Tanka

Masaoka_Shiki

Masaoka Shiki is a Japanese poet who is considered one of the four Haiku masters.  Haiku has become very well known in the West with its tight structure, brevity and wit.  It is a poetic form well suited to the world of twitter.

Haiku consists of 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5-7-5.

Shiki also modernized a slightly longer short poem form, the Tanka.  It begins as a Haiku, but contains an extra two lines of seven syllables. 5-7-5-7-7.

In writing Tanka you should use the first three lines, the Haiku structure, to set the scene.  then use the second phrase of two lines of seven syllables to resolve the poem.

Writing a Tanka along the lines of:

Tanka is a form
of Japanese poetry
which has the structure

upper phrase five seven five
lower phrase seven seven

well, it doesn’t do anything?  It is factually informative and structurally correct, but there is no tension between the upper and lower phrase.

Here is a quick attempt to show how the tension can work.

Sunset at the peak
I climbed for my ambition,
truly glorious.

Missing you for vanity,
truly a catastrophe.

 

Japanese originals may not retain structure in translation, but here is an example of one such:

Tanka by Ishikawa Takuboku

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

 

 

 

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