KU SANG, Korean poet

Ku Sang (1919 – 2004) is regarded as one of the foremost poets of South Korea.  His life was varied and his output was prolific.  He was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize.

Ku Sang, as a jouranlist in 1953

I have only read the poetry in English, one of six languages into which his work was translated.  He writes about the wonder of being alive, about the tragedies, the ironies, and never takes  himself too seriously.  One of his poems is called To the Students killed on April 19th, 1960, grieving for the heavy-handed way in which rulers dealt with student dissent.  Then, Mysterious Wealth dealing with a celebration of life, of people and things;  Knots 23, dealing with the birth of his first child;  Gomo Station, Mother’s Station, dealing with seeing his mother’s apparition at a station, a mother that the split between the two Koreas left behind in the North, never to be seen again;  then, with compassion, Before a war cemetery of North Korean dead. 

Ku Sang, in 1994

One writer said of him, “No other Korean poet has so perfectly brought together the Christian belief that all is redeemed in God’s eternity with the Buddhist conviction that all that exists is united in an unending cosmic process.”   I think that the poem The Pebble shows this.

The Pebble

On the path before my house

Every day I meet a pebble

That once was kicked by my passing toe.

At first we met casually

Brushed past each other, morning and night,

But gradually the stone began to address me

And furtively reached out a hand,

So that we grew close, like friends.

And now each morning the stone,

Blooming inwardly with flowers of Grace,

Gives me its blessing

And even late at night

It waits watchfully to greet me.

Sometimes, flying as on angel’s wings,

It visits me in my room

And explains to me the Mystery of Meeting,

Reveals the immortal nature of Relationship.

So now, whenever I meet the stone,

I am so uncivilized and insecure

That I can only feel ashamed.


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2018

Source and images

Eternity Today, Selected poems by Ku Sang.  Seoul Selection.   Seoul, 2005.


To see the universe in a drop of water


Korea – traditional poetry and music

From the time of the Three Kingdoms (500 a.d. – 1000) there are careful records of the poetry and music of the courts of Korea.  I find a striking parallel between the troubadours of Provençal France in the Middle Ages and the Korean lyrics.  Both used the medium to pledge loyalty to certain leaders and/or to criticize and satirize leaders they did not like.  The Koreans used images from nature to make their messages cryptic.  There were also other themes.

Rehearsal of traditional music, Hwaseong, Seoul

The instruments included tubular bells, flutes, drums and mainly stringed instruments.  The lyrics were written in a strict six-line form.

Kayagum,, 12-stringed instrument, silk strings, paulownia wood

It was one of the richest experiences I have had to come across a rehearsal of traditional poetry/music in the gardens of Hwaseong in the south of Seoul.  I cannot explain the strange, other-worldly performance of what they did, a memory I hold close.

A pinnacle experience

From the long tradition, I offer a few examples of the traditional poetic lyrics.

Giant Pines Felled

The trees that thou felled only yesterday,

  Were they not giant pines?

If thy axe is stayed for a time,

   Would they not have become true giants?

Alas!  When the palace leans,

  What tree remains to support?

                              –   Kim In Hoo

This was a lament for the political purges of the mid-16th-century.

Is it She?

My heart is so young,

  Everything I do is green.

In these hills veiled with ten thousand clouds

   No beaming face would come to greet my eyes.

When falling leaves rustle in the whispering breeze

  I wonder, Is it she?

                  –  Suh Kyung Duk

As a 15th-century poet-mentor to his students, this poet had a beautiful young woman amongst them.  The record demurely  says “He loved her as a beautiful flower — gazed upon, but not plucked”.

Moon and Flute

By moonlight I sit all alone

  In my tower on Hanson Isle.

I stroke the long sword at my side,

  And breathe a deep sigh toward the tide.

Hark!  Whence comes this tuneful flute

  So sharp to pierce my bowels?

                             –  Yi Sun Shin

This poem is by one of the most famous of Korea’s warriors, the brilliant admiral who invented steel-cladded warships with which he had spectacular victories over the frequent invaders, the Japanese.  To be a poet-warrior drew honour from the people.  His statue is found all over Korea.

Yi Sun Shin in snowy Daeso, where I taught

Yi Sun Shin and Lotus mural, City Hall, Seoul


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2018



Tae Hung Ha (editor) – Poetry and Music of the Classic Age.  Yonsei University Press. Seoul, 1986 (5th impression)



My photographs





The Mowbray Murals

These murals appeared on the streetside of garden walls on Raapenburg Road in Mowbray, some years ago.  I can’t say who painted them, but they impressed me, fine examples of hip-hop graffiti art.

This international movement which includes break-dancing and rap music, takes its ideological origin in the Bronx, New York in the 1970s and 1980s.

I’m not sure if there is a willingness to admit influence amongst the hip-hop artists.  For me there are striking similarities with cubism and some abstract expressionist artists.

