Japanese Tanka Poetry
The Tanka is a uniquely Japanese poetic form perfected at the beginning of the seventh century. Its original form can be seen in the Manyoshu, an anthology of poems compiled in the eighth century. Words that express the poet’s feelings or the seasonal conditions are set into a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic structure. As there are no ‘season words’ required like they are with Haiku, Tanka allows more freedom of subject matter.
“Tokai no – kojima no iso no – shirasuna ni – Ware nakinurete – kani to tawamuru. On the white sand of a rocky beach on a small island off the Tokai coast, Soaked in tears, I play with a crab.”
This is a poem by Ishikawa Takuboku- 1886-1912 -. If you read it aloud, you will hear the 5-7-5-7-7 rhythm.
The pleasing resonance of its words is one of the reasons Japanese have long cherished Tanka poetry.