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Asian Studies

Nowadays much attention is paid to the studying if the artistic heritage of different nations. The current work will provide the description and understanding of Korean type of poetry accompanied by musical instruments under the name sijo. It appeared in the fourteenth century and has flourished till nowadays as the cultural heritage of the Korean nation. Sijo can be divided according to different characteristics such as forms of composition, slots or units, subtypes according to the melodic shape, and place of origin. All these types will be considered in this work. Much attention will be paid to the discussion of major themes of sijo. The analysis of the forms and types of sijo will help to gain the understanding of this type of Korean poetry.

Sijo as a type of Korean poetry was introduced during the period of the ruling of late Goryeo dynasty (Korean Literature in Translation, 2013). Thus, it appeared in the end of the fourteen century and exists till nowadays (Lee, 2003). The term itself was designated as the “type of vernacular, short lyric poem/song” that existed in “both poetic form and the accompanying musical tune” only in the 18th century (Lee, 2003, p. 168). Sijo can be also defined as “three-stanza Korean ode” (Seoul Arts Centre, 2009). The first written collection of this Korean poetry under the name The Chonggu Yongon dates back to 1728 (Lee, 2003). It contains 61 works of 30 poets, some of which were created at the end of the 14th century (Lee, 2003). Such a long life of the oral songs can be explained with the fact that they were easy to memorize and interpret, and at the same time, rather popular among the broad audience. The first sijo performance, notification about which preserved till the current time under the name Antholohy by Seobuk, dates back to the middle of the 18th century (Um, 2007). The oldest sijo notations can be found in The Book of Arts (Um, 2007). It was written a century later. At the end of the 19th century, the popularity of sijo significantly lowered. However, in the middle of 1920s, this type of Korean poetry became popular again (Royal Asiatic Society – Korea Branch, 2012). This happened with the help of the prominent figures of the Korean intellectual society – Yi Gwang-su and Choi Nm-seon (Royal Asiatic Society – Korea Branch, 2012). These people brought the understanding that sijo represents the distinctive artistic form inherent only to this particular location. Thus, it has become “a vehicle for expressing nationalist sentiments” at the time of occupation by Japan (Royal Asiatic Society – Korea Branch, 2012). The additional attention should be paid to the fact that this type of poetry was recognized as the national intangible treasure. This happened in 1968 (Um, 2007).

From the very beginning of its existence, this type of poetry was developed to the classical lyric song (Koskoff, 2008). Even in the current moment, the term sijo has several meanings in the performance. Sijo singing describes the songs, sijo poems depicts the written literary genre, sijolga is the name for so called “seasonal songs”, and tanga is used for contrasting to kagok which are significantly longer (Koskoff, 2008).

This type of Koren poetry was performed with the musical accompaniment (The Sejong Cultural Society, 2008). The most popular instrument that was used for this purpose was changgo (Koskoff, 2008). This is the form of hourglass drum. The music of this instrument can be replaced by beating of the rhythm with the singer’s hands on his knees. During the formal performances, some other instruments could be used in addition to changgo. They are “small double-reed pipe, large transverse bamboo flute, two-stringed spike fiddle” (Koskoff, 2008, p. 1222). The distinct feature of this piece of art is that it is created and performed by both the representatives of high society and by common people (Korea Culture Information Service Agency, n.d.). However, the style of performance may vary. This will be shown below.

The additional attention should be paid to the fact that sijo was represented only in the oral form of poetry till the 18th century (Lee, 2003). That is why, the texts of the same song may vary. The differences may range from the discrepancies in the endings or the whole lines. Moreover, these variations can present the different plots of sijo. This phenomenon is usually observed in the anonymous works. Unfortunately, the original texts could not be rebuilt in the current times.

Sijo is composed of three stanzas. They are represented in separate lines. The metric pattern of the standard sijo has the view demonstrated on figure 1 (Korean Literature in Translation, 2013, p. 45 ).

Metric Pattern of Sijo

Figure 1. The metric pattern of sijo.

Figure 1 shows that every line of sijo is composed out of four distinct rhythmic groups. There are two pauses of different extent. The minor pause is usually made at the end of the 2nd segment, and the big one is made after the 4th (Lee, 2003). The additional attention should be paid to the fact that in the majority of sijo, each line is used for the depiction of some particular theme. The first line usually shows the situation of the plot. The second one depicts the details of this plot and gives some arguments for supporting the author’s idea. The last line is used for “twist and conclusion” (Brewer, 2014). They should start from the very beginning of the final line. It contains the emphatic syntactic division. It may appear as “a counter theme, paradox, resolution, judgement, command, or exclamation” (Lee, 2003, p. 169).

