Sijo: Korea's Answer to Haiku?

Professor David McCann wants an ancient form of Korean poetry to catch on the way haiku has.

Haiku is downright famous in the United States; American schoolchildren commonly learn its 5-7-5 syllable pattern. But for some reason, sijo, an ancient Korean poetry form with three lines of 14 or 15 syllables each, hasn't caught on the same way.

David McCann, Korea Foundation professor of Korean literature and director of Harvard's Korea Institute, wants to change that. As described in the June 30 Boston Globe, McCann is mounting a campaign to popularize sijo (pronounced shee-jo) that includes a nationwide contest for schoolchildren and creation of an online sijo journal in English. (The article page also features a lively audio interview with McCann, in which he explains sijo and then demonstrates how it was traditionally sung.)

The campaign also includes a sijo contest; enter through Friday (July 3) at

The Globe article includes two samples, including this one that McCann, who first encountered sijo as a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea in the late 1960s, wrote in English at Charlie's Kitchen in Harvard Square two years ago:

All through lunch, from my table, I keep an eye on your disputes,

Green lobsters in the bubbling tank by the restaurant door.

Slights, fights, bites—whatever the cause, make peace and flee, escape with me!

and this one from the fourteenth century:

The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.

I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair

And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.

See McCann's faculty webpage for more information about him, including the courses he teaches.

You might also like

Facebook’s Failures

Author and tech journalist Jeff Horwitz speaks at Harvard

Kevin Young Named 2024 Harvard Arts Medalist

Museum director and poet to be honored April 24

How Air Pollution Affects Our Brains

An expert Harvard panel discusses the links between air pollution and dementia, learning, mental health, and mood.

Most popular

Palace Pottery

A collection of stunning Jun ceramics displayed—and analyzed

“Practicing My Purpose”

The Grammy Award-winning songwriter Dan Wilson reclaims his catalog.

A Tale of Two Cameras

Why did Polaroid build cameras this big?

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults