Posts Tagged ‘Ono No Komachi’

“Call and Answer to Ono no Komachi”

May 1, 2017

kohut-bartels-bop-6

(J Kohut-Bartels,  1995, ‘Birds’, watercolor)

Tonight is OLN (Open Link Night) at dversepoets pub.  I don’t know who is tending the bar tonight because I am posting this early, but they are sure to give a good reading of poems there and a stiff drink to boot.

“Call and Answer” is a work in progress…my attempt to riff in verse with Ono no Komachi.  One of my very favorite poets of any age.  She was a fascinating person and poet.  I included an essay on her in the ‘essay section’ of “Song of the Nightingale”, published 2015.  She is slippery, though.  Different translations of the same poem can give a variation in message.  I have found, for her, the best translations are done by Hirshfield and Aratani.  Jane Hirshfield became a mentor to me, of sorts, when I first started writing tanka.  From her it was: “Good start. Still not tanka yet.”  This was helpful.

Lady Nyo

=–=

 

 

Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.

…..Komachi

 

How long will it last?

I know not his hidden heart.

This morning my thoughts

Are as tangled as my hair.

My blushes turn my face dark.”

……Lady Nyo (from “Kimono”, work in progress…)

 

When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

……Komachi

No moon tonight

Only a cold wind visits.

Murasaki robe

Stained the color of grass

Invisible on this earth.

……Lady Nyo   (Murasaki is the color purple.  it is also a grass that has dark lavender tops.  It was used as a dye.)

 

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

……Komachi

Come to me, my man,

Part the blinds, come into my arms,

Snuggle against my warm breast

Let my belly

Warm your dreams.

…..Lady Nyo

 

One of her most famous poems:

 

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

…..Komachi

 

When my need denied

Burns my breasts-torments me

I tear open robes

To lie naked in moonlight

The wind your hands, caressing

……Lady Nyo

 

 

Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.’

…..Komachi

 

Autumn wind startles–

Lowered to an ominous

     Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!

     The fat mountain deer listen-

   Add their bellowing sorrow.

…..Lady Nyo

 

The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.

…..Komachi

 

Tonight, foxes scream

Cued by a howling wind.

Maple leaves quilting

A lonely time of season

No one to share the moonlight.

……Lady Nyo

 

 

 

A diver does not abandon

A seaweed-filled bay.

Will you then turn away

From this floating, sea-foam body

That waits for your gathering hands?

…..Komachi

 

So lonely am I

My soul like a floating weed

Severed at the roots

Drifting upon cold waters

No pillow for further dreams.

…..Lady Nyo

 

 

Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.

…..Komachi

 

Dreams, reality

How can one truly know?

I stumble through dreams

I stagger through the lost days

Tell me: what has more substance?

…..Lady Nyo

Ono no Komachi just begs for a call and answer.  Her poetry is sublime.  I just had to take this opportunity.  She inspires on the deepest level.

All Komachi poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

Call and Answer: my tanka to answer Ono no Komachi.

December 1, 2016

 

My beautiful picture

My beautiful picture

(Morning sky to the east a few years ago…)

In the spirit of what was done 1500 years ago, I am answering the call of Ono no Komachi’s wonderful poems with a bit of my own, trying to stay ontheme in each one.

These are just fast written responses., but sometimes that fulfills the task.  As to whether there are ‘real’ tanka, I don’t know, and frankly right now, I am happy enough with what developed.

Lady Nyo

 

Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.

 

How long will it last?

I know not his hidden heart.

This morning my thoughts

Are as tangled as my hair.

My blushes turn my face dark.”

 

When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

No moon tonight

Only a cold wind visits

Murasaki robe

Stained the color of grass

Invisible on this earth.

 

My longing for you—

Too strong to keep within bounds.

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

Come to me, my man,

Part the blinds and come into my arms,

Snuggle against my warm breast

And let my belly

Warm your dreams.

 

One of her most famous poems:

 

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

 

When my needing you

Burns my breasts-torments me

I tear open robes

To lie naked in moonlight

The wind your hands, caressing

 

 

Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.’

 

Autumn wind startles–

Lowered to an ominous

     Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!

     The fat mountain deer listen-

   Add their bellowing sorrow.

 

The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.

 

Tonight, foxes scream

Cued by a howling wind.

