The sijo (pronounced SHEE-jo) is a traditional three-line Korean poetic form typically exploring cosmological, metaphysical or pastoral themes. Organized both technically and thematically by line and syllable count, sijo are expected to be phrasal and lyrical, as they are first and foremost meant to be songs.
Sijo are written in three lines, each averaging 14-16 syllables for a total of 44-46 syllables. Each line is written in four groups of syllables that should be clearly differentiated from the other groups, yet still flow together as a single line. When written in English, sijo may be written in six lines, with each line containing two syllable groupings instead of four. Additionally, liberties may be taken (within reason, see example below) with the number of syllables per group as long as the total syllable count for the line remains the same.
The first line is usually written in a 3-4-4-4 grouping pattern and states the theme of the poem, where a situation generally introduced.
The second line is usually written in a 3-4-4-4 pattern (similar to the first) and is an elaboration of the first line’s theme or situation (development).
The third line is divided into two sections. The first section, the counter-theme, is grouped as 3-5, while the second part, considered the conclusion of the poem, is written as 4-3. The counter-theme is called the ‘twist,’ which is usually a surprise in meaning, sound or other device.
Example: excerpt from Song of My Five Friends
Yun Seondo (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?
Winners of the Sejong Society
2019 sijo competition
Without fear, I offer myself to the darkening sky.
I dare to wear her delicate, silver teardrops as my crown.
Through the story, I close my eyes and I dance and dance and dance.
Second Place, Kaitlyn Jurewicz, adult division
My grandpa hosts a cramped Christmas, with four kids and six grandkids
When they visit, fourteen strong voices bicker at one another.
In silence, Grandpa smiles. Everyone he loves is here.
Honorable Mention, Kaitlyn Laufenberg, pre-college division
Swiping left, then left left right
Judging faces without a thought
Seeking love that fills the heart
Oh could you be, my Mr. Right?
Marriage bells ring left right left right
For the fifth time this minute.
Third Place, Ha Young Shin, adult division
Make their excuses when asked why they aren’t at your concert.
Pat yourself on the back when you see others holding bouquets.
You have become your own cheerleader. This is a crucial skill.
First Place, Sofia Liaw, pre-college division
A kisaeng’s sijo
With the rhythm of the janggu, we dance like magpies,
iridescent and spinning, hoping for freedom from the men
and their hands feeling at our ivory ankles, calves and thighs.
Second Place, Hye In Lee, pre-college division