“A Shijo Poet at the Court of King Sonjo: The Pine River Songs” is a translation of Songgang kasa, Chong Ch’ol’s (1536-1593) famous collection of Korean songs. The translations are by Kevin O’Rourke, one of the foremost translators of Korean literature into English in the world today. The volume includes a biographical sketch of the Choson dynasty poet-official and a critical analysis of his work. These essays provide a fascinating background to the life and work of this enigmatic man. Royal Inspector, governor of a province, personal secretary to the king, second prime minister, general of the army – these are some of the positions held by Chong Ch’ol during a career that was punctuated by periods of voluntary retirement, dismissal and exile. He was by nature a brilliant but rather stubborn man. Loved by his friends, hated by his enemies, his life was marked by continuous controversy. Korean commentators traditionally regard Chong Ch’ol as the greatest exponent of the essay-poem genre called kasa – his kasa were immensely popular in his own lifetime – and they consistently place him among the great shijo poets.
Readers of “A Shijo Poet at the Court of King Sonjo: The Pine River Songs” will be struck by the literary quality of the shijo, which are without peer in the history of the genre, and by the urbanity and cultivation of the kasa poems. These poems come alive for the first time in English versions that stand on their own as English poems.