Though they say ‘the hills are high’,
all hills are still below heaven.
By climbing, climbing, climbing more,
there is no peak that cannot be scaled.
But the man who never tried to climb;
he says indeed ‘the hills are high’.
– Yang Saeon 양 새온 (1517 – 1583)
I was first introduced to Korean sijo poetry (which is pronounced more like ‘she-jo’ in a confusing manner) by a book of translations by Bishop Richard Rutt. Throughout this volume, called ‘The Bamboo Grove’, translations of numerous witty, evocative and beautiful poems scatter the pages. This one, originally penned by Yang Saeon (1517 – 1583), captured me completely. Since my first encounter, I have often recited it to myself in times where I need to be reassured and inspired. My love for Korean sijo lies in the last two lines where sarcasm and astute, often brutal, observation run riot; and no matter how serious the subject matter, you are left with a smile on your face.