Tanka, 短歌 “short song” is meant to be filled with personal and emotional expression. The tanka expresses feelings and thoughts regardless of the direction they take. Originally there was also an attempt to connect these thoughts and feelings to nature. The tanka, unlike the haiku, may use figurative expressions such as metaphor or simile. The form is less rigid, more casual than the haiku. It allows the imagination to help the poet express feelings.
The tanka is a descendant of the waka, one of the earliest Japanese forms and dates back to the 8th century. The description of the waka and tanka are separated by a thin line, mostly time. However the tanka is defined more by content and style than syllabic prescription, still most tanka like its ancestor the waka are confined by 31 onji or syllables and broken into 5 lines of 5-7-5-7-7.
Members of the royal court were expected to write tanka and it was often exchanged as communication, including being passed as love notes. It became the concluding stanza of the communal linked Renga. Classic Japanese Tanka were collected in anthologies that were sponsored by members of the royal court. One of the most prominent writers of the 9th century was a woman, Ono no Komachi, still admired for her work. When a tanka is satirical it is sometimes referred to as a kyoka or “crazy poem”.
The form addressed themes as natural beauty, love, the impermanence of life, the activities of the common people and separation. “To be touched by things” “mono no aware” is an important idea in tanka writing as well as the later developed Haiku. A Tanka String is a group of tankas written around the same theme and strung together in no particular order.
The elements of the tanka are:
- syllabic, 31 or less syllables, most commonly 5-7-5-7-7, in variation the lines are best kept with odd numbered syllables.
- normally but not always a 5 line poem, the 5 line pattern however does seem to prevail.
- defined by content and style more than the syllabic prescription. But there is still a pattern of short and long lines rather than a metered equal length.
- written as a personal or emotional expression of themes such as natural beauty, love, the impermanence of life, the activities of the common people
- composed with the priority of “to be touched by things” “mono no aware” and use of concrete images.
I wait for you
Oh! With tender passion
As in my house
The bamboo blinds stir
Blown by autumn wind
—Princess Nukada (7th century)
See how the blossoms
That are falling about me
Fade after long rain
While, quietly as in prayer,
I have gazed my life away.
— Ono no Komachi (9th century)
I shut my eyes
But nothing whatsoever
Surfaces in my mind
In my utter loneliness
I open them up again
—Takuboku (19th century)
chill of soundless night
without your breath near my ear
lies on cold and empty bed
waits for heat of your return. . .
— Judi Van Gorder
Pasted from Poetry Magnum Opus, with thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on this fine PMO resource.
we met, teased, became attached
we were connected
the physical meeting
was merely confirmation
© Lawrencealot – January 26, 2015