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Sijo Masters in Translation

Korean Sijo by Kim Kwang'uk


Kim began a distinguished government career in his early twenties. Among his positions were Vice Minister of Justice, Lord Mayor of Seoul, and Governor of Kyunggi Province. He served as Prime Minister during the reigns of three kings: Sonjo, Kwanghae and Injo. In 1615, disillusioned with court life under King Kwanghae, Kim retired (some say he was dismissed) to his hometown, Haeju, where he lived until being reinstated by King Injo. Under the pen name Jukso (‘Bamboo Grove’), he wrote poetry in the tradition of T’ao Yin-ming, a famous and reclusive pastoral poet of 5th century China. Only 22 of his poems have come down to us, including a cycle of 14 sijo, Yulli yugok (Reliques of Chestnut Village), after T’ao’s village of the same name. The following sijo illustrate both positive and negative aspects of the simple life he chose.

Scour well a simple clay pot,
draw spring water fresh from the rocks.
Cook up some sweet bean soup
and heap a plate with pickled greens.
This rustic feast outshines all others,
but how many people know?

All fame I have forgotten,
wealth and rank I have forgotten.
I have pushed the world away
and forgotten even my body.
But if those I love forget me, too,
Who is the one to blame?

All rights 2001 Larry Gross; please do not reprint without permission.

entered 051211
updated 051212

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