Tanka and Sijo

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Tanka and Sijo


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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


From "Ogura Hyakunin Isshu" 


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.

Emperor Juntoku

In these ancient eaves,
Built of so many hundreds
Of stones, the bracken
Growing wild bring back sadly
The glories of long ago.

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.

Above tanka translated by Clay MacCaulay.  

Notice the difference in translations below.


A different translation of Sanjo by Haruo Miyata 1981.

I expect it not,
But if, in this world of woe,
I should long survive,
Dearly should I look back then
On this brilliant midnight moon!


Juntoku translationtaken from page linked to here but no note on translator.

In these ancient eaves,
Built of so many hundreds
Of stones, the bracken
Growing wild bring back sadly
The glories of long ago.


A different translation of Saigyo Hoshi by Tom Galt 1982 Princeton University Press.

The moon to me now
Is a thing to be deplored,
Forcing me to think
Till my face grows drawn and tense,
And I feel the tears begin.





Contemporary Tanka  


Awards 1st World Tanka Competition

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

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

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
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
When he was born
unseen when he dies
The same cold scent.




Sedoka is a very old form of "waka"(Japanese poetry). Originally, It has 6 lines, totaling in 38 syllables in the following from: 5,7,7,5,7,7. The poem is broken into two parts of 5/7/7 stanzas referred to as the katauta. The one below has 2 twists, one after second line, the second after the 4th line. Sedoka has often been the venue to create folk ballads.  For more information follow link to Sedoka.


"The Blind"

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


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.   The first group of classical sijo is shown in six lines, the second in three lines. Either is appropriate.


Classical Sijo
Translator-Larry Gross

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)

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

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

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

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
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)


Contemporary Korean Sijo by Sowol Kim

translated by Jaihiun Kim and Ronald B. Hatch

How I yearn for the sea today

as the salt tears gather

A memory of your tenderness,

the powder-soft touch of your hand,

and I tremble like an aspen in summer,

while my heart sounds a long ache of


Contemporary 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.



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?



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.




Haibun is a combination of concisely expressed prose intermingled with 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.

her smile--
above and beneath the puddle
slowly disappears







 Copyright 1996, Edited Jan 2006