
Going beyond the separation
peace is bridges crossing so many rivers.

Ah, peace is a grass-green dream.
Without people dreaming
the very word peace
dies crushed by the caterpillar tracks of tanks.
Peace is a dream.
A dream where today’s dream
turns into tomorrow’s reality.
With even just one half such a dream
the world can move toward peace.
Peace is the future’s family and nest.
It’s coming. It’s coming.
I must go out to welcome it.
Like June’s offshore sea breeze on Jeju Isand, it’s coming.


Ko Un read a draft of this poem at the Millennium World Peace Summit at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City, August 2000, in the presence of over a thousand spiritual leaders.

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Gary Gach. © 2000 by Ko Un, Brother Anthony of Taizé, and Gary Gach. Printed by permission of the poet and the translators.

Born in 1933 in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, Ko Un is Korea’s elder literary spokesperson, nominated for a Nobel several times. After being conscripted into the Korean War, carrying corpses on his back, he became a Buddhist monk. Ten years later, he left monastic life. During the 1970s and 1980s, he became a leading spokesman in the struggle for freedom and democracy, for which he was often arrested and imprisoned. Following the ban on translation of his work, he’s been translated into over a dozen languages. “Song for Peace” is forthcoming in Songs for Tomorrow: A Collection of Poems 1961–2001 (Green Integer: 2008). Ko Un has published more than 140 volumes of poems, essays and fiction.

Born in Truro (Cornwall, UK) in 1942, Brother Anthony of Taizé is one of the foremost living translators of contemporary Korean poetry, with over twenty-six titles to his credit, including Ko Un’s Ten Thousand Lives (with introduction by Robert Hass) and Flowers of a Moment: 185 Brief Poems (illustrated). Currently, he is emeritus professor in the department of English language and literature at Sogang Univesity, Seoul. With Hong Kyeong-he, he’s recently published The Korean Way of Tea: An Introductory Guide (Seoul Selection).

About Frances Wiedenhoeft

After a lifetime in nursing, anesthesia and the Army I now write, blog, attend school for journalism and massage, and watch my 3 grandchildren. I am a veteran of Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan and try to serve other vets such as myself, and to work for peace.
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