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 kyoka.

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 tanka is:

  • 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 live, 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

pillow untended

lies on cold and empty bed

waits for heat of your return. . .

— Judi Van Gorder

Brooklyn on Nabisco at Leaps and Bounds Pediatric Horse Therapy Ranch
small girl mounts tall horse
braced leg slips from the stirrup
animal adjusts
steps under her shifted weight
teaches smiling child balance

Pasted from http://www.poetrymagnumopus.com/index.php?showtopic=1141
My thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on this fine PMO resource.

My example

Meeting  (Tanka)

we met, teased, became attached
we were connected
the physical meeting
was merely confirmation

© Lawrencealot – January 26, 2015



Type: Structure, Metrical Requirement, Other Requirement
Description: Quintet in syllables 5-7-5-7-7. The first two lines treat one subject, the second two treat another, and the last line is a refrain or paraphrase. The first two lines are a dependent clause, while the last three are independent.
Origin: Japanese
Rhythm/Stanza Length: 5

Pasted from http://www.poetrybase.info/forms/003/332.shtml
My thanks to Charles L. Weatherford for his years of work on the wonderful Poetrybase resource.


Researching, I found: that this is a general and ancient classification of Japanese poetry, where Wa means Japanese and Ka means poem. It differentiated poetry writing in their own language from that written in Chinese, which was the more formal method.

All of the following are then examples of Waka. But I shall persist
and write one specifically to the form indicated by Mr. Weatherford.


Name                     Form                 Note
Katauta                 5-7-7                 One half of an exchange of two poemThas; the shortest type of waka
Chōka                    5-7-5-7-5-7…5-7-7
Repetition of 5 and 7 on phrases, with a last phrase containing 7 on.
Mainly composed to commemorate public events, and often followed by ahanka or envoi.
Numerous chōka appear prominently in the Man’yōshū, but only 5 in the Kokinshū.
Tanka                  5-7-5-7-7         The most widely-composed type of waka throughout history
Sedōka                 5-7-7-5-7-7     Composed of two sets of 5-7-7 (similar to two katauta).
Frequently in the form of mondōka (問答歌 “dialogue poem”?)
or an exchange between lovers
Bussokusekika  5-7-5-7-7-7       A tanka with an extra phrase of 7 on added to the end
Pasted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waka_(poetry)


Co-dependent? (Waka)

Men of power use
young women as their just due.
Groupies seek the light.
They will comply completely.
They’re quid quo pro dependent.

© Lawrencealot – August 30, 2014