Someone send me back in time…

…I want to meet famous gisaengs and scholars from the Joseon dynasty. But really.

I’m swamped right now. I’d say I’m at my limit with things to do and people to contact and stuff to learn, but I’m not. I’ll never be. I want to keep learning more and more. I’m taking amazing classes this semester – Modern East Asia (focused on Korea, China, and Japan), the Korean War through Fiction and Film, Korean Language (naturally!), and Comparative World Literature: Tales of Youth in Different Cultures. Oh, and astronomy, which has physics, and that means math, and I don’t speak math so we’re not going to talk about that class.

But today instead of (immediately) heading back to my dorm and collapsing into endless hours of assigned readings of primary texts written by Japanese scholars in 1605 and watching combat films like The Front Line (Korean perspective, 2011) and Pork Chop Hill (American perspective, an ol’ black and white movie from 1959) and miserably ignoring my awful astronomy homework….I went straight from my fourth class of the day to a guest lecture.

Sijo! Ever heard of it? It’s Korean poetry. The Japanese haiku is world-famous, and as the lecturer pointed out, yes, everybody’s done a fourth-grade project where they wrote a haiku. But who’s written a sijo poem?

Sijo is pretty much the neatest thing ever and I’m obsessed after an hour and a half of hearing about it as well as HEARING it. The amazing man who gave the presentation has written and read them for decades, and he has a few books out. David McCann, currently a professor at Harvard, was the lecturer.

The essential structure of sijo is three lines. The first two introduce an idea, and the third line adds a twist. If you google sijo, you can find lots of different examples, but be wary of the translations! Some sound fantastic, some not so much. In the actual Korean language however, these poems are something seriously special.

And that’s not to say they can’t be written in English. Prof. McCann proved that today and in his books over the years.

I was walking home from the lecture, reveling in everything I’d heard, forgetting my worries and realizing that, at the same time, they would be dealt with and no longer be worries at all someday, and the first Sijo he mentioned kept coming to mind. 

Snow was falling, music was playing calmly into my ears, and it felt like the world was all in order.

(The following is a Korean Sijo poem by a gisaeng, whose name was Bright Moon, to a proud yangban whose title sounded like Jade Green Stream; he reputedly stated that he could resist her allure. This Sijo poem was her response…). 




청산리 벽계수야 수이갑을 자랑마라

일도 창해하면 다시오기 어려오니

명월이 만공산하니 쉬여 간들 어떠리




[Jade Green Stream ]


Do not be so proud of your easy flow, jade green stream.

Once you reach the great sea, returning will be difficult.

Why not pause and rest for a moment, enjoying the bright moon filling these empty hills? Then go on if you will.

-Hwang Jin-yi


Life has been so crazy that it’s hard to stop and enjoy right now, and I’m so focused on the future that it takes beautiful moments like tonight to remind me what really matters. I’m excited for where I’m going, but I’m also in love with where I am.

Sorry for this scatterbrained excited and dead-tired post.

And with that, I’ll leave for now, and go back to tackling my mountain of work.


Music that’s on repeat…


4 thoughts on “Someone send me back in time…

  1. I’ve never heard of sijo and now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m eager to hear/read more sijo poems. That gisaeng’s response is clever, I bet that proud yangban was left dumbfounded. 🙂


    • 좋아요! I’m glad you’re interested^^ I’d like to do a post soon covering it in more depth, but I’m going to wait until I can get ahold of one of David McCann’s books.

      For me, as someone who loves reading and writing in general, as well as studying Korean, 시조 is an exciting combination to discover 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Dyan!!


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