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Sijo Masters in Translation

Korean Sijo by Hanu

(16th century)

Hanu, a pen name meaning Cold Rain, was one of the most talented Korean kisaeng (entertainers similar to geisha) during the reign of King Sonjo (r. 1567-1608). We know nothing else about her, not even her real name, except that she lived in Kaesong, the capital.

According to legend, at a party the poet Im Che sang a sijo honoring Hanu's beauty. In his verse he mentioned that he had traveled thru a cold rain to get to the celebration, and that he would likely freeze in bed as a result. She answered him immediately with the following verse.


Freeze in bed! How can you say that?
Why suffer in slumber that way?
How about a kingfisher quilt
and a mandarin pillow?
Having faced cold rain today,
Why not melt in her bed tonight?

Background:
"Cold rain" is a pun on
Hanu, the kisaeng's name. Her quilt was evidently decorated with kingfishers—crested, long-beaked, brilliantly-colored birds— and her pillows were embroidered with mandarin ducks (won-ang sae).

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