A New Poetry Form

KisaengThe reading theme this month is foreign country. My favorite poetry book so far is Songs of the Kisaeng (translated and introduced by Constantine Contogenis and Wolhee Choe). The Kisaeng were Korean women of the 16th and 17th centuries, a combination of professional entertainer, performing artist, and courtesan. They were typically selected from the lower classes for their beauty, youth, and talent and worked for the government performing arts bureaucracy. They established a beautiful tradition of love poetry, some of which is captured in this collection. Here is an example:

I have a will like a blue mountain
his love for me is a green running stream.
Shall a blue mountain change
with the rushing of green waters?

He will not forget this blue mountain;
his green cries resound as he goes.

–Hwang Jini

Here’s another:

Wild geese sang across a thin jade sky;
I opened my window, leaned out to see
—moonlit snow had so filled my garden,
light seemed to reach wherever he might be.

This vision took such deep root
its cold glimmers faded within me.


This is a lovely little book that has been languishing on my shelves for six years. Again I have to mention that one of the things I love most about the reading theme is that it’s getting me to finally pull some of these older books off my shelves, and I’m finding some gems.

I’ve also learned about a new form of poetry (new to me I mean), the sijo. It goes way back to the Koryo Dynasty (918-1382). I am going to do a little research to find out more about it. I am intrigued. Maybe I will try to write one!

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