Maple leaves quilting

A lonely time of season

No one to share the moonlight.

 

 

 

A diver does not abandon

A seaweed-filled bay.

Will you then turn away

From this floating, sea-foam body

That waits for your gathering hands?

 

So lonely am I

My soul like a floating weed

Severed at the roots

Drifting upon cold waters

No pillow for further dreams.

 

 

Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.

 

Dreams, reality

How can one truly know?

I stumble through dreams

I stagger through the lost days

Tell me: what has more substance?

I did my poems  fast. I will refine and revise later. And try to complete this with the remaining poems of Komachi.

All Komachi poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016

 

 

Ono no Komachi, A Sensual Medieval Japanese Poet

November 30, 2016
My beautiful picture

Autumn colors from my bathroom window today

 

I’ve written before on this blog about Ono no Komachi. She continues to capture my interest as a woman and a poet.

Briefly, she lived from 834?-??. It’s not clear when she died. She served in Japan’s Heian court (then in Kyoto) and was one of the dominant poetic geniuses. She is also in the great Man’yoshu, a collection of 4500 poems.

She lived when a woman was considered to be educated once she composed, memorized and could recite 1000 poems. Her poetry is deeply subjective, passionate and complex. She was a pivotal figure, legendary in Japanese literary history.

The form: these are written in tanka form…the usual form of poetry most popular.

Don’t be put off by the lack of syllables or more than for the lines. These poems are translated into English and they don’t necessarily fit the form exactly.

There are parts of the world where her poetry is still studied and read. These cultures are richer for the doing, as are their poets.

Lady Nyo

Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.

When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

My longing for you—

Too strong to keep within bounds.

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

One of her most famous poems:

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.

The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.

A diver does not abandon

A seaweed-filled bay.

Will you then turn away

From this floating, sea-foam body

That waits for your gathering hands?

Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.

My personal favorite:

 

The autumn night

Is long only in name—

We’ve done no more

Than gaze at each other

And it’s already dawn.

This morning

Even my morning glories

Are hiding,

Not wanting to show

Their sleep-mussed hair.

I thought to pick

The flower of forgetting

For myself,

But I found it

Already growing in his heart.

Since this body

Was forgotten

By the one who promised to come,

My only thought is wondering

Whether it even exists.

=

All these poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

copyrighted, 2016

 

 

Ono no Komachi, A Sensual Medieval Japanese Poet, one of the “100 Immortals”

August 27, 2015

Tanka image

I’ve written before on this blog about Ono no Komachi. She continues to capture my interest as a woman and a poet.

Briefly, she lived from 834?-??. It’s not clear when she died. She served in Japan’s Heian court (then in Kyoto) and was one of the dominant poetic geniuses. She is also in the great Man’yoshu, a collection of 4500 poems.

She lived when a woman was considered to be educated once she composed, memorized and could recite 1000 poems. Her poetry is deeply subjective, passionate and complex. She was a pivotal figure, legendary in Japanese literary history.

The form: these are written in tanka form…the usual form of poetry most popular.

Don’t be put off by the lack of syllables or more than for the lines. These poems are translated into English and they don’t necessarily fit the form exactly.

There are parts of the world where her poetry is still studied and read. These cultures are richer for the doing, as are their poets.

Lady Nyo

Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.

When my desire

Grows too fierce I

wear my bed clothes Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

My longing for you—

Too strong to keep within bounds.

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

One of her most famous poems:

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.

The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.

A diver does not abandon

A seaweed-filled bay.

Will you then turn away

From this floating, sea-foam body

That waits for your gathering hands?

Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.

My personal favorite:

The autumn night Is long only in name—

We’ve done no more

Than gaze at each other

And it’s already dawn.

This morning

Even my morning glories

Are hiding,

Not wanting to show

Their sleep-mussed hair.

I thought to pick

The flower of forgetting

For myself,

But I found it

Already growing in his heart.

Since this body

Was forgotten

By the one who promised to come,

My only thought is wondering

Whether it even exists.

All these poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

The fun and excitement of studying the tanka form and studying the examples of Komachi’s gives way to the development of our own verse.  These below are of no comparison to Komachi’s but they help a poet to write inspired by her beautiful work.  There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact, is of the great precedent that was common during her time.  These below are mine, now published in “Song of the Nightingale”, Amazon. com, 2015.

