Lee, Ho Min
Introduction to Sijo
Korean literature is becoming popular in foreign lands. The globalization of Korean literature is good news to Korean poets and writers. Literature certainly has an important role to play in its portrayal of the relations between society and individual people, and it has a particularly vital social function in developing or underdevelopedcountries. Korea has a proud and long-established literary tradition, but while it has produced many fine classical and contemporary works as well as its own unique form of poetry, the Sijo, which is a very interesting rare and unique type of poetry.
Sijo is a Korean poetic form. that was originally sung rather than read. It consists of three lines with an average of 14 to 16 syllables each also thethree lines in some cases may be broken in half to create 6, in Sijo normally it introduces a situation or problem in the first line, development of the situation in the second line, and the third line resolves the problem or concludes the theme. During the first half of the final line the author employs what is called a “twist” which is a surprise of meaning, sound, or other device, Sijo oftencarries a more personal tone than other poetic forms, the Ending is often stylized with a profound observation or a finale.
One of the earliest known Sijo is a 14th-century verse:
The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.
I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair
And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.
History of sijo
Sijo derivesfrom the old Hyangga songs of the Shilla empire (668-936) and the songs of the Koryo kingdom (918-1392). However, it wasn't until the conclusion of the latter era that Sijo came into its own, when Sijo appeared at the end of the late 14th century during the Koryo period, it was considered a truly unique literary form, and has remained popular to this day, one of the reasons it is unique is the factthat it was actually written in Korean and not in Chinese, which was the language used in formal writings, while Korean was used for speaking. So then why did it become acceptable for a new and completely original literal form to be written in Korean? Because Sijo was originally intended for singing therefore the writers thought their audience to be more of a listening audience rather than areading one, Korean alphabet was invented during the mid 15th century, so there is a gap of about 50 years where it was most likely a performing art.
There are many popular and famous Sijo poets, particularly from the 16th century. A few notables are Hwang Chini, Chong Mong-Ju, Yi Sun-Sin.
The poetic form wasn’t called Sijo until the 1920’s, there are two ways to describe the meaning of Sijo, one is“time” or “period” the other meaning is “Song”. Sijo was considered to be a classy art, popular among people of the upper class.
Before the 1920’s, the word Tangga meaning “short lyric” was used to describe the poem and Sijo was used for the music only, eventually the term Sijo was changed to mean both the poem and also the music. Thought was originally intended for singing, the music part of itwas never required for the people to enjoy the poetry content.
There are 3 Sijo forms which are Chungsijo, Changsijo and Pyongsijo. The first 2 forms have greater syllable counts and irregular length but Pyongsijo which is the shorter and melodic has been preferred among Koreans. The Pyongsijo then now identified simply as Sijo is the form that North American poets are most acquainted.
Sometimes people misunderstand the difference between haiku and Sijo, More ancient than haiku, the Korean Sijo shares a common ancestry with Haiku, a poetic form originated from Japan. it is also a very short type of poetic form using three short lines. The first line usually contains 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line contains 5 syllables and much like Sijo...
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