Hwang Jin-Yi, a sixteenth-century female escort and entertainer, made a name for herself writing elevated verse about beauty and love. She largely wrote in sijo (시 조), a classic form of Korean poetry. Sijo, an uncommon art, involves three short, lyrical lines per poem in which a situation is introduced, develops, and concludes, often with a surprising twist in the final line.
Hwang Jin-Yi’s poems are hard to find in English. However, they still portray extreme love, pain, or awe even after translation. Here is one such sijo poem:
Mountains are the same as in the old times, but streams are never the same;
They keep flowing day and night, so they can not be the same.
The men of fame are like the streams; once gone, they never return.
I will break the back of this long, midwinter night,
Folding it double, cold beneath my spring quilt,
That I may draw out the night, should my love return.
The same poem can also be translated as follows:
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 uncoil it in the night my beloved returns.
This is the poem in its original Korean:
동지달 기나긴 밤을 한 허리를 버혀 내여
춘풍 이불 아래 서리서리 넣었다가
어론 님 오신 날 밤이여든 굽이굽이 펴리라
I decided to try my hand at writing some sijo. Here’s my first attempt:
Forceful flailing in the seething water, he cuts through a
brisk, raging river like a sword through unguarded flesh.
Pushing forward, fighting on, but one can only swim so long.
I’d like to continue practicing this form of poetry. Normally I don’t restrict my writing to such a short stanza, so sijo presents a new challenge for concision while still being longer than, say, a haiku. I hope you enjoyed learning about Hwang Jin-Yi and sijo poetry!
*Note: The featured image for today’s post is from a 2006 Korean drama called Hwang Jini/Hwang Jin-Yi.*