Skip to main content

Korean Sijo Poems: An Octet: Translated By Graeme Wilson

ISSUE:  Summer 1977
Two Stone Buddhas

There, by the roadside, face to face,
Two stone Buddhas stand.

Rain has greened the patient shoulders,
Frost has split a hand
And wind has brazed the lowered eyes.

Yet, cold and hungry there,
I envy them their ignorance
Of man’s divine despair.

    Chong Chol (1536—1593)


The incense in the censer
Burnt out long ago,
The water in the water-clock
Has dribbled down so low
That night, by now, must almost
Have leaked itself away.

Where have you been these hours and hours?
What party was so gay
That only now, when wearily
The flat moon climbs the fence,
Do you return to plumb my grief
With such cold confidence?

    Kim Sang-yong (1561—1637)


Tell me, what was love like?
Was it round or square,
Short or long or of a shape
One would be proud to wear?

I do not know. I only know,
So far its fold extends,
That none who know its shape can say
Where love begins or ends.


Hilltop Slum

City water, short of breath,
Cannot climb this high.
Even the postman just can’t make it.
That’s the reason why
I’ve stopped writing letters;
Nobody writes back,
But every day there’s sunshine
Delivered to my shack.

The garden is the roadway.
The roadway does for shops,
Our hilltop slum’s a playground.
The shouting never stops
But, morning after morning,
As sleep goes down to din,
This quiet glow of sunshine
Drops intimately in.

    O Sin-hye (1913- )

Fallen Petals

Last night’s wind has scattered
Peach-bloom on the ground.

Already with his garden-broom
A small boy’s going round
Sweeping up the petals.

Small boy, I would say,
Aren’t those fallen petals flowers?
Why sweep flowers away?

    Chong Min-gyo (1697—1731;


More than a full foot tall
My falcon is now grown.

Only the day before yesterday
He first let go the bone
Of my left wrist and arrowed
Into the sunset sky,
His tail-bell ringing as he sailed
High as the sun is high.

And who that has not flown a hawk
Could ever understand
How the heart flamed as that red star
Clamped back upon my hand?

    Kim Chang-op (1658—1722)

Girl in the Rain

Her violet cloak clutched round her head,
As quickly as she can
She runs through rainfall to the pear-bloomed
Village and a man.

What blandishments, I wonder,
What whispers, what untrue
But wonderful wonderful promises
Have soaked that silly through.



That lonely candle burning
There, in the empty room,
From whom has it just taken
A last farewell? For whom
Do those hot tears drip down outside
While, at the candle-core,
Flame burns and burns, not knowing what
Its tears are falling for?

The candle weeps as I do,
For neither of us knows
What incandescence of the heart
One’s tears may still enclose.

    Yi Gae (1417—1456)


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading