Pomegranates, Translated by Graeme Wilson, By Sin Hum

The poem, Pomegranates, is written in sijo (the word is both singular and plural), a Korean poetic form that had its origin in the Goryeo period. This form of poetry though thrived during the Joseon Dynasty; it is written even today. This ancient Korean verse form traditionally contains three unrhymed lines, but in view of the compression and brevity, Pomegranates seems to have been written in the Japanese haiku. The haiku is a three-line observation about a fleeting moment involving nature. But looking through the structure of this poem, it seems the poem has an influence of both forms, that is; Korean sijo and Japanese Haiku.

The poem, Pomegranates, looks Japanese Haiku because its first stanza is written in three lines with no rhyming of the words, and it is Korean sijo for it is a three-line observation about a fleeting moment involving nature. Though it is arranged into two stanzas, its movement is described in three parts, such as the opening description, which talks about the natural setting, the second part, which has a turn right from its first line, and a twist arises in the last line of the poem. However, just as this poem has been translated, it seems to have copied the subliminal four-line structure by using two rhymes, for example; “orange-red/comforted” and “lake/break” – which punctuates the ends of four “lines” of equal syllabic length.

But let me tell you that the Korean verse isn’t syllabic but accentual, and the most important thing to be noted here is that each of these lines contains two phrases, which get separated by a pause for breath. This rhythmical consistency makes it quite clear that the primary object of singing sijo was to wind accompaniment.

The sijo form of poetry was firmly set up by the early thirteenth century and spread the neo-Confucian philosophy of the Korean ruling class all through the Yi Dynasty (1392–1910) though, “it turned out to be such a vehicle that began to be used to express the Korean feeling and thought at all levels of society.

In China, the pomegranate was regarded as a symbol of fecundity or fertility, and the meaning of the Chinese character 子 (zi) is both “offspring” and “seed”. The Chinese’s houses are often found to have the hung pictures of a ripe fruit, bursting with seeds with a view to encouraging fertility. Apart from catching a moment of exquisite melancholy, this picture of a burgeoning natural world is, therefore, loaded with more than momentary heartbreak.

 

Pomegranates Analysis

It rained last night. The pomegranates,

Red and orange-red,

Have all burst open into flower.

Not to be comforted,

I sit in this cool pavilion

Set in a lotus lake

And under its glass-bead curtains wait

For my closed heart to break.

The above three lines stanza in the poem, Pomegranates, with no rhyming of words sets stages for the natural beauty. In this three line unrhymed stanza, the poet says that it was raining last night, and the pomegranates, red and orange-red in colour, too got burst open into flower due to an impact of the rain-drops. Though there are many other fruits and flowers that get burst open during rainy season, pomegranates are poet’s favourite fruits, therefore he gets enthralled seeing the burst beauty of the pomegranate. The nature does its magic by showering drops of rain on its outer surface, and helps it to burst open the natural and sweeter seeds that are not only healthy to eat, but also helps in the fertility. The pomegranates are fruits in red and in orange colour.

The poem, Pomegranates, has been titled so because they serve as a representation to what the writer wants to tell, and this fruit is the representation of change as the nature comes. The very first stanza of the poem sets a peaceful stage, and the poem’s setting looks solemn and miserable-having a cool pavilion. The poet finds himself seated next to a lotus lake, waiting under glass bead curtains.

The line “for my closed heart to break” means that someone looks waiting, while the use of words like “Red and orange-red in the third line tells what the pomegranates are, and what they have in their womb. The poem, apart from helping us figure out what pomegranates are, it also gives us an idea what pomegranates may have been representing. The fourth line of the poem, and the first line of the second stanza, that is; “Not to be comforted”, gives a twist towards the end of the poem.

On the whole, the poem can be connected to every calamity experienced by a country. Just as the pomegranates, a country also grows and changes and similar to the poet is shown waiting in the poem, people also wait for these moments to come.

In brief, it can be said that the poem relates to change, which is the rule of nature, and the line “For my closed heart to break” suggests that the sad and unhappy moments never last for long, there is also a hope of happiness. The time comes when the clouds of sorrows get vanished, and replaces with the clouds of happiness.

Besides, the poem also indicates towards the new life, and compares the pomegranates bursting open new flowers with the breeding of new life on this earth planet. As we know the pomegranates have a very rough and solid outer surface, but when it rains, the fruit bursts out with new life in terms of fresh seeds that come in many different colours.

According to me, the placement of both the stanzas in the poem is not proper as the second para should be placed first so that the flow of the poem can be understood easily.

Where the second stanza creates a very calm and peaceful atmosphere wherein the poet not feeling comfortable makes himself seated in the cool pavilion, which is set in a lotus lake, and waits under its glass-bead for his closed heart to break.

Thus, on receiving drops of rains on its outer surface, the pomegranate bursts open flowers; similarly, there is a new life for everything on this earth planet. Change is the rule of nature, and everything has to go through this phase of transformation.

Moreover, just as the bursting open of flowers from the pomegranate has been shown by the poet, it also indicates towards the fertility, and is regarded as a good omen by people living in China. The new seeds bursting out of the pomegranates show new life, and the new life means new change. And it is a proven fact that every new thing brings something new and changed with it.

 

About Sin Hum

Pen named as Sangch-on, Sin Hum (1566-1628) was well recognized as one of the Four Greats of hanmun (literature written by Koreans in Chinese) during the turbulent reigns of three kings. Hum had also extensively written in his native language, and also produced 30 volumes of poems  as well as essays during his productive career.

Sin Hum was appointed as the Home Minister under King Sonjo, but was later exiled when Kwanghae-gun succeeded to the throne, and became prime minister when Injo achieved success in leading a successful coup. Thirty of his sijo and other short verse on an assortment of subjects have been brought to us.

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