Oh my wife!
My feet take me over mountains
In the service to our lord
But my heart stays tucked in the bosom
Of your robe.

The only company I have tonight,
Now near dawn, is the paling Milky Way,
And Oh, my husband!
There are not stars enough in the heavens
To equal my sorrowful tears.

Last night I thought of you–

My face still bears the blushes.

You thought it was good health?

No, just reflects the liberty

of dreams.

My laughter is as hollow

as that stricken tree by the pond.

I have not laughed for a long time.

It strangles in my throat.

Bolts of lightning flash!

The sky brightens like the day-

too soon it darkens.

My eyes opened or closed see

the futility of love.

 –

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

Song_of_the_Nightingale_COVER

Recently published by Createspace, Amazon.com

http://amzn.to/1Cm8mZi

Introducing:  MIA, our new doggie.  She was a rescue, pregnant and HW positive. 4 years old.  Sweetest dog in the universe.

Ono no Komachi, Sensual Poems of a Medieval Woman Poet

March 13, 2014

Tanka Presentation #2

Crabapple/Peach Tree in back yard, Spring

Crabapple/Peach Tree in back yard, Spring

Ono no Komachi….Sensual Poems of a Medieval Woman Poet

Ono no Komachi continues to capture my interest as a woman and a poet.  For me, she personifies this very Japanese concept called mono no aware.  This is translated as “the sorrow of human existence’ but perhaps can be better translated as ‘a sensitivity to things’ mostly meaning an understanding of the perishability of beauty and human happiness.  Ono no Komachi’s poetry certainly was deeply based in this concept.

Briefly, she lived from 834?-??.  It’s not clear when she died.  She served in Japan’s Heian court as a lady in waiting to the Emperor’s consort and was one of the dominant poetic geniuses. Komachi’s father was a lord in Dewa, in the northwest of Japan, probably in the region known as Akito. She, like so many young girls, was sent to the court when very young, perhaps as young as ten years old.  This was common practice and a good place for her to find a husband with position within the court.

There are stories about Komachi, that she was a great beauty, attracted many lovers, but was very cruel to them. A few of her poems express her deep sorrow where one or the other died before she could make her peace with them.  But these are just stories passed down from centuries.  And, there is a final story, where when she was very old, and had lost all her beauty and was poor, she lived in a hut and people came to stare at this once great and famous beauty.  But perhaps, as was the custom for women of a certain class, she shaved her head and became a nun. Perhaps she lived out her life in a monastery.

 She is also in the great Man’yoshu, a collection of 4515 poems.  This was ordered by the Emperor to be compiled around the 9th century.

She lived when a woman was considered to be educated once she composed, memorized and could recite 1000 poems.  Her poetry is deeply subjective, passionate and complex.  She was a pivotal figure, legendary in Japanese literary history.  She is counted as one of the “100 Famous Japanese Poets”.

These poems are written in tanka form…the usual form of poetry most popular.  Don’t be put off by the lack of syllables or more than 31 for the lines.  These poems are translated into English and they don’t necessarily fit the form exactly.

There are parts of the world where her poetry is still studied and read.  These cultures are richer for the doing, as are their poets.

Lady Nyo

Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.

When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

My longing for you—

Too strong to keep within bounds.

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

One of her most famous poems:

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.

The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.

A diver does not abandon

A seaweed-filled bay.

Will you then turn away

From this floating, sea-foam body

That waits for your gathering hands?

Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.

My personal favorite:

The autumn night

Is long only in name—

We’ve done no more

Than gaze at each other

And it’s already dawn.

This morning

Even my morning glories

Are hiding,

Not wanting to show

Their sleep-mussed hair.

I thought to pick

The flower of forgetting

For myself,

But I found it

Already growing in his heart.

Since this body

Was forgotten

By the one who promised to come,

My only thought is wondering

Whether it even exists.

All these poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

The fun and excitement of studying the tanka form and studying the examples of Komachi’s gives way to the development of our own verse.  These below are of no comparison to Komachi’s but they help a poet to write inspired by her beautiful work.  There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact, is of the great precedent that was common during her time.  These below are mine.

Oh my wife!
My feet take me over mountains
In the service to our lord
But my heart stays tucked in the bosom
Of your robe.

