East Asian Form Poems

An Analysis of Structure and Content

Tankas

Tanka is a traditional form of poetry in Japanese culture, originally written with one line of 31 speech sounds, or syllables in English. Westerners have re-written tankas in a 5-7-5-7-7 format, very similar to that of haiku. Due to the extensive amount of syllables available, tankas have more room available for expression than a haiku.



"I Waited and I" by Princess Nukada

Little is known about Princess Nukada, all knowledge of her life came from her poems. Princess Nudaka was the most accomplished female poet in the 7th century and was one of the earliest tanka composers.


"Now, I Cannot Tell" by Ki Tsurayuki


Little is known about Princess Nukada, all knowledge of her life came from her poems. Princess Nudaka was the most accomplished female poet in the 7th century and was one of the earliest tanka composers.

Haiku

Haiku is a very popular form of poetry in Japanese culture that follows the well known 5-7-5 syllable rule. This form of poetry allows the poet to express his or her emotions with limited images and words.


Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

Matsuo Basho-

Matsuo Basho, the son of a samurai, had been acknowledged as a successful poet and and started his own poetry school before he was thirty. He is widely regarded as one of the most famous Japanese poets during the Edo era (1600's - late 1800s). Like many poets of his time, Basho's poems often reflected his first hand experience of the world around him.



I kill an ant
I realize my three children
have been watching.


Kawahigashi Hekigoto-

Kawahigashi Hekigoto was also the son of a samurai. He created his own style of haiku and was a prominent student of the haiku master Masaoka Shiki. He ended up abandoning the structure of haiku in favor of free verse.

Sijo Poems

Sijo poem is the Korean style of lyrical poetry influenced by the Japanese tankas and haikus. Sijo poems are composed of three lines total, each with 14-16 syllables. Sijo poems can either tell a story, express an idea, or express an emotion. The three line structure is much like a conventional story, with each line representing a part of a narrative (rising action, climax, falling action). Sijos differ from haikus and tankas in its complicated structure, with strict regulations on the number of syllables in a given line, as well as the inclusion of a twist in the middle of the poem.

Lost in Translation

Some of the form poems present in the packet seem to have stated a specific syllable pattern, like the haiku with the 5-7-5 pattern, and the tanka with the 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. However, some of the English translated poems, particularly the tankas, do not necessarily abide with the aforementioned patterns. This is due to the translator's intent to retain the themes and nature of any given poem while sacrificing its syllable scheme. For a translator, retaining the substance of these form poems are far more important than complicating the poem with keeping its syllable scheme. Although the structures of these poems are what makes them unique, there are many times where the English vocabulary and the Japanese vocabulary do not correlate well. As a result of this, certain lines in a poem may not have the appropriate number of syllables.