Writing a yangjang sijo poem

modkoreanThe yangjang sijo is a modern variant of the standard sijo (pyong sijo), which is a very traditional Korean poetic form. The yangjang sijo was invented by poet Yi Unsang (also spelled Lee Eunsang.)

The standard sijo is written in three lines in Korean. Because the Korean alphabet is quite compact, the poems have awkwardly long lines in English. So the tradition is to divide the three Korean lines in half, making it look like a 6 line poem. For syllable counting purposes, each Korean line is divided into 4 quarter-lines.

Yi Unsang created the yangjang sijo by removing the middle of the three lines of the pyong/standard sijo. This makes the poem more compact and intense.

The first line of a yangjang sijo states and develops the theme. An anti-theme or a twist is given in the second, concluding line. If the first line raises a question, the second line will answer it. Or the second line will be a comment, perhaps a witty one, on the theme raised in the first.

Sijo lines have recommended syllable counts for the quarter-lines of each of the three lines. Yangjang sijo can use these as well. Here is one scheme, taken from Jaihiun Kim’s Modern Korean Verse in Sijo Form:

First line: 3 – 4 – 3 – 4
Second line: 3 – 6  – 4 – 3

A more flexible scheme as recommended by Yi Unsang, creator of yangsang sijo.

First line: 2-5 + 3-6 + 2-5  + 4-6
Second line: 3 + 5-9 + 4-5 + 3-4

So in total the yangjang sijo will have around 27 syllables while the standard sijo has around 44. But as you can see by the syllable counts above, it can vary a bit.

A yangjang sijo by Yi Unsang, taken from Modern Korean Verse in Sijo Form:

I’d Rather Go Blind

I try in vain to see my beloved
she appears only in dreams

If I can see her only with my eyes closed
I’d rather go blind.

Some things to note about Yi Unsang’s poem: First, like most modern sijos, it has a poem title. Also, the English translation is in four lines. Really, though, they are four half lines.

Here are the syllable counts for the quarter-lines of this poem:

4 – 6 – 3 – 4
5 – 6 – 3 – 2

This yangjang sijo is the only one I have been able to find so far. To get more models for study, find classic pyong/standard sijos and remove the middle line to see if they still make a little sense. Like this:

Deep in the mountains we have no calendar
To tell us when the seasons change

When children hunt for warm clothes,
We know it must be winter!

This is from a sijo in ‘Sunset in a Spider Web: Sijo Poetry of Ancient Korean’ by Virginia Olsen Baron. Here is another sijo adapted to yangjang sijo form:

My house is so deep in the woods
That the cuckoo sings in the daytime.

Even the dog, who has forgotten how to bark,
Naps while flowers fall.

The sijo form in general does not restrict the poet as to the subject. It can be about love, nature, politics, industrial espionage, your appliances plotting against you…. anything. You don’t have to make Korean culture and history a part of it. Use your culture, the history of your land, your life.


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