The only company I have tonight,
Now near dawn, is the paling Milky Way,
And Oh, my husband!
There are not stars enough in the heavens
To equal my sorrowful tears.

Last night I thought of you–

My face still bears the blushes.

You thought it was good health?

No, just reflects the liberty

of dreams.

My laughter is as hollow

as that stricken tree by the pond.

I have not laughed for a long time.

It strangles in my throat.

Bolts of lightning flash!

The sky brightens like the day-

too soon it darkens.

My eyes opened or closed see

the futility of love.

 –

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

Ono no Komachi…Sensual Poems of a Medieval Poet

September 8, 2013
Heian era Woman with Tengu

Heian era Woman with Tengu

It feels good to write about something besides Atlanta politics and politicians.  A little of that goes a long way. Besides, the beauty of these poems go far in uplifting the spirit and involving the heart.  And faced with the next few months, that can’t be bad.

Lady Nyo

Night deepens

with the sound

of a calling deer,

and I hear

my own one-sided love.

—-Ono no Komachi, from The Man’yoshu

 

I’ve written before on this blog about Ono no Komachi.  She continues to capture my interest as a woman and a poet. 

Briefly, she lived from 834?-??.  It’s not clear when she died.  She served in Japan’s Heian court and was one of the dominant poetic geniuses. She is also in the great Man’yoshu, a collection of 4500 poems. 

She lived when a woman was considered to be educated once she composed, memorized and could recite 1000 poems.  Her poetry is deeply subjective, passionate and complex.  She was a pivotal figure, legendary in Japanese literary history.

She was also considered a classical beauty.  Hair reaching to the floor, which was the style then, she was the daughter of the daimyo in the Dewa mountains, up in Akito, Japan (Northwest territory)sent to Kyoto to serve at court at 14 years of age.  As a lady of the Heian court, she distinguished herself with her poetry and has quite of few in the great Man’yoshu, this 8th century document.  Her poetry was seen as having great philosophical and emotional depth.  That she was surrounded by other excellent poets, men and women of the court, certainly helped in developing her own.

The form:  these are written in tanka form…the usual form of poetry most popular.  Don’t be put off by the lack of syllables or more than for the lines.  These poems are translated into English and they don’t necessarily fit the form exactly.

There are parts of the world where her poetry is still studied and read.  These cultures are richer for the doing, as are their poets.

Lady Nyo

Seeing the moonlight

spilling down

through these trees,

my heart fills to the brim

with autumn.

How sad,

to think I will end

as only

a pale green mist

drifting the far fields.

Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.

When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

My longing for you—

Too strong to keep within bounds.

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

One of her most famous poems:

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.

The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.

A diver does not abandon

A seaweed-filled bay.

Will you then turn away

From this floating, sea-foam body

That waits for your gathering hands?

Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.

My personal favorite:

The autumn night

Is long only in name—

We’ve done no more

Than gaze at each other

And it’s already dawn.

This morning

Even my morning glories

Are hiding,

Not wanting to show

Their sleep-mussed hair.

I thought to pick

The flower of forgetting

For myself,

But I found it

Already growing in his heart.

Since this body

Was forgotten

By the one who promised to come,

My only thought is wondering

Whether it even exists.

All these poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2013

Ono no Komachi…Sensual Poems of a Medieval Japanese Poet

May 15, 2013

My beautiful picture

I’ve written before on this blog about Ono no Komachi. She continues to capture my interest as a woman and a poet.

Briefly, she lived from 834?-??. It’s not clear when she died. She served in Japan’s Heian court (then in Kyoto) and was one of the dominant poetic geniuses. She is also in the great Man’yoshu, a collection of 4500 poems.

She lived when a woman was considered to be educated once she composed, memorized and could recite 1000 poems. Her poetry is deeply subjective, passionate and complex. She was a pivotal figure, legendary in Japanese literary history.

The form: these are written in tanka form…the usual form of poetry most popular.

Don’t be put off by the lack of syllables or more than for the lines. These poems are translated into English and they don’t necessarily fit the form exactly.

There are parts of the world where her poetry is still studied and read. These cultures are richer for the doing, as are their poets.

Lady Nyo

Did he appear
Because I fell asleep
Thinking of him?
If only I’d known I was dreaming
I’d never have awakened.

When my desire
Grows too fierce
I wear my bed clothes
Inside out,
Dark as the night’s rough husk.