Each line in sijo poem contains from 14 to 16 syllables (Gross, 1995). Thus, the total number of syllables may vary from 44 to 46. As it was mentioned above, the lines are broken with the special pauses. It is made approximately in the middle of the line. The first part is composed of 6 to 8 syllables, while the last contains the rest. However, it should be noted that the last part should not be shorter than 5 syllables (Gross, 1995).

There are different forms of sijo: pyong sijo, ot sijo and sasol sijo (Lee, 2003). The first one is the standard three-line variation. Each line consists of four groups. Each of them has different number of syllables (usually from three to five) (McCann, 1976). The possible variations within one group are presented on figure 2 (McCann, 1976, p. 116).

The Possible Variations Within One Group

Figure 2. The possible variations within one group.

This grouping is shown on the example of the work of Hwang Chin-i (McCann, 1976). It is demonstrated on figure 3 (McCann, 1976, p. 117). It is given with the translation.

The Example of Grouping in Sijo

Figure 3. The example of grouping in sijo.

The second form has varying numbers of syllables (one or more) in different metric segments, except the first one. The third type contains more than two metric segments in every line except the first and the last ones. The evolution and modification of sijo can be found in the following works: “Spring Overflows the Pavilion”, “The Turkish Bakery”, and “Song of Confucian Scholars”. The comparison of the standard form of sijo and the modified one is presented on figure 4 (Lee, 2003, p. 168).

The Comparison of the Standard form of Sijo

Figure 4. The comparison of the standard form of sijo and the form of “Spring Overflows the Pavilion”.

Moreover, the structure of sijo can be divided into separate slots. They are also named as syntactic units. This type of Korean poetry usually contains four different slots in each line. They are rather discerned. This division is shown on figure 5 on the example of the poem written by Hwang Chin-i (McCann, 1976, p. 118).

The Division of Sijo on Syntactic Units

Figure 5. The division of sijo on syntactic units on the example of the sijo written by Hwang Chin-i.

This particular example clearly shows the division of each line into separate slots. For instance, the first line is composed of the following: chonsan.ri, pyokkeru.ya, su.i kamul, and charang mara.

Moreover, the described type of Korean poetry is divided into several subtypes according to its melodic shape (Koskoff, 2008). This classification is also closely connected with the above described textual division on different slots. At the current moment, there are three different subtypes of sijo: regular, yelling, and narrative (Koskoff, 2008). The first one has the short length. This subtype is performed in the middle register (Koskoff, 2008, p. 1222). The yelling sijo has the same length as the regular sijo. However, only the last part of this subtype is performed in the middle register. The first part is sung in a high register (Koskoff, 2008, p. 1222). The last subtype of sijo is usually longer. This poem can be introduced in different registers. In this section of the paper, it should be noted that there can be different variations of the described subtypes. For example, the yelling sijo can be made in the narrative format and in the format suitable for the performance by female singers (Koskoff, 2008). The example of the sijo that can be appertaining to the narrative subtype is shown on figure 6 (Um, 2007, p. 36). It is the part of “Moraneum” created by Kim Sujang (Um, 2007).

The Example of the Narrative Sijo

Figure 6. The example of the narrative sijo.

This type of Korean poetry can be also classified as per the location where it was written. Sijo can be divided into kyongje sijo and hyangje sijo (Koskoff, 2008). The first regional style is inherent for central regions such as Seul and its province Kyonggi (Koskoff, 2008). In these areas, poetry has been more developed. Thus, sijo created there has greater number of variations. The hyangje is peculiar to sijo written in other locations. This style of sijo has smaller number of variations. Its structure and language are less complicated. The majority of poems written there are regular or narrative. The hyangje sijo can be also subdivided as per location of origin on wanjje sijo, yeongjje sijo, and naepojje sijo (Um, 2007). The first one is created in the Korean province Jeolla (Um, 2007.d.). The second type can be found in Gyengsang, when the last is written in Chuncheong (Um, 2007).

As it was mentioned above, sijo has the long history and is still flourishing. Among the most well-known writers are the following: U Tak, Yi Chonyon, Yi Saek, Yi Chono, Sin Kwangsu, Ch’ae Chegong, Yi Sechun, Wo Chonsok, Maeng Sasong, Hwang Hui, Yi Kae (Lee, 2003), Hwang Chin-I (McCann, 1976), Hwang Jini, Jeong Mongju, Yi Saek, and Yi Jeongbo (Department Global Communication and Contents Division, 2016). It is notable that even kings wrote sijo. They are King Songjong and King Chingjong (Lee, 2003).

