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Tanka is a short form of Japanese poetry. It is a mood poem written in five lines that incorporates natural images and human emotions. It is traditionally written in 31 syllables of 5,7,5,7,7. Modern writing of tanka varies in both syllables per line and number of lines. Tanka don't usually have titles but they are used on this page to differentiate between poems.

Classical Tanka- The English translation of Ogura Hyakunin Isshu from Hyakunin-Isshu

Sanjo-no-In

If, against my wish,
In the world of sorrows still,
I for long should live;--
How then I would pine, alas!
For this moon of middle-night.

Tenchi Tenno

Coarse the rush-mat roof
Sheltering the harvest-hut
Of the autumn rice-field;--
And my sleeves are growing wet
With the moisture dripping through.

Saigyo Hoshi

Is it then the moon
That has made me sad, as though
It had bade me grieve?
Lifting up my troubled face,--
Ah! the tears, the (mournful) tears!

Jozammi Karyu

Lo! at Nara's brook
Evening comes, and rustling winds
Stir the oak-trees' leave;--
Not a sign of summer left
But the sacred bathing there.


 

Modern Tanka  

Awards 1st World Tanka Competition

English division:
Third prize: Neca Stoller (Georgia, USA)

There is a sadness
when after days of turning
through fields of flowers
that seem endless, suddenly
the stream reaches the ocean.

James Kirkup, Judge-Remarks.
It is a lovely thought, well-expressed. My only criticism is of the
word "turning" which I would prefer to be "winding". The expression of the
logical poetic thought is well balanced through all five lines.
 TANKA SPLENDOR AWARDS 2000
Neca Stoller
He stands
at the front door
hesitating-
each way
an arrival.

 

reflection pond
it too has waves
in the night wind
and tides rising
with the full moon
yellow leaves
dropping this morning
drought turns summer
into a wrinkled face
also arriving too soon
 
cloudless evening
another sunset shimmers
in the August heat
on the grass beside the stream
a trace of you lingers
like a casket
like stones on a path
as heavy as
the scuff, scuff of hobbling--
the steps of a cancer patient
so still, the lilies
gathered in clusters
with great soft blossoms
they break into two branches
the current of the fresh stream
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When he was born
unseen
chrysanthemums.
unseen when he dies
The same cold scent.
 

Sedoka is a very old form.  Originally, It has 6 lines, totaling in 38 syllables in the following from: 5,7,7,5,7,7. The one below has 2 twists, one after second line, the second after the 4th line.

"The Blind"

Shotguns flared
like massing stars
the noise, the smoke
and through it all
young Killingsworth
sat crying.

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Sijo

 Sijo is Korean Poetry. Sijo is written in 44-46 syllables on either three or six lines. There should be a shift in content between the second and third lines. Unlike haiku, various poetic devices, such as metaphors and similes are accepted. Sijo is not normally titled.   

Classical Sijo

The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.
I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair
And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.
...U T'ak (1262-1342, author of this oldest surviving sijo)

My body, in its withering, may become a lovely swallow.
Under the eaves of my loved one's home I'll build my nest of twigs.
After dusk I'll fly aloft and glide gently to his side.
. . . Anonymous
Mind, I have a question for you - How is it you stay so young?
As the years pile up on my body, you too should grow old.
Oh, if I followed your lead, Mind, I would be run out of town.
... Anonymous

A drum beats in the far temple; I think it's in the clouds.
Is it above the meadow and hill, perhaps below the sky?
Something sends a veil of mist, I cannot heed the drum.
... Anonymous

Oh that I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night
And fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon quilt
Then fondly uncoil it the night my beloved returns.
...Hwang Chin-i (1522-1565)
most revered female Korean classical poet

You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine.
The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade.
Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask?
...Yon Son-do (1587-1671)

Translator-Larry Gross


Modern English Sijo

Last week a friend died, this week another. Is it like learning
to daydream, when each cloud fills more of your mind until you taste
the shape of Georgia clay and go earthward down a spiral road?


That dark feather which guided the trusting bird on his last flight,
Now drifts in the waning wind, slowly settling on the current,
To lead the poor, unsuspecting creek into the new dam.


Down around my bare toes, those ants move with such grand elan,
Utterly  determined, never doubting their choice of direction,
While high above I dwell on my mountain of indecision.


Coming to a gladiola, where the briars flourish;
Pink and yellow blossoms profusely traverse a trembling stalk
To open imprecisely on hard clay, yet thrive, much like myself.
 
I pick my way through weeds and thorns that entangle the empty land.
Silhouetted in the hazy twilight, a tall, stone chimney.
Standing alone, I still wonder- Do you remember me?
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Haibun is a combination of prose and poetry.
The Illusion 

The Sunday newspaper swung and blew as I stooped to read of a woman "who looked lovely in a dress of black velvet with an illusion top." With smothered sounds like wet laundry in the wind, the paper broke away, slanting in devious and hidden turns, as if an augury, over new puddles and me running after it.  My corduroy coat spiraled, then clung, soft as an evening dress, beguiling and forward, to swirl about my thighs in gorgeous disintegration. I danced down the street's polished verse, one complete waltz after another, to ring in the last year of the 1900's. Hello to the mud-covered future, or whatever illusion the new year chooses to wear.

first day of the year
the joy of illusion becomes
a dance down the street
in the arms of the wind-
carpe diem


Sunrise

Dirt, rocks, clay, the whole earth curves to the half-lit sky. A buzzard,
weightless, rises on the updraft alone like a girl among strangers. Stars
wash out as warmth colors the fields. My eyes follow blooms slipping off
my shoe while I pause to breathe.  The path turns quietly hillside. Without
my arrangement, the earth curves and turns, and myself with it.

Vines bend with dew
fill to brim, yet don't spill
they turn
and frame the light
of the contained sky.

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 Copyright 1996, Edited Jan 2006