Two beggars

by Ko Un

Original Language Korean

Two beggars
sharing a meal of the food they've been given

The new moon shines intensely

-- from This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, Edited by Ivan M. Granger

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/ Image by Mr. Kris /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I find this short poem deeply moving. My first instinct is to say it is filled with compassion, but that's not exactly what this poem is about. Ko Un isn't telling us to see the hunger of these two beggars and to feed them. There is something else going on. He is, instead, calling on us to see not two beggars, but two human beings in communion, expressing their humanity even in their extremity. These two beggars aren't objects of pity; they have become our teachers.

The two are hungry, yet they share the very little they have with one another. They have given us a moment to see a human connection at its most desperate, yet most profound moment.

In that simple act of human communion, something heavenly is recognized. And we, the witnesses, are that much more alive, awakened from our own spiritual lethargy, as a result.

The new moon shines intensely.

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Two beggars