How To Write Sijo
Sijo is a traditional Korean form of poetry that dates back centuries and is still popular today. It is composed of three lines of 14-16 syllables each, and often has a theme of nature, love, or humor. The structure of sijo is highly formulaic, with the first line often introducing a situation or imagery, the second line providing a twist or unexpected turn of events, and the third line providing insight or a resolution. It can be useful to think of it as a 3 line, 3 act poem. The presentation of the Sijo varies, some are broken up into 6 lines.
Rules of Sijo
- It is a poem of 3 lines
- Each line has 14-16 syllable
- Line 1 introduces a situation or problem
- Line 2 develops line 1
- Line 3 involves a twist, which resolves tensions or questions raised in lines 1 and 2
Famous Sijo Examples
A shadow strikes the water below:
a monk passes by on the bridge,
“Stay awhile, reverend sir,
let me ask you where you go.”
He just points his staff at the white clouds
and keeps on his way without turning.
— Chung Chul (1536-1593)
I will break the back of this long, midwinter night,
Folding it double, cold beneath my spring quilt,
That I may draw out the night, should my love return.
— Hwang Chin-I (1506-1544
If everyone were a government official,
would there be any farmers?
If doctors cured all disease,
would graveyards be as they are?
Boy, fill the glass to the brim;
I’ll live my life as I please.
— Kim Chang-Up (1658-1721)
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.
— U Tak (1262-1342)
Soaring high though a mountain may be,
it is a mere mound beneath Heaven
Climb and climb,
and no summit cannot be reached
Yet people stay at its base
saying the mountain is too high.
— Yang Sa Eun (1517-1584)
One of the primary benefits of sijo is that it allows for creative expression. Its structure encourages writers to find creative ways to pack a lot of meaning into a few lines. This can help writers to convey complex messages and emotions in a concise way. Additionally, sijo can be used to explore a broad range of topics, making it a versatile form of expression. Another benefit of sijo is that it is relatively easy to learn. Its structure is relatively simple and there are a limited number of lines, which makes it easier for writers to learn the basics. This can make it a great form of expression for those who are new to poetry or those who want to experiment with different forms.
The rules and form of sijo are easy enough to understand but employing them is where the difficulty starts. It may seem easy to come up with a 3 act story or narrative that would be perfect for sijo. When you consider the 14-16 syllables, it gets a bit harder. Trying to fit a story or emotion or image into 48 syllables can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding.
Sijo And Haiku
At first glance, the Korean sijo closely resembles the traditional Japanese haiku. Like a haiku, the sijo follows a 3 line structure, but its form is more complicated, less rigid, and longer. Sijo is a great poetic form to learn after the haiku because it introduces slightly more of a challenge.
Prompt 1 – Babysitting
Kids are fickle creatures, and enigmatic too. It’s hard to figure out what they want but we have to try our best. Write about the trials and tribulations of raising kids or babysitting.
My kids are always crying.
I’ve tried trains and games and Lego Sets
But I don’t know what they like.
Exhausted, I turn on the TV
All is quiet. Together,
we sip apple juice and watch cartoons
Prompt 2 – Chores
Doing chores is a total pain, why not procrastinate by writing poetry about it?
The heavens open up and the earth drinks desperately
Waterfalls of cleansing rain wash this world of ours anew
Drinking tea, I put a line through “wash car” on my to-do list
Prompt 3 – Road Trip
Road trips can often be long and arduous, short and sweet, or anything in between. Write a sijo about a road trip, real or fictional.
We had been on the road for about thirteen hours by then
So the traffic that we saw was a most unwelcome sight
A turtle, on his own road trip, crawled across the highway
Prompt 4 – Meeting Your New Neighbors
New neighbors moved in. Are they amazing or are they neighbors from hell? I guess we’ll find out.
A hot day spent baking cakes in the kitchen for our new neighbors
We ring the doorbell and they answer, smiling. They seem like nice folks.
They just moved from Portland and would you believe it? They’re gluten free.
Prompt 5 – The Ideal Summer
Imagine a world of endless opportunity. You can do anything or go anywhere you’d like this summer. What’re your plans?
“Are you coming in today?”
“I don’t feel safe in the office yet.
There’s a new variant.”
My friends wave when they see me coming
“Got to go, got another call.”
It’s a perfect day in the park.
Prompt 6 – The Farmer’s Market
They sell all kinds of stuff at these places. All kinds of things take place, too.
This place is overwhelming.
Too many people and sights and smells
How much longer? Another hour or two?
Look, that stand sells cocktails.
— how I got drunk
At 10:30 on a Sunday morning.
Prompt 7 – Excuses
It feels bad to lie, but sometimes it feels necessary.
“How does it look?”
“Ummm it’s not looking like we thought it would.”
“I know it’s been hours but
I think we need to start over.”
“Oh, wait, oh my god!
From this angle, it looks incredible.”