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"Sijo" (시조
調 )

"Sijo" is a purely Korean poetic form written (in Korean) in three lines of 14 to 16 syllables, distributed according the following breath groups, for a total of 44-46 syllables..

Line ("Jang")

1 ku

2 ku

3 ku

4 ku

1st line (Cho-jang)

3 (2-4)

4 (4-6)

4, 3 (2-5)

4 (4-6)

2nd line (Jung-jang)

3 (1-4)

4 (3-6)

4, 3 (2-5)

4 (4-6)

3rd line (Jong-jang)

3 (3)

5 (5-9)

4 (4-5)

3 (3-4)

• A situation, problem or theme is introduced in the first line (cho-jang).or opening; introduce situation or theme
• The development or “turn” occurs in the second line (jung-jang) or elaboration of theme or story development
• The third line or finale (jong-jang) is a conclusion beginning with a “twist” or resolution with counter-theme; sharpening the theme developed in the first two lines. The first half of the final line employs a “twist”: a surprise of meaning, sound, or other device.

Korean Poets before 19th century

내버디 멋치나 하니 (오우가 중에서):
Excerpt from "Song of my five friends"
English adaptaion by Larry Gross

나의 벗이 몇인가 헤아려 보니 수석과 송죽이라.

동산에 달이 밝게 떠오르니 그것은 더욱 반가운 일이로다

나머지는 그냥 두어라. 이 다섯 외에 더 있으면 무엇하겠는가?

You ask how many friends I have?  Water and stone, bamboo and pine.

The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade.

Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask?

by Yun Seondo (1587-1671):


There is a pause in the middle of each line, so in English they are sometimes printed in six lines instead of three. Some contemporary poets, translators and editors prefer to split the long lines in half at the pause because of printing restrictions, resulting in a 6-line format. That is, each of the three lines is broken in half, with each couplet separated by a blank line to emphasize the distinctiveness of each one.

Most poets follow these guidelines very closely although there are longer examples.

Although classic sijo sticks closely to the syllabic pattern, it doesn’t simply count syllables. It is more
phrasal (musical) than syllabic.

The “twist” is a surprise of meaning, sound, tone or other technique. It is likely to be more subjective
and personal, and it frequently takes a profound, witty or proverbial turn. It resolves the tensions or
questions raised by the other lines and provides a memorable ending.

Most sijo in the classic tradition, have no titles; however, some contemporary works do have titles.
Sometimes part the first line is used as a title.

Sijo may be narrative or thematic; is often more lyrical and personal than other East Asian poetic forms, and the final line can take a profound turn, resolves tensions or questions raised by the other lines and provides a memorable ending.

The sijo often has a strong foundation in nature in a short profound structure. Sijo, unlike some other East Asian poetic forms, frequently employs metaphors, symbols, puns, allusions and similar word play; bucolic, metaphysical and astronomical themes are often explored.

Sijo is, first and foremost, a song. This lyric pattern gained popularity in royal courts amongst the yangban (upper class or nobles) as a vehicle for religious or philosophical expression. A similar tradition arose among the commoners, sijo were sung or chanted with musical accompaniment. The word originally referred only to the music, but it has come to be identified with the lyrics.

SIJO in English Language

English translation of Sijo was published in late 20th century and quickly gained devoted audience in western world.

In 1986 the journal Poet dedicated an entire issue to "classic" Korean sijo translated into English by Korean-American Unsong Kim (a.k.a. William Kim). Unsong Kim went on to publish Classical Korean Poems (Sijo) in 1987 and Sijo By Korean Poets in China and Poems of Modern Sijo (a collection of his originals) in the mid 1990's.

In 1996 Canadian poet Elizabeth St. Jacques published a volume of original English-language sijo, “Around the Tree of Light”.  Later she started a series of online postings known as the “Sijo In The Light section of her Poetry In The Light website. Sijo In The Light features original English-language sijo, as well as essays and reviews. The following paragraph is an excerpt from “An Introduction to Sijo and its development in North America” by Elizabeth St.Jacques.

“…  The sijo has a pleasing musical quality woven intricately throughout that is most important because even today, favorite sijo are sometimes sung or chanted.  While imagery (metaphor, simile, pun, etc.) is employed in many sijo, it is not mandatory.  .”

In the West, the sijo often appears as a six-line poem – that is, each of the three lines is broken in half, with each couplet separated by a blank line to emphasize distinctiveness. …..The pause between lines often enhances variations transpiring in the poem.  Because I find the 6-line style visually appealing, many of my early sijo were presented this way. More recently, I find myself favoring the 3-line format. Clearly though, the 6-line format is a Western development.”


Dr. Larry Gross (publisher of the WORD shop) launched the first issue of “Sijo West “with St. Jacques as assistant editor. Unfortunately, Sijo West has folded in 1999, after five ground-breaking issues due to health problems and tragedies undergone by Gross. Dr. Larry Gross has maintained a website Poetryin theWORDshop, which includes translations from Korean masters as well as original contributions by contemporary poets.  Dr. Gross also moderates a Yahoo! discussion group, “sijoforum” [Sijo:A Korean Lyric Poetic Tradition ].

