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The sijo is the most popular and most Korean of all traditional Korean poetic forms, originating with the old songs of the Hyangka of the Sylla Empire (668-936) and the prose songs of the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392). Sometimes likened to haiku for its brevity, a typical sijo poem follows a three-line pattern, with each line containing approximately fifteen syllables. The first two lines mimic one another both in form and content, but the last line often introduces a twist or countertheme, not only bringing the poem to a close, but sharpening the theme developed in the first two lines.
The popularity of the sijo in Korea--writers range from royalty to common citizens--is always a challenge for the translator, who must often inhabit widely differing backgrounds to completely understand a poem's subtle nuances. Richard Rutt's translations, considered to be some of the best available in English, remain true to the unique structure of the original Korean lyric.
The Bamboo Grove will interest not only poets and students of poetry, but scholars of Korean culture curious to view history through this important and significant form of verse.
The white snow has left the valleys where the clouds are lowering,
Is it true that somewhere the plum trees have happily blossomed?
I stand here alone in the dusk and do not know where to go.
YI SAEK (1328-1396)