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Sijo Masters in Translation

Korean Sijo by Hwang Chin'i

(1522 - 1565)

Hwang Chin'i (pen name Myongwol, meaning Bright Moon) was apparently of high birth, exceptional beauty and sharp intellect. She was tutored by the great scholar So Kyongdok and produced poetry in both her native Korean script (Hanguel) and in Hanmun (Chinese). A professional entertainer (kisaeng), Hwang was highly skilled in the arts of conversation, dance, song and poetry. Defying the accepted social conventions surrounding the lower-class kisaeng, she associated freely with scholars, artists and aristocrats.

Few facts are actually known of her life, but anecdotes and legends abound concerning her early life, her reason for becoming a kisaeng, and her relationships with various men in the upper reaches of society and government. Though her literary reputation today is based almost solely on six sijo—chiefly concerning love—that have come down to us, she is still highly respected, and her poems continue to be among the most popular classical favorites. The Three Incomparables of Songdo (the capital city where she lived) are said to be the Gourd Pool Waterfall, So Kyongdok and Hwang Chin'i.

Oh that I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night
And fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon quilt,
Then fondly uncoil it the night my beloved returns.

Hwang Chin'i's pen name was Myongwol, meaning Bright  (or Full) Moon. Hwang's reference to  a spring moon is most likely a reference to herself.

Oh, what have I done, I should have known what he meant to me.
If I had asked him to stay, I know he would never have gone.
Stubborn, I sent him away, so now I must pay the penalty.

This verse is sometimes attributed to King Songjong (r. 1470-1494). in which case it might be an expression of regret over the dismissal of one of his ministers.

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All Rights Copyright 1996 by Larry Gross. Please do not reprint without written permission.

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