Walking to the far scarlet hills as early autumn thunder rolls
I let torrents of rain drench me, but this cold is a bright relief.
I have days until you return. Free in the storm, I am free of you.
Leaving our home, we reduce, divide, discard our treasures, toss out
what remains of all these years, the everydays, the good days. I stop.
This life we lived here was sweet, I say, our life was sweet.
white August clouds
a white cross, a white star
three old black geese soar
never having heard
We were poets, writers, always, in spite of coal dust, grease, laundry.
I stand alone now against the winds of these grey autumn afternoons.
Poets, my family, windblown, inconsequential as crumbled, dead leaves.
Dawn begins on my skin, sweet anticipation of light.
The earth turns, the light proceeds. Sun, a shiver of mourning.
Sorrow for the loss of peaceful night, my bones weigh heavy.
"Dawn always begins in the bones." Hymn to Ra, The Egyptian Book of the Dead
We laugh over childhood adventures. Our treasure was living free,
being alive, unconcerned with life, unaware of mortality.
Remembering when, by his grave, we were immortals.
The hard weight of my thoughts dissolves, now light shines, life clear as fresh rain;
each leaf and bud enunciates, a gleam, each stone in high relief.
This day of despair washed clean, there comes my son walking home.
Three Sijo first published in Lynx XVIII: 1 February 2003
Thank you to the late Jane Reichhold, with love and gratitude.
Les Jours Noirs
Ces jours noirs, ces silences mortels, c'est à toi. Le deuil de la poitrine,
le désespoir, la perte, la peur, tout n'était qu'à toi. J'oublierai ce que tu m'as fait, de ne jamais oublier.
Enfin la souffrance se dissout comme la glace dans les petits bisous de pluie.
At last suffering dissolves like ice in the small kisses of rain.
He scatters seeds carefully, broad hands gnarled, stiff now, and he,
frail as the fallen leaves, as the bright, tiny birds who gather at his feet,
he readies for winter in silence, the frost no longer distant.
What is Sijo?
Sijo is an ancient form of poetry that became popular in Korea in the 14th century but is older in origin. Sijo is pronounced she-zho. The first sijo were songs sung in the royal courts when Korean was only spoken, not yet written. They were sophisticated songs about nature, the metaphysical, cosmology, and human contemplation that were sung with drums and flutes, so they’re lyrical in nature. As Korean court poetry, sijo was appreciated by the wealthy and refined, and when first written in Chinese, by the educated who were able to understand it.
Sijo’s ancient origins lie in the Hyangga songs of the Silla Empire (668-936) written in Idu, Korean language written with classical Chinese characters, and sijo is compared to the classical Chinese quatrain from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Sijo was only much later written in Korean, whose Hangul writing was created by King Sejong in the 15th century.
Sijo has a certain form, traditionally written in 3 lines of 14-16 syllables each. But the most distinctive characteristic of sijo is its musical sound, so a sijo with beautiful or unusual phrasing is more enjoyable than to insist on a strict syllable count. Often phrases or images are repeated within a sijo like the refrain of a song. Sijo may use puns and metaphors, and focuses on the poet's personal experience, differing from some Asian poetry forms. Classical sijo poets often worked their name or their signature phrase into the poem to show off their skill.
entire poem totals 44-46 syllables with 3 14-16 syllable lines. Each line can
be divided into four groups of syllables or halves with a pause, depending on
the rhythm, each half-line containing 6 to 9 syllables. The end of the last
line is usually the shortest, only 3-4 syllables.
In modern writing, the form can be inventive instead of strict and modern sijo is sometimes written in 6 lines with poets creating their own patterns of syllables. Traditional sijo don’t have titles, but modern sijo often have titles or use the first line as a title.
In sijo, the 3 lines each have a purpose:
The 1st line introduces a scene, an idea, an emotion.
The 2nd line expands the scene or idea, building the images, the thoughts, the emotions, the action.
In the 3rd line there’s a turn of events, a surprise, a twist, a change of emotion or atmosphere, or the sijo might pose a question.
What excites me about any poem is the lyrical tidbit of an image that sticks in my mind. This is what the last line of a sijo should do, as in this anonymous sijo:
Mind, I have a question for
you - How is it you stay so young?
As the years pile up on my body, you too should grow old.
Oh, if I followed your lead, Mind, I would be run out of town.
May I respectfully introduce you to U T’ak, (1262 to 1342) who wrote this beautiful poem, the oldest known surviving sijo:
The spring breeze melted snow on the hills, then quickly disappeared.
I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair
And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.
May I respectfully introduce you also to Yun Seon-Do (1587-1671):
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?
May I respectfully introduce you to the most loved poet Hwang Chin-i or Jini (1522-2565), translated by Susan Butler. The pen name of Hwang Chin-i was Myongwol, Bright Moon, so spring moon is her signature:
Might I cut short this longest night of midwinter
and tuck its frost into the folds of a warm spring moon quilt
to unroll the night my beloved comes home.
If my tears were
made of pearls, I would catch them all and save them.
When you return years later, a pearl castle would enthrone you.
But these tears leave no trace at all so I am left desolate.
Yi Myunghan (1595-1645):
If on the pathways
of dreams a footprint could leave a mark,
The road by your window though rough with rocks, would soon wear smooth.
But in dreams paths take no footprints I mourn the more for that.
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