Sijo is a Korean poetic form consisting of 44-46 syllables, traditionally in a three-line poem with 14-16 syllables per line, or as a six-line poem with varying syllables per line, with each line featuring a pause, similar to a caesura, near the middle.

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Rules of the Sijo Form

The basic pattern of the syllable count in a sijo is as follows:

           Line 1:    3     4    4    4     

           Line 2:    3     4    4    4     

           Line 3:    3     6    4    3     

A variation of the form is based on:

First line:          6-9                6-9

Middle line:      5-8                6-9

Last line:           3        5-8      4-5      3-4

Sijo, similar to Haiku and Tanka, were originally written as songs and often had musical accompaniment. The three lines could multiply by two and become a six-line poem with each line being no more than 10 syllables; and the poem itself can be divided into three parts: 1) introduction to the theme, story, or idea of the poem; 2) a “turn” in the poem; and 3) the “twist” as the closure of the poem.

History of the Sijo Form

Sijo first appeared in 14th-century Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The form serves as a compressed narrative and was originally written in classical Chinese and was largely circulated amongst the upper classes who could understand the language. Once the written Korean alphabet (Hangul) emerged in the 15th century, the sijo became more accessible to all. 

Sijo typically focused on nature, spirituality, or the metaphysical. Traditional sijo poems were divided into three lines; however, modern and translated sijo poems may include up to six lines, such as “The Faithful Heart” by Jong Mong-Ju:

         Though this body die and die,
             though it die a hundred times;
         though these bones bleach and pulverize to dust;
             whether my soul will be or will not be––
         This heart was pledged to my lord:
             how could it ever change?

Other examples include poems by U Tak and Maeng Sa-song.