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Korean poetry

Korean poetry

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Korean poetry is poetry performed or written in the Korean language or by Korean people. Traditional Korean poetry is often sung in performance. Until the 20th century, much of Korean poetry was written in Hanja in classical Chinese.



Korean scholars were writing poetry in the classical Chinese style as early as the 4th century, with roots in Chinese quatrains. A famous surviving example dates to 17 BC, King Yuri's Song of Yellow Birds. Most Korean poetry followed the style of T'ang lyric poetry such as the shi poetry form.

Notable Korean poetry began to flourish under Confucian scholarship in the Goryeo period (starting in 935). Collections were repeatedly printed.

Sijo, Korea's favorite poetic genre, is often traced to Confucian monks of the 11th century, but its roots, too, are in those earlier forms. The earliest surviving poem of the sijo genre is from the 14th century. Its greatest flowering occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries under the Joseon Dynasty.


Hyangga poetry was written in Korean using Chinese characters (usually in the idu system) and is characteristic of the Silla period. It is one of the first uniquely Korean forms of literature. The Samguk Yusa contains 14 poems that have been preserved to the present day. Eleven poems from the later Goryeo Dynasty gyeonyeonjin, characterized by the same style, have also been preserved.

Hyangga are characterized by a number of formal rules. The poems may consist of four, eight or ten lines. The ten-line poems are the most developed, structured into three sections with four, four, and two lines respectively. Many of the ten-line poems were written by Buddhist monks.

Goryeo songs

The Goryeo period was marked by a growing use of Chinese characters. Hyangga largely disappeared as a form of Korean literature, and "Goryeo songs" (Goryeo gayo) became more popular. Most of the Goryeo songs were transmitted orally and many survived into the Joseon period, when some of them were written down using hangul.

The poetic form of the Goryeo songs is known as byeolgok. There are two distinct forms: dallyeonche (단련체) and yeonjanche (연잔체). The former is a short form, whereas the latter is a more extended form. The Goryeo songs are characterized by their lack of clear form, and by their increased length. Most are direct in their nature, and cover aspects of common life.


With the rise of Joseon nationalism (starting in 1392), three-line poetry, called sijo, became more popular and reached its apex in the late 18th century. Sijo is a modern term for what was then called dan-ga (literally, "short song").

The sijo having a strong foundation in nature in a short profound structure. Bucolic, metaphysical and astronomical themes are often explored. The lines average 14-16 syllables, for a total of 44-46. There is a pause in the middle of each line, so in English they are sometimes printed in six lines instead of three. Most poets follow these guidelines very closely although there are longer examples. The most famous example is possibly this piece by Yun Seondo:

You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine.
The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade.
Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask?

Yun Seondo (1587-1671) also wrote a famous collection of forty sijo of the changing seasons through the eyes of a fisherman.

Either narrative or thematic, this lyric verse introduces a situation or problem in line 1, development (called a turn) in line 2, and a strong conclusion beginning with a surprise (a twist) in line 3, which resolves tensions or questions raised by the other lines and provides a memorable ending.

Sijo is, first and foremost, a song. This lyric pattern gained popularity in royal courts amongst the yangban as a vehicle for religious or philosophical expression, but a parallel tradition arose among the commoners. Sijo were sung or chanted with musical accompaniment, and this tradition survives. The word originally referred only to the music, but it has come to be identified with the lyrics.


Gasa is a form of verse, although its content can include more than the expression of individual sentiment, such as moral admonitions. Gasa is a simple form of verse, with twinned feet of three or four syllables each. Some regard gasa a form of essay. Common themes in gasa were nature, the virtues of gentlemen, or love between man and woman.

The form had first emerged during the Goryeo period., and was popular during the Joseon Dynasty. They were commonly sung, and were popular among yangban women. Jeong Cheol, a poet of the 16th century, is regarded as having perfected the form, which consisted of parallel lines, each broken into two four-syllable units.

Modern poetry

There were attempts at introducing imagist and modern poetry methods particularly in translations of early American moderns such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot in the early 20th century. In the early Republic period (starting in 1953 after the Korean War), patriotic works were very successful.

Lyrical poetry dominated from the 1970s onwards. Poetry is quite popular in twenty-first century Korea, both in terms of number of works published and lay writing.

See also

External links

de:Koreanische Poesie
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