Until the early 20th century, many Korean aristocrats often wrote poetry in classical Chinese characters, including many sijo, a standardized form of poetry. Chinese versification was regarded as an important discipline for Confucian scholars and it was a channel of communication for academic information and opinions. Kim Jong-gil, an honorary professor of English literature and a poet, translated one hundred Korean poems written in classical Chinese, including many sijo. The collection, "Among the Flowering Reeds", was published in December 2002 by the U.S.-based White Pine Press. The book contains poetry from different eras in chorological order, from those by Choe Chi-won (857-?), a renowned scholar from United Silla (668-935), to the one by Hwang Hyon (1855-1910), an independence activist.
Since I left the imperial palace like a resentful bird, I have dragged my lonely shadow among blue mountains. I beg for sleep night after night, but sleep won"t come; year after year passes in grief, but the grief doesn"t end. Singing stopped, the moon is pale over the peaks at dawn;blood streamed, fallen petals are red in the spring valleys.When heaven is deaf to the song of a nightingale,why are a grieving man"s ears so keen? In this poem, King Danjong compares himself to a bird that is thrown out of the palace, flying from one mountain to another and singing all night long. The poem demonstrates the cruel reality and loneliness of the monarch, something which the king experienced firsthand. The bird in question is commonly believed to be a cuckoo bird. There is a myth about the ancient Chinese king Yu Du, who was titled Wang-di, of the Shu Han (221-263), one of China"s Three Kingdoms. He was defeated in war and died afterward, only to became a cuckoo bird. The cuckoo cries all night and its sorrowful sound stirs poetic inspirations. Thus, the cuckoo has appeared in many poems ever since. The following is a sijo by Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598). He wrote the poem while watching the sea off Hansan Island, what is now near Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do (South Gyeongsang Province). Autumn light darkens over the sea;wild geese fly high in the cold air. As I toss about anxiously in the nightmoonlight catches my bow and sword. The sijo shows Admiral Yi Sun-sin"s determination and agony before going to war. The book contains a couple of poems by Hwang Chin-i, who was a gisaeng during Joseon times, a Korean version of a geisha. Hwang left many poems about love, which was considered a taboo subject in Confucian Joseon society. The following poem well-demonstrates the sorrow of parting and yearning. My wish to see you is fulfilled only in dreams;whenever I visit you, you visit me. So let us dream again some future night, starting at the same time to meet on our way.By Limb Jae-un Korea.net Staff Writer [email protected]