In 2005, Robert W. Watkins, Canadian poet, published Contemporary Sijo: An Introduction to the Classic Korean Verse Form featuring Marcyn Del Clements, Rynn Jacobs & Kim Unsong. Published by Nocturnal Iris, R.W. Watkins, Editor with Bill West and Kim Unsong as Creative Consultants. Contemporary Sijo is available for $3.;Please send cash, postal money order, or international money order (in Canadian dollars) to: R. W. Watkins, P.O. Box 111, Moreton's Harbour, NL, A0G 3H0, Canada.  

Other poets who have written sijos in English in fair quantities include Hortensia Anderson, Eve Jeanette Blohm, Marjorie Buettner, Marcyn Del Clements, Dina Cox, Gene Doty, Lesley Einer, Yvonne Myers, and Ronan, among others.

SIJO: Background Information

Sijo can be traced at least as far back as King Yuri's Song of Yellow Birds from 17BC, the earliest
written evidence of Korean poetry. Since it began solely as an oral tradition, sijo is actually much
older than that writing. Sijo is a modern term for what was then called dan-ga (literally, "short song").  Sijo is more ancient than haiku, Japanese style verse.

The "sijo" is the most popular and most Korean of all traditional Korean poetic forms, originating with the old songs of the Hyang-ga of the Sylla Empire (668-936) and the prose songs of the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392). Sijo has become popular among Confucian scholars of the eleventh century, but its roots are in those earlier forms.  By the 13th century, sijo was the predominant lyric poetry of Korea. The height of sijo occurred in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially after the introduction of Hanguel, the Korean alphabet, in 1446.  Sijo gained popularity in the royal courts, yet it had a parallel appeal to the common people. With its slow tempo and calm feeling, it appeals to common people as elegant music that is easy to sing.

There are three sijo forms: Chung-sijo, Chang-sijo and Pyong-sijo. The more melodic Pyongsijo has been the preferred choice among Koreans and is now identified simply as sijo.

There are actually three main variants:

1) the slightly expanded sijo, called ossijo;
2) the widely expanded sijo, called sasol sijo, used as a narrative form, and
3) the yon-sijo (linked poetry).

These new forms were the idea of Yi Pyong-gi (the father of the modern sijo), who called the attention to the fact that the sijo should "convey the complexities of modern life by extending its structure, if necessary, from the conventional single stanza to two or more …."  
A linked sijo (or yon-sijo) may be written by one or several poet; one writes a sijo (as an opening statement or question) and the other would write a sijo in response. Contemporary version of linked sijo was written by Elizabeth St.Jaques and Dr. Larry Gross -see How to write linked sijo and sijo sequence; (  


There have been other attempts of modernization and reform. Yi Un-sang, for example, introduced the seven-line sijo, the yang-jang sijo (two lines) and the tang-jang sijo (one line), but these new forms have not been very successful.

Three characteristics that make sijo unique are

its basic structure,
musical/rhythmic elements, and
the 'twist’  

Sijo is more lyrical, subjective and personal than haiku. Like haiku and tanka, it is an unrhymed poetry.

Sijo use more metaphoric language and expression of emotion, especially in their final lines, than
haiku or tanka. While imagery (metaphor, simile, pun, etc.) is used in many sijo, it is not mandatory.
Sijo cover a wide range of subjects such as politics, love, life, music, nature, loneliness, and even
common personal matters like drinking and aging. It expresses the complex and unique concept of
sadness and hope called “Han”, the very core of Korean life.


The sijo poet tries to convey his own experiences, like friendship, love, wine, loyalty to the king, transience and old age. The sijo includes historical songs, political songs, drinking songs, moral songs, songs of loyalty, love songs, songs of solitude, music, mortality, nature, retirement and rustic life. Many of these songs are anonymous (like our folksongs), and were and are sung by everybody everywhere. Old people for example sing sijo in their backyards, slapping their knees with rhythmic blows to mark the tempo.  


Sijo are sung solo to a small number of standard melodies, with the accompaniment of the hourglass
drum (changuu), small bamboo oboe (piri), long transverse flute (taegum), short vertical flute (tanso)
and the two-fiddle zither (haegum). Not all of the instruments need to be used. In fact, accompaniment is often very informal music that can be performed with the janggu (hourglass-shaped drum) or hitting one's lap, without using any melodic instruments.  The sijo music begins with a note in the middle musical range and stays around there. In the Seoul style (as opposed to the country style), high pitch notes appear in certain places.


Kevin O'Rourke says in his The Book of Korean Shijo (shijo is an alternate spelling of sijo),

"There is nothing in English poetry remotely like the shijo……Usually the verses are in simple vernacular, most often nature-based, which comment on the typical joys, trials and sorrows of the people. On the surface, a sijo is simply stated and easily understood”.

O'Rourke, in the introduction to his book, writes, “The vernacular songs were supposed to move the heart, rather than the head……..'Shijo are songs. This gives them a particular quality: they are light, personal, and often conversational; the language is simple, direct, and devoid of elaboration or ornamentation”.    

source: Wikipedia



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