Yun Sondo

Yun Sondo (1587-1671) was a major Korean sijo poet who captured the Korean spirit in native terms.

Yun Sondo, whose literary names were Kosan (Lonely Mountain) and Haeong (Old Man of the Sea), was born in July 1587 in Seoul to Yun Yusim, an official of the third rank. He was adopted and educated by his uncle Yun Yugi, a childless official of the first rank. In 1612 Yun Sondo passed the licentiate degree, but he chose not to enter public service. In 1616 he memorialized the throne concerning official corruption under Minister Yi Ich'om and earned a reputation for honesty and courage. Subsequently he was forced into exile until Yi's death.

In 1618, during his exile, Yun wrote Songs upon Gloom (Kyonhoe-yo) at Kyoongwon. These poems, his earliest, are in the sijo form, which reached its maturity in his hands. The form, which evolved in the 14th century, consists of a three-line stanza with 14 or 15 syllables per line. Generally, each line has a major caesura in sense and rhythm. Sijo permits great flexibility in structure and subject.

In 1628 Yun placed first in a higher government examination and took office as tutor to the heir apparent (who later became King Hyojong). Yun held various offices until he again fell victim to court intrigue in 1635, was demoted, and sent to Haenam. In 1638 he was offered office but declined, again exposing himself to attack. He was sent into exile but was freed shortly thereafter. In 1642 he went to Kumsoe Valley and wrote a series of poems titled New Songs among the Mountains.

Yun's former pupil ascended the throne as King Hyojong in 1649; however, Yun, a member of the weak Southerners faction, was prevented from being recalled. In 1651 he wrote his most famous poems, The Fisherman's Songs of the Four Seasons, a cycle of 40 sijo. They were reflections on a scholar's life in retirement. He was finally recalled by the King and given high office, but the powerful Westerners faction prevented Yun from assuming and active role in government. He fell ill and retired. Later that year he was elevated to third minister of rites and returned only to see his appointment canceled. He was eventually exiled again in another factional dispute and one of his memorials burned. He remained in exile until shortly before his death in 1671. He spent a total of 14 years in official exile.

Yun's poetry was diverse in method and mood, unique and varied in rhythm. He gave a new beauty and dignity to the Korean language and contributed greatly to the popularization of the vernacular.

Further Reading on Yun Sondo

For general background and information on Yun see Peter H. Lee, Korean Literature: Topics and Themes (1965).

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