SIJO (the word is both singular and plural) is an ancient Korean verse form traditionally containing 3 lines of 14-16 syllables each, for a total of 44-46. It resembles haiku in having a strong foundation in nature and in even more ancient Chinese patterns, but its unique characteristics and flavor distinguish it from all other poetry genre .
Either narrative or thematic, this lyric verse introduces a situation or problem in line 1, development (called a turn) in line 2, and a strong conclusion beginning with a surprise (a twist) in line 3, which resolves tensions or questions raised by the other lines and provides a memorable ending.
A welcome weekend at Cedar Key, relaxing on the dock;
pelicans wait poker-faced for bait fish we may leave behind.
Bob away, line, while I watch the sun going back to water.
Sijo is, first and foremost, a song. This lyric pattern gained popularity in royal courts as a vehicle for religious or philosophic expression, but a parallel tradition arose among the 'common' folk. Sijo were sung or chanted with musical accompaniment, and still are. In fact, the word originally referred only to the music, but it has come to be identified with the lyric as well.
As stated earlier, historically, sijo consists of 3 lines of from 14 to 16 syllables each:
beneath wisteria clusters, hidden, I wait in purple.
perfumed by petals, these longings rise, twine, intertwine and rise...
rise to break apart among clouds...silently break among clouds.
However, some contemporary poets and editors prefer to split the long lines in half for formatting reasons, resulting in a 6-line format which has become quite acceptable:
Remember when we made a seine
of gunny-sacks and broomsticks?
Soaked to the waist, we filled milk-pails
with channel-cat and crawdads.
A snapping turtle snagged our net
and bit clear through a broomstick.
Frankincense and ancient chants
embrace upon this holy air.
The stone vault, sealing their ascent,
is the art of a cathedral.
But the bolder leap of our open kiss
cannot be wed to earth.
Zuisen-ji (Kamakura: January Second)
- Climbing stairs to Zuisen-ji,
- I go deeper into the hills.
- In the garden of the temple,
- narcissus lean against stones.
- Once at home again, a thought rings true;
- even stones have friends.
how lovely / this spruce tree // its limbs laden / with virgin snow
the bloodred / on a robin's breast // the skyblue / of a mountain jay
for such wonder/ what wise man // would not know / his Creator ?
The poet should not lose sight of three basic characteristics that make the sijo unique: its structure, its musical/rhythmic elements, and the twist which begins the final line. For best results, poets follow these and other guidelines very closely.
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