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The elements of a sijo

As mentioned in yesterday's post, the sijo is a three-line poem. Except, of course, when it's not, since the lines tend to be long, and are therefore often rendered in six lines when written in English. (As an aside, sijo that are rendered in translation often do not meet most of the syllabic requirements - they met them in Korean, and now they are in English, and getting meaning across is more key than getting the syllabic stuff right. Just sayin'.)

Sijo structural requirements (of which there are many):

1. Three lines

2. Each line should contain between 14 and 16 syllables
Line one is two phrases, usually of 3-4 and 3(or 4)-4*
Line two is also two phrases, usually 3-4 and 3(or 4)-4*
Line three is again two phrases, usually 3-5-4-3
  *Lines one and two usually have identical syllable counts.

3. Each line contains a major caesura in the middle, often delineated by a dash, comma, semicolon, or other punctuation.

4. Each line also contains two minor pauses in each "half", usually a result of clauses or phrases. (E.g., "When I start/to write sijo, I try to count/my syllables." Yes, it's crap as the start of an actual poem, but you can see the way the phrases/clauses break, and how the syllables add up - here, "3-4, 4-4".)

5. If you find your lines too long to fit across the page, or you merely prefer it, you can break each line in the middle, thereby having a poem of six lines, with 3-4 syllables on all but the fifth line, which would have 3-5.

Sijo content requirements (of which there are several):

1. Line one introduces the topic, situation, or theme of the poem, sometimes in the form of an actual question.

2. Line two develops the subject or theme, and/or answers the question in the first line. It adds detail and often includes a slight "turn".

3. Line three presents a twist and a conclusion, and has the most requirements:

  The first phrase is ALWAYS three syllables, and contains the twist - usually a word or short exclamation conveying emotion, or reversing things in some manner. In some ancient nature-related sijo, the poets shifted seasonal words - spring to winter, etc.

  The second phrase has five syllables, expanding on the twist and contrasting with the content of the earlier parts of the poem, while also moving toward the conclusion.

  The final two phrases (second half of the final line) is the conclusion of the sijo, and should have an emotional takeaway.

4. Sijo are often sly or humorous in modern times, but historically they convey lots of different emotions, and can be remarkably intimate and profound.

Here's one by Linda Sue Park, from Tap Dancing On The Roof:

What's in your pockets right now? I hope they're not empty:
Empty pockets, unread books, lunches left on the bus--all a waste.
In mine: one horse chestnut. One gum wrapper. One dime. One hamster.

See how the topic is introduced in line one - what is in your pockets? Hope they aren''t empty. In line 2, it's developed - empty pockets are a waste (like lost things). Line three starts with the twist: Let's talk about my pockets, then says what's in there, ending with the funniest content: a live animal.

And here is one in translation by U T'ak (translated by Larry Gross):

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.

This one's syllables don't work exactly right, because of the poem being put into English, but watch what the lines do: In line one, we see the topic: the spring breeze. In line two, the writer wants to borrow it. In line three, we learn why: He's got "snow" (or white hair) on his head.

Prior daily posts this month have covered the haiku, tanka, and renga: I hope you will check them out. For more Poetry Friday posts, click the box below.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 15th, 2016 06:08 pm (UTC)
For a three line poem, this form seems pretty darn complicated! I'm eager to get my hands on a copy of TAP DANCING ON THE ROOF, though. Thanks for introducing me to the sijo, Kelly.
Apr. 17th, 2016 02:25 pm (UTC)
It does have a lot of rules, but in the end they aren't all that complicated. And if you poke around, you'll see that not everyone follows them. Robert Lee Brewer did the sijo on Poetic Asides at Writer's Digest, and even in his demo poem, he sort of misses some of the elements he established, while writing a sweet poem.
TS Davis
Apr. 15th, 2016 08:58 pm (UTC)
We should do these...
...they're complex, but weirdly simple.

I'm still snickering at the "one hamster" in one's pocket... those are some baggy jeans. And a very docile rodent... one hopes.
Apr. 17th, 2016 02:26 pm (UTC)
Re: We should do these...
Linda Sue Park's collection for kids is great. And I agree, we ought to do these. Although there's been a call to engage in some renga, as well - maybe as a side project, since Mary Lee is going to play too!
Linda Baie
Apr. 16th, 2016 01:49 am (UTC)
The poem by Linda Sue Park is perfect for this coming week, Poem In Your Pocket day. I've bookmarked this, Kelly, will try it. Thanks much!
Apr. 17th, 2016 02:27 pm (UTC)
Will you have room for both a hamster AND a poem?
Mary Lee Hahn
Apr. 17th, 2016 12:41 pm (UTC)
Now that I thoroughly (thank you) understand how these work, I want to go back and re-read Linda Sue Park's book!!
Apr. 17th, 2016 02:27 pm (UTC)
Her book rocks!!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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