An Introduction to Classical Korean Literature: From Hyangga to P'ansori

By Kichung Kim | Go to book overview

2
The Mystery and Loveliness of the Hyangga

Although poetry must have flourished along with other art forms in the early Korean kingdoms of Koguryŏ, Paekche, and Shilla, very little vernacular poetry survives from the first thousand years of Korea's recorded history. We have reason to believe, however, that there was a considerable body of vernacular Korean poetry composed during this period, since early chronicles, both Chinese and Korean, tell us that Koreans were a people fond of singing and dancing, especially on certain festival days observed annually in celebration of their harvests and in propitiation of spirits. On these occasions both young and old are said to have sung and danced day and night for days on end. Furthermore, we know from historical records that an anthology of vernacular Korean poetry called Samdaemok (Collection from the Three Kingdoms) was compiled in Shilla in 888 A.D. It included hundreds of poems, not only from Shilla but from Paekche and Koguryŏ as well. But of Samdaemok only the title has survived. Thus, even though there had been a considerable body of vernacular poetry by 888 A.D., only the twenty-five songs of Shilla called hyangga have survived, along with a few poems in hanmun and the titles of several Korean poems.1

Each of the two dozen hyangga that has survived is a gem to be valued and carefully scrutinized, for these verses are all that remain of a much larger body of vernacular Korean poetry from the earliest period. The word hyangga literally means "native songs," that is, Korean songs as opposed to Chinese songs. Since Koreans had no writing system of their own during the first 1,500

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An Introduction to Classical Korean Literature: From Hyangga to P'ansori
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - What is Korean Literature? 3
  • 2 - The Mystery and Loveliness of the Hyangga 11
  • 3 - The Incomparable Lyricism of Koryŏ Songs 25
  • 4 Notes on the Samguk sagi and Samguk yusa 48
  • 5 - Notes on Shijo 75
  • 6 - The Literature of Chosŏn Dynasty Women 95
  • 7 - Hŏ Kyun: Hong Kiltong Chŏn and the Hanmun Lives 141
  • Notes 157
  • 9 - The Literature of Shirhak: Yŏnam, Pak Chi-Wŏn 171
  • 10 - Notes on P'Ansori 197
  • Toward Modern Korean Literature 209
  • Works Cited 219
  • Index 223
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