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Tanka (or Waka)

Its origin is Japan, its history since whenever. From what\'s been archaeologically found, the oldest tanka dates back to a.D. 620. Consequently, and obviously this form is far older than the haiku, which firmly established itself in the Edo era. The oldest anthology of previously made tanka is said to be made around the year a.D. 760 (This anthology is called Manyoshu and contains over 4000 poems in 20 volumes written by everybody from the emperor to normal peasants). The themes were - not surprisingly - drawn from nature and tradition, then evolved from the personal to subjective, adding Chinese influences of philosophy and culture at that time, incorporating legends and myths, and eventually weaving its way as a tool for socialization, into the lives of the aristocratic. As time went by the wordings became more honest of ones emotions and became sophisticated in form.

The form is simply 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. In Japanese, it is written on one line, or divided in two (575/77), but in English, it usually spans 5 lines.

No seasonal terms are needed as in a haiku, but a consistent train of thought must flow throughout; a theme of natural, cultural or human content.

Other than that, there are common forms that are (though not a requisite) used in tanka and that contribute to its quality. It would also be quite a challenge to incorporate these.

1. Splitting the flow (as in the way a comma would work). There are variations (57/57/5 or 5/75/77). You don\'t have to follow it, but it is rare not to. The former gives a more heavy and integral feel where the latter is more light and flowing (or so they say).
2. pillow words: there are about 50 commonly used phrase that makes up the first 5 syllables of the tanka. By starting a tanka with one of these pillow words, you have to use a certain word that corresponds to it, later in the poem. For example if you start the poem with \"morning dew\" (which isn\'t five syllables just because it\'s a direct translation by me), you have to put the word \"life\" somewhere later. I suppose it would be much harder to do this in English since pillow words are Japanese. I\'m not going to list all the corresponding words. Too many.
3. Puns: are frequently used to heighten the quality. Using homophones (pronounced the same but differing in meaning and spelling) and homonyms (pronounced or spelled the same but differ in meaning). Also using a word that could be the predicate of two different subjects, or an ambivalent phrase that could hold multiple interpretations are used.
4. Related words: using multiple words that in a different context that the one used in the poem, would allude to something or have a subtle relationship with each other. Take it one level up, this underlying connected theme could in some way relate to the literal theme. Another level up, this could be combined with puns, using the hidden homonym/homophone as the underlying word.
5. Acrostic (taking the first letter of each 5 parts and making a 5 letter word which is related to the theme of the poem)
6. Ending with an indeclinable part of speech so as to render it suggestive rather than declarative. This helps a lot in bringing out the authentic \"feel\" of Japanese poems in general, and can also be applied to the haiku form.


These started in the 12th century or so, and are (as the name means) consecutive poems, being made of consecutive tankas to make it longer. This is usually written by several people who take turns writing their 57577s to make one longer poem. There is a way of keeping with the theme of tankas in its seriousness or you could make it comical or ridiculous. Historically, the former prevailed. The form reached its pinnacle as an artistic form in the 15th century, but gradually gave way to the Rengu, which sprouts out of the latter.
Information about the Japanese form Tanka by ~fallingsilver
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SOLARTS Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2008
This is great - I have been writing a lot of tanka recently and am really enjoying it.

Do you have a list of the 50 pillow phrases?? I would love to see them...

Great work.

All the best,
Dick from Solar
Hijiri Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2006
I am a lover of the tanka form, and excited to see that there are other enthusiasts here at DA. :star:

Your description is very informative and detailed, but shouldn't this be under non-Fiction, General Category?
MSJames Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2006
This is a quite good description of the tanka It is refreshing to see some others interested in this form. I happen to love and write in this form all the time now!
ebokat Featured By Owner May 14, 2004
Perhaps you could post some examples from a few Japanese masters of this form.
That would be instructive,helpful, & pleasing.:)
areincarnation Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2003
and darcrescendo seems to have kept his word... coming across a tanka poem, i confessed my ignorance of the form, and was thus sent here...

very helpful... just written my own.

darkcrescendo Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2003  Hobbyist Writer
Well, this appears to be quite interesting. I will have to experiment with this at some point.

Thank you for the writeup!
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