Sharpen Your Editing Skills With Sijo

Sijo is a Korean form comprised of three lines of 14-16 syllables each, for a total of 44-46 syllables. Each line contains a pause near the middle, similar to a caesura, though the break need not be metrical. The first half of the line contains six to nine syllables; the second half should contain no fewer than five. Originally intended to be sung, Sijo usually treat romantic, metaphysical, or spiritual themes. Whatever the subject, the first line introduces an idea or story, the second supplies a “turn,” and the third provides closure. Modern Sijo are sometimes printed in six lines.

It’s not possible to reproduce classic Sijo in English. For example, in true Sijo, the poet composes in a pattern of 3,4,3,4 or 3,4,4,4 syllable words for the first line, then a line of 3,4,3,4 and finally a line of 3,5,4,3. Our best hope is that we can stay close to the spirit of Sijo in English.

Writing Sijo presents a wonderful opportunity to sharpen your revision and and editing skills. The short form allows more flexibility than Hiaku or Tanka. For example, simile can be present in Sijo. Sijo, longer than those forms, is still short enough that every word choice and syllable is important. Look for opportunities to add poetic devices such as asonance or a light touch of alliteration or internal rhyme.

Traditional 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.
— U Tak (1262–1342)

Oh that I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night
And fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon quilt
Then fondly uncoil it the night my beloved returns.
Hwang Chin-i (1522-1565)

Contemporary Sijo

Under our oak the grass withers,
so we plant petunias;
We water them, we coddle them,
burn their youth with chemicals.
Digesting their timely death,
the oak renews our summer shade.
– Anon.

Without the pines / the wind is silent;
without wind / the pines are still;
Without you / my heart is voiceless,
without that voice / my heart is dead.
What potent power / of yang and yin
pairs us / before we sleep?