Fernand Leger

I find them exciting, charged with an angular yang  energy, wild and searching.  I think it is fair to say that this kind of hip hop graffiti art has done an enormous amount for those would seldom, if ever, see the inside of an art gallery or museum.

When I last passed there, the walls had been “cleaned” of these paintings.  I forgive the hands that did that.  They know not what they do.

© Will van der Walt


Bridgewater, Somerset

Written early September, 2018



Wikipedia Hip Hop painting



My photographs

Leger – source lost




Making Images

Let me travel on the landscape of making things.  Years ago what I’m doing now wouldn’t have been possible to the uninitiated.  It was for technician artists to do.  Now technology makes it possible for types like me.  I offer some of mine.



I have been interested in the way gates make their mid-afternoon shadows on the sidewalk.  This is in the suburb where I take walks.  The photographs are then treated in different ways with a graphics programme.






I share the ones I consider more successful.  The images evolve in a hit-and-miss process.  Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.  You can decide what these attempts at abstracts mean for you.




(c) Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2018

German Baroque – two cathedrals

Coming from a Protestant tradition, I found the interiors of European baroque cathedrals overwhelming.  I was ambivalent about it at first and this also came from seeing this highly ornate style through the lens of modernism, known for its relentless pilgrimage to the essence, stripped of clutter.  But I have mellowed and my access to baroque cathedrals in Nice has changed me.  I share my experience of two German cathedrals.

Vierzehnheiligen Cathedral, near Bamberg

This pilgrimage cathedral, designed by Balthasar Neumann and built between 1743 and 1772, is a place of supplication for healing.  It takes its name from the Fourteen Holy Helpers of the Black Death in the 1440s.  The characteristics of baroque in contrast with gothic are there:  the prolific ornamentation, the architectural emphasis on light and the broader nave.  I remember at the time I felt more impressed by the exterior aspect of the cathedral.

Vierzehnheiligen, exterior

It was perhaps the day itself that enhanced my visit to Wies in Bavaria.  Patches of snow lay by the countryside roads and the Swiss Alps under a fresh blanket of snow rose in the background.  The Church itself, far from any city, town or even hamlet, had cows grazing by the majestic doors.

As always, the interior was spectacular, with much gold decoration.  I remember the grand old pews, huge, handcarved and worn smooth by the centuries.  It was designed by the Zimmerman brothers and built between 1745 and 1754.

My clearest memory was of a choir of young people in jeans and t-shirts assembled for rehearsal in front of the pews under the centuries-old splendour.  I’m sure what they sang and how they sang it must have made angels envious.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2018



Wikipedia Vierzehnheiligen and Wies




Kenneth Clark: Civilization




Ernst Barlach

Ernst Barlach (1870 – 1938) was a German sculptor during the Modernist period.  He was regarded as an expressionist and it was probably this that brought him into disfavour with the Nazi leaders from 1933.   The First World War had changed the way he saw the world.  When he was appointed to do sculpture about the war, authorities were dissatisfied by what he did — the figures carried the tragedy of the war.  What they had wanted was images of heroism.

I saw work by Barlach in Lübeck, but did not have a camera with me.  I have always thought that his work has echoes of the style of Romanesque in the Middle ages of Europe.



As with other artists after the war, well-deserved recognition of Barlach’s work was reinstated.  Today there is critical opinion that regards him as the greatest pre-war sculptor in Germany.


 © Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2018



Wikipedia:  Ernst Barlach






Head – source lost




















Posters – the South of France

The first in a series of two

Posters are a celebration.  Well, the type that advertises a town, a city, a region.  Posters, with us for at least the past three hundred years, can be many things.  It is their celebratory function that interests me here.

This poster of Cannes / Côte d’Azur was done by Picasso, probably 1950s

They emblazon the name.  The sub-text that they don’t print is Please come and see us.  Enjoy what we enjoy every day.  They hold up their townscapes, their vistas, their colours with joy and, in the case of the Belle Époque posters, with grace.  The many of the posters shown here are more than a hundred years old.

It’s with particular pleasure that I can say I’ve had the privilege of visiting each of these towns, cities and villages.  Each one is painted into my memory.  Of course, they romanticize, but in a world drenched in bad news, sorrow and darkness, that’s not a sin.

Cagne-sur-Mer. You can see Chateau Grimaldi on top of the hill

And it’s easy to romanticize the south of France, the Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera.  The glamour has been under construction since the late-18th-century when British aristocracy made Nice their home from home, as Queen Victoria herself called it.  Later the Americans would put their stamp on the region.

Nice, by Matisse, probably part of the “Jazz” series, late 1940s

These places, the posters show us, are sunlit and the French have called much of the region Midi which means noon.  The English poet speaks of “the warm South” from his overcast gloom.  Many of the posters depict the sea, the azure Mediterranean, itself a historical trove beyond comprehension.


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2018



The posters have been drawn from internet sources.

 This is my own favourite.  She stands with her whippet under the umbrella trees with the iconic buildings Les Remparts almost indistinct on the edge of the bay below.



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