Tuesday, March 30, 2010



Sijo is a Korean poem consisting of 44 to 46 syllables in three lines with 14 to 16 syllables each line. Sometimes it is written in six lines, the three lines split into two. It has a beginning in Line 1, development in Line 2 and conclusion with a twist or surprise ending in Line 3.

Like haiku and other Japanese poetic forms, sijo has a venerable and ancient beginnings. Poems vaguely similar to present day sijo appeared as early as 17 B.C. but the sijo did not take its characteristic patterns until the 10th century or so. Moreover, it took about 600 more years for the sijo to flower, although its history can be traced back to the Confucian monks of the 11th century.

Sijo is similar to the Japanese haiku but frequently uses metaphors, puns and allusions as well as other poetic device such as alliteration. Traditional sijo, a song lyric, was intended to be sung or chanted, hence its musical quality is apparent.

Delicate and compact, sijo covers a wide range of subjects such as politics, love, life, music, nature, loneliness, and even personal mundane matters like drinking and aging. It embodies the complex and unique concept of sadness and hope called Han, the very core of Korean life.

Here is an example of sijo. I will upload some of them from time to time, together with the other poetic forms.


I still remember those years
when it seemed eternally spring.

Our mutual love for each other
grew stronger each passing year.

Now that she’s gone and I’m alone
how do you hug emptiness?

In my book, Rustle of bamboo leaves, © 2005, but originally published in World Haiku Review, Vol. 4, 2004.

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