One of the major characteristics of sijo is the interaction between the speaker and the audience. The first one may recur to the rhetorical situations, topics, and images. This can be performed with the several purposes: for indicating the speaker’s and the poet’s awareness about the preferences of the audience and the immediate concerns, and for modelling the overall composition. The poets successfully use the sijo division for achievement of the logically coherent transition and the development of the plot

The themes of the works were close to Confucianism. They were oriented on the depiction of loyalty in the society, respect, love to nature, humanness, and other principles of the mentioned philosophy (The Korea Society, 2013). Some of sijo poems depict notable political figures and personalities who played the active role in the history of the country. For example, Yi Chon and Yi Chongyon wrote about economic and political difficulties and expressed their confusion caused by their inability to change anything (Lee, 2003). The personal disapproval to the policies of dynasties was reflected in the poetic forms by using the description of nature. This can be found in the works of Won Chonsok. He depicted himself as the traveller in the setting sun who is crying about the past because he cannot return it (Lee, 2003). Yi Kea described his feeling of turmoil after he was forced to leave by his king. The poet compared the poet’s inner flurries with the burning candle that does not know for whom its heart burns. Notwithstanding the extreme inner whirl, this author is still totally devoted to the ruler. However, some of the poets appreciated the work of the ruling regime and expressed their satisfaction in the sijo. For example, Maeng Sasong and Hwang Hui talked about the leisure life and happiness (Lee, 2003). The poets like U Tak expressed their personal positions and attitudes to the topics and events they perceived as relevant, notwithstanding the fact that they may not relate to the political or ideological aspects of life of the society (Lee, 2003).

As it was already noted above, even kings wrote sijos. However, their style of writing differed from the style of common poets. This can be shown on the example of the sijo written by King Songjong to the court servant Yu Hoin who was obliged to leave his position to take care for his ill mother (Lee, 2003). The translation of this poem is shown on figure 7 (Lee, 2003, p. 175)

The Translation of Sijo

Figure 7. The translation of sijo written by King Songjong.

The king is started his poem with command and several questions. This depicts his kingly style of writing and interaction with his servants. Only in the final part of the sijo, the royal author expressed his disturbance about leaving of Yu Hoin. Thus, this piece of art combines the authority, royalty, and the deep personal feelings.

The poets who created sijo also paid their attention to the depiction of love stories. Hwang Jini was among them. He created sijo in the dramatic and, at the same time, comic tone.

The short analysis of different sijo and themes which were depicted in them shows that this type of poetry is focused on the reflection of human relationships and attitudes towards other people, some events, political orders, and other aspects.

The additional attention should be paid to the fact that the standard three-line sijo is usually translated inti the six-line poem. In some cases, these lines are numerated for the identification of indented and non-indented ones.

The additional emphasis should be placed on the depiction of similarities and differences with other forms of poetry in Asia. For example, sijo is similar to haiku, because the authors often depict the nature in their poems. However, unlike this type of poetry, sijo has greater number of symbols and metaphors. They are used more openly than in haiku (Karkow, n.d.). Both types may contain word plays and allusions (Karkow, n.d.). The Korean poetry is more subjectivist and lyrical. In contrast to haiku that has the aim to superimpose one image over another, sijo contains images presented in different forms and variations (Department Global Communication and Contents Division, 2016). The latter has a clearer structure that was described above. It enables sijo to disclose the certain theme and the emotions of the creator. It “evokes the dramatic unfolding of a poetic theme” (Department Global Communication and Contents Division, 2016). The additional emphasis should be placed on the fact that haiku is oriented on the depiction of the momentary understanding of the world. The state of mind shown in this type of poetry outsteps reality and time (Department Global Communication and Contents Division, 2016). At the same time, sijo reflects human affairs and reality in which people live in.

To summarize, sijo represents the type of Korean poetry that firstly existed only in the oral form, and took the form of song till the 18th century. It is usually accompanied by various music instruments. Notwithstanding the long history of its existence that dates back to the 14th century, sijo is still popular at the current times. However, it has developed into different types and variants. Nowadays, there are various forms of sijo in lengths, themes, composition, melodic shape, and even place of creation. This type of poetry can be narrative, yelling, and even regular. All its forms help to build the closer interaction between the singer (or speaker) and the audience. The poet may raise rhetorical question, depict notable figures and events in the political and social life of the society, or just express his attitudes to the nature. Sijo is close to both royal figures and common people. Sijo is the distinct element of the Korean culture that got through the history till the nowadays.

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