The Three Way Tavern (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
The Three Way Tavern offers a superb collection of the poems that South Korea’s eminent poet Ko Un wrote in the 1990’s. His poems take the reader on a creative journey that reveals perceptive insights into the lives of South Koreans still struggling with a legacy of Japanese colonialism, a brutal and destructive civil war that led to the division of Korea, and the opening of their country to genuine democracy. There are also powerful poems of a Zen-inspired beauty that look at the interplay of nature and the observing human mind as well as poems that reflect Ko’s extraordinary life.
The poem that gave the collection its title is indicative of Ko’s poetic vision. “The Three Way Tavern” asserts that, however painful it may be, “understanding is a joy,” once a person wakes up to genuine life. This is a bold statement in the context of Korean history of the twentieth century, which saw much suffering and misery and no end to a painful division of the country rooted in the Cold War conflict between the “free world” and the forces of communism. Yet for Ko’s persona, waking up and understanding life is a joyful moment.
There is also a certain irony in the poem. While the rain-soaked road tells the persona “there can be no sadness,” the road speaks only after the persona is slightly intoxicated after imbibing three drinks in the magical three way tavern. The tavern stands not merely at the intersection of two roads,...
(The entire section is 1994 words.)
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