Because of The Rain: An Anthology of Korean Zen Poetry (2006)

Buddhism was introduced to Korea via China in the fifth century and similar to China and Japan a long tradition of Zen poetry developed. This collection spans 1,500 years of this tradition with a selection of the key poets and teachers starting with Great Master Wonhyo the founder of Korean Zen Buddhism.

Christopher Merrill directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Won-Chung Kim is a professor of English Literature at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea. He is the co-translator of Heart's Agony by Chiha Kim and is currently translating an anthology of Korean nature poets.

Some excerpts follow:

Great Master Wonhyo

Axe without a Handle

Who will give me an axe without a handle
to cut a beam to support the sky?

To Master Monk Nangjee

This acolyte of the western valley bows deeply,
reverently, to the master monk of the eastern mountains.
I’ll add a speck of dust to Mount Youngchi
and fling a drop of water into Youngyeon Lake.


I finally finished the rough draft of my treatise
on the mysteries of the Diamond Sutra.
I hope this good root will spread
throughout the world, for everyone’s benefit.

Enlightenment Song

Every green mountain is the cave of Amitabha Buddha,
and the boundless sea is the palace of nirvana.


At My Mother’s Funeral

Śākyamuni Buddha entered nirvana
in Sara Forest* long ago,
but here’s another one like him
about to enter the lotus flower world.**

*The place where Śākyamuni passed into nirvana.

**The world in which the Vairocana Buddha lives. The word vairocana, which means “universal illumination,” was originally the Indian word for sun.

Great Master Chajang

Hymn to Sarira

King of the three worlds, lord of laws,
how many years have passed since you died in Sara Forest?
Only your sarira remains
to be worshipped by every creature.

Great Master Hyecho

The Loneliness of a Wayfarer

When I think of the alleys in my hometown
on a moon-bright night, only clouds hurry home.
Though I ask them to deliver my letter,
the winds can’t hear me, they don’t turn back.
My country is at the north end of the sky.
This country of others lies at the west end of the earth.
No geese in this sunny southern land.
I wonder who will carry my words home.


for a Chinese monk who died after a sudden illness in North India.

The lamp lost its master at home
and a precious tree fell.
Where did the sacred soul go
when his face of jade turned to ash?
Thinking of you, I’m seized by sorrow
and your unfulfilled dream sounds hollow.
Who knows your way home?
Vacantly, I watch white clouds float by.