Sijos versus Japanese Poetry

They also compare the unity of the Takasago pine and Sumiyoshi pine to the celebration of the past and present. It is also important to note what they associate with their past and present. The old man said that the past was “when the great poems were written” and the present was the “peaceful reign of the Emperor” (Surtasky). This shows that they valued poems as a part of history, heritage and even an essential part of life as they quote the famous poet Fujiwara no Nagatō, “all living creatures and even non-sentient beings have poetry residing within them” (Surtasky).

It is then revealed that the old man and woman are the spirits of the twin pines temporarily incarnated. Motokiyo uses the evergreen pines as a metaphor for the continued flourishing of Japanese poetry and simultaneously apotheosizes a long-lasting and harmonious marriage, showing that poetry and love were paramount.

Some of the most renowned poets in Korea were people who came from families that had somewhat aristocratic status but it was not enough to earn the admiration they received.

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Hwang Chini’s life, worthy of its own Korean drama that aired in 2006 and a movie version that premiered in 2007, was far from ideal aristocratic luxury. She was born early in the 16th century into an aristocratic family but her mother came from a lower class. Joseon law required her to become a concubine of a noblewoman but she was by no means her inferior. She was so admired for her beauty and talent as a poet she soon decided to become an entertainer or gisaeng who also wrote poetry unlike others.

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She even caught the eye of high-ranking nobleman Byeok Gyesoo and the famous Buddhist monk Jijok Seonsa (Bibimgirl) with her formidable combination of beauty and literary prowess. She earned her power and fame from her seduction, not her aristocratic status. She eventually failed to seduce a renowned scholar Seo Gyeongdeok and became his student. She spent the rest of her life travelling and writing vivid poetry about sceneries, further establishing that nature was one of the popular themes of sijo poetry, and dying at the age of 40.

Jeong Chol on the other hand, was an administrator with an immovable sense of morality and an affinity towards political disputes. This headstrong character of his would often lead to his removal from public office usually paired with exile to the countryside under the pretense of retirement (sijo handout from class: introduction). His poetry reflected his lifestyle, with the earlier ones centered around politics and loyalty and the later ones being about love, mortality, retirement, and tranquility. By comparing the legacy of both poets, they are quite evenly matched but when looking back at their lives, Hwang Chini had a much more eventful and scandalous life even though she didn’t have status like Jeong Chol. It is also interesting to note that Hwang Chini’s sijo (Rutt 70) was also rumored to be authored by King Songjong (reigned 1470-1494) about regret over dismissal of a minister. This suggests that status did not equate to famous poetry. Anyone could be a poet in a population of diverse economic and political status and it was the quality of the poetry itself that earned admiration.

Similarly, in Japan, the different lives of Ōtomo no Yakamochi (ca. 716 – 785) and Murasaki Shikibu (d. ?1014) show the effect of upbringing and status on the type of poetry produced even if both poets are considered equals amongst the 36 Immortals of Poetry. Ōtomo no Yakamochi and Murasaki Shikibu are two of the most influential people in the history of Japanese literature as Shikibu wrote the Tale of Genji and Yakamochi is the compiler of the Man’yōshū or the ‘Collection of a Myriad Leaves’, the first and longest anthology of Japanese poems ( manyoshu-万葉集). This is interesting because they were exposed to literature in very different ways because of their lineage and gender. Shikibu was born into an impoverished branch of the Fujiwara clan so her father served as a mere provincial governor. She had a brother who had the privilege to learn Chinese so she would observe his lessons and learn what she could, wishing she was born male because knowledge of Chinese was considered unladylike. Still, when she served at the court of one of Empress Shōshi, she began secretly reading Chinese poetry with her and eventually entered imperial service in 1006 or 1007 because of her reputation in the field of literature (

Yakamochi on the other hand, was the son of Ōtomo no Tabito who formed a literary circle in Kyûshû, allowing Yakamochi to be excessively exposed to literature from a very young age unlike Shikibu. When his father died, he took over as the head of the clan and held many official positions throughout his career. Unfortunately, the financial decline of the Ōtomo family led to his career ending as a Middle Councilor, a post lower-ranking than the highest post his father had held. Due to his family and exposure to literature, he wrote hundreds of poems ranging from love poems about his concubines and wife to empathetic poems portraying the feelings of a guard at the frontier ( Almost ten percent of the Man’yōshū was made up of poems written by him, showing his massive contribution to ancient Japanese poetry whereas Shikibu’s poems were kept to herself in her diary, slowly to be uncovered after her death. Shikibu’s poetry was prose-like and secret while Yakamochi’s were extravagant and publicized. The 36 Immortals of Poetry as well as renowned Korean sijo poets did not have much in common when it came to lifestyle but we can see a reflection of their lifestyles in their art, giving us a vivid political image of both countries and an idea of their societies and expectations.

The two countries had very theatrical love poetry and poetry written for occasions because of the solipsistic nature of their aristocracies and a generally prolonged era of peace. Poetry was a form of historical and political commentary in both countries—more so in Korea— and an important means of communication between two individuals. It also served the purpose of commemorating occasions as that was the reason for which they were first composed. Their short and organized structures across both countries showed that premodern Japan and Korea valued concision and order, as they did in their governments. It is also apparent that Shinto beliefs were the backbone of a lot of the Japanese poetry about nature, similar to nature’s predominance in imagery in Korean sijo poetry. From the exaggerated emotions and ideas in love poetry we see that both countries thought marriage to be sacred, emphasizing conjugal fidelity during life and after the death of a lover, and the importance of courtly love in this time period. Love and marriage were top priorities because both countries were focusing on growth from within for majority of the time where poetry flourished. Their priorities were to attain status within their own country rather than to fend off invaders or go on conquests and the best way was to have a greatly publicized aristocratic romantic relationship. This was not always the case because people like Hwang Chini and Murasaki Shikibu defied societal expectations and still became renowned literary figures. There was no clear-cut template for being a famous poet in ancient Korea or Japan nor was there a way to write a poem that would definitely resonate with the people but we can infer a lot from the common themes, narratives, and symbols that were most common and the unique personal character shown by the poets of both countries.

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Sijos versus Japanese Poetry. (2021, Sep 08). Retrieved from

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