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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Japanese Poetry - Tanka

Let's take a look at a form of Japanese poetry called Tanka.

First off, the more famous type of Japanese poetry known as haiku, is a three-line poem where the first and third lines contain five syllables each, with the middle one having seven syllables.

It's a very simple and complex type of poetry... or if written by myself, something I have used to destroy the true meaning of Japanese poetry, as i have been typically able to create them in under 30 seconds as my mind is simply able to conceive them in this fashion. They aren't classic poems in the true Japanese sense, but they fit my purpose.

Now... the tanka... the tanka is another epic type of poetry is an older form of poetry... in fact, haiku was developed from tanka.

The tanka consists of five lines - again with the number of syllables being the determining factor. In tanka, the syllable structure consists of five-seven-five-seven-seven.

Developed in and around the 7th century AD, the arrangement of five and seven syllables is thought to best suit the rhythmic flow of the Japanese language.

So... 31 syllables in five lines. Not a lot of time to get your thoughts out, is it... and that's the trick. For the Japanese, the tanka as poetry was used to express emotions in a concentrated form... as the Japanese language tends to express a lot without expressing things overtly. (People who live or have lived in Japan are nodding their collective head in agreement).

There's a term called yūgen, that is known as a tanka ideal, referring to a profound effect and suggested emotion implied in the poem beyond what the words in the poem actually state.

Back in the day, tanka was studied by the rich and the Buddhist monks, eventually becoming the poetry of the elite... dubbed Court poetry, playing an important role for the courtiers, as they would send letters in tanka form.

If you think that reading texted messages nowadays is a tricky affair ("@TEOTD" means 'at the end of the day'), imagine getting a five line poem that says things not said.

I know you are all expecting me to show of my tanka skills here with a presentation of my own... but in the three years there, I only wrote maybe five tanka poems... they were 'okay', but don't pass the muster in 2012. Consider yourself spared.

Or... I just can't find the damn page that I typed out 20 years ago. Hey... it was 20 years ago.

Okay... here's an example of a tanka poem written by someone more qualified than me:

On the white sand
Of the beach of a small isle
In the Eastern Sea
I, my face streaked with tears,
Am playing with a crab.

by Ishikawa Takuboku

Andrew Joseph


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