Activity 4: Haiku and sijo – Stories to contemplate meaning
Students explore two traditional forms of poetry from Asia and investigate how poets create shades of meaning through the use of poetic devices. Support students to write critical analyses and compose their own poetry.
Conduct collaborative assessment around the creation of a digital story of student poetry anthologies.
Poetry is usually an emotional response to an event, thought or occasion. Traditional poets in both Japan and Korea have created simple but deeply layered poems in the form of haiku and sijo. The haiku is a three-line poem which has a total of 17 syllables, the sijo also has three lines but a total of between 44 and 46 syllables. Both poetic forms are based on nature with the poet taking a particular point of view or mood. The sijo is often a narrative which introduces the situation or problem in line one, this is developed in line two and line three includes a twist.
Task 1: Discovering haiku
Totto-chan: the little girl at the window is a translated autobiographical novel by Japanese television personality Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. It includes a chapter about the famous haiku poet, Issa Koboyashi (1763–1828). The story tells of Tetsuko's childhood memories, especially those of her days at her unconventional school, Tomoe.
Working with a partner, students read the chapter called The poet Issa, taking particular note of the haiku poems. Students will identify the features of a haiku as expressed in the chapter, recording them in the table below. Students should identify quotes from the text to support the features of haiku that they name.
Quotes from Totto-chan ||
Features of a haiku poem
'They were true and dealt with ordinary things in life
Haiku are written about ordinary things.
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Task 2: The painted pictures of haiku
Students should work with a partner, reading the following haikus written by the four poets who are acclaimed as the four great masters of the art of haiku.
Encourage students to discuss the meaning and check for the 5–7–5 form. What picture is painted by each haiku?
Once snows have melted,
The village soon overflows
With friendly children.
Kobayashi Issa (1763–1828)
The passing of spring—
The birds weep and in the eyes
Of fish there are tears.
Matsuo Basho (1644–1694)
Courtesy Wikiquote, translated by Donald Keene
The summer river:
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water.
Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902)
Courtesy Haiku for People
Down it goes, and more and more
up goes its tail!
Yosa Buson (1716–1783)
Explain to the class that poets, and especially those who write haiku, use words in several ways to develop shades or layers of meaning for the reader. Poets arrange words in different ways; they focus on the meaning of words and also on the sounds of words. Words can have several meanings at the same time and so poets must find the exact combination of words to convey their meaning. Poetic devices such as similes, alliteration, onomatopoeia and personification often help poets to create layers of meaning. This makes haiku notoriously difficult to translate.
Students should now complete the following table:
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For further examples of haiku for students to read and analyse, there are many excellent sites. It is worth having students read contemporary haiku and haiku written in English, comparing the flow of language with translated poems.
Students will write a critical analysis of one of the poems. The analysis should be written in the present tense using the third person and students should use quotations from the poem to substantiate their ideas.
Task 3: Sijo
Students are to read the sijo below, thinking about the form and meaning of the poems. What is the picture painted by each poem? Consider the mood created by the poems.
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.
U Tak (1262–1342)
You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine.
The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade.
Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask?
Yun Seondo (1587–1671)
Sun lights up the hill behind, mist rises on the channel ahead.
Push the boat, push the boat!
The night tide has gone out; the morning tide is coming in
Yun Seondo (1587–1671)
The people of South Korea place great significance on nature, a result of the early religion, shamanism. Gardens such as the famous Poseokjeong Gardens at Gyeongju in South Korea use water extensively so that visitors can watch and reflect on the beauty of water. The moon is also a symbol of prosperity and is of great significance.
Discuss with the class how the poems reflect this aspect of the South Korean culture.
Working with a partner, students record the words which refer to the seasons. Students should identify where personification has been used in reference to aspects of nature. Ask them to give two examples and support these with quotations from the text.
Students write three or four sijo, using the photographs below as inspiration. Remind students of the form of the poems: three lines with a total of between 44 and 46 syllables. The poems are often about nature and have a particular mood or point of view. They tell a story in three lines and include a twist or surprise at the end. Sijo were originally sung and so will have musical qualities.
Students should decide on the topic for their sijo, for instance a particular location described in different seasons, each with a different mood. Brainstorm a list of words to use before deciding how to organise the words into lines, not forgetting the twist at the end.
Use Google image search with terms like 'South Korea nature', 'South Korea seasons' and 'South Korea temples' to quickly create a screen full of inspirational images like those to the right.