When sijo poetry first appeared in the late 14th century, it was regarded as many as unique to Korea, as it was originally written in Korean. As such, many early sijo poems have had to be translated.
Hwang Jini is widely regarded as one of the leading Sijo poets, and her work in the 16th century focused on love and longing.
Alas, what have I done? didn’t I know how I would yearn?
Had I but bid him stay, How could he have gone?
But stubborn, I sent him away, and now such longing learn!
A common theme in Jini’s work is wanting someone who is absent, and wishing for their return. In the poem above, Hwang Jini is clearly pining for her lost love, How could he have gone? She doesn’t feel like he could return, I sent him away, and now such longing learn. However, in the poem below, while she is pining for a lover, she believes he could return.
Oh that I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night
And fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon quilt,
Then fondly uncoil it the night my beloved returns.
Hwang here hopes to capture the essence of this night in the sensual poem above as she waits for her lover to return, as she folds it softly, before she’ll fondly uncoil it the night her beloved comes back.
Like Hwang, Denny’s Bradbury sijo poem also looks at love.
What I have is mine but I share with you
All the apples and grapes and oranges too
Water is the world’s song
Denny clearly gives everything she has to her beloved too. Like Hwang shares the essence of that night with her partner, Denny shares all that she has. Both women use objects to describe their love, with Denny using fruit to represent love, and Hwang using a quilt, with the obvious sexual connotations that come with using an object from the bedroom to symbolise love.
Denny’s contemporary poem, however, could also be seen as a love letter to the world. There is no particular person that this is clearly addressed to. Water is the world’s song suggests a more general love, that Denny here wants to bring across her caring nature, and her generosity and an all-giving love, compared to the Hwang’s sijo, which is referring to a more sexual love.