My longing for you—
Too strong to keep within bounds.
At least no one can blame me
When I go to you at night
Along the road of dreams.

One of her most famous poems:

No way to see him
On this moonless night—
I lie awake longing, burning,
Breasts racing fire,
Heart in flames.

Night deepens
With the sound of calling deer,
And I hear
My own one-sided love.

The cicadas sing
In the twilight
Of my mountain village—
Tonight, no one
Will visit save the wind.

A diver does not abandon
A seaweed-filled bay.
Will you then turn away
From this floating, sea-foam body
That waits for your gathering hands?

Is this love reality
Or a dream?
I cannot know,
When both reality and dreams
Exist without truly existing.

My personal favorite:

The autumn night
Is long only in name—
We’ve done no more
Than gaze at each other
And it’s already dawn.

This morning
Even my morning glories
Are hiding,
Not wanting to show
Their sleep-mussed hair.

I thought to pick
The flower of forgetting
For myself,
But I found it
Already growing in his heart.

Since this body
Was forgotten
By the one who promised to come,
My only thought is wondering
Whether it even exists.

All these poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2013

“Part II, A Short Introduction to Tanka”

February 18, 2013
A Courtesan's fleeting life of beauty.

A Courtesan’s fleeting life of beauty.

I promised some readers I would post this Part II on Tanka, so here it is. I haven’t rewritten it, but it is just an introduction to this wonderful poetry form. People can use it as a jumping off place for their own further study. It is not meant to be a complete presentation. I have grown a bit on tanka, but still find this useful.

Tanka is refreshing to the mind and heart and fixes that which breaks at times.

Lady Nyo

PART II, Short Introduction to Tanka

Like the lithe bowing
Of a red maple sapling
My heart turns to you,
Yearns for those nights long ago
When pale skin challenged the moon.

Lady Nyo

Structure

Today the standard form is generally noted to be (in syllables) 5-7-5-7-7. This is both in English and Japanese. (Translations of Japanese into English don’t necessarily fit this rule, but usually a reading of the tanka in the original Japanese will be of the 5-7-5, etc. format)
It is said that this format is the most natural length for a lyric poem expressing emotion for the Japanese.

Too, according to some theories, tanka is short (31 syllables) because the rhythm possesses magical power; the poems were spells. (Well, some of them could be…) Syllables in such meter would burst out of the throats of a miko or shaman in a state of divine trance, so that the rhythm is itself numinous. Certainly some poems have been used as spells, for bringing down a deity, for propitiating him, for calling forth to a lover, and to this day are still to be found embedded in the tougher soil of Tantric Buddhist rites. Or so writes Arthur Waley in “Japanese Poetry, The ‘Uta’. Believe what you want.

But this I think is true: The thirty-one syllables are but an inner core surrounded by unspoken yet powerful circles of images. These circles, rings radiate outward and pull so much more into the presence of the poem.

However, earlier tanka, (and tanka as a name didn’t come into being until the 19th century in the poetry reform movement) was called waka, and the earliest examples could be 3,4,6, in ‘syllable’ progression from the first line. But syllable in English doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing in Japanese poetry. Onji is more a ‘mora” like a sound than a syllable. (This part can be disputed)

More to the point, tanka is actually not one poem, but two. It’s a combination of two poems, or thoughts, etc. The first three lines are called Kami-no-ku (upper poem). The lower poem…the last two lines of 7-7 is called Shim-no-ku. They are joined together by that middle 5 syllable pivot line, called kakekotoba.

The kakekotoba is an interesting invention. It is a pivot or bridge between the two main poems. It should be part of the upper verse AND the lower verse in thought or poetry. The pivot line is both the last image and end of the upper verse as well as the first image and beginning of the lower verse. Both poems, read divided…the top from the bottom, should be able to stand on its own.

In my example on the top, the first three lines could be a poem in its own right:

Like the lithe bowing
Of a red maple sapling
My heart turns to you.

Taking the bottom lines and topping them with the pivot line:

My heart turns to you,
Yearns for those nights long ago
When pale skin challenged the moon.

This is not the finest example but it’s about as best as I can do right now. Oh! Tanka usually has no punctuation. However, English-speaking poets feel more expressive in their poetry with punctuation. I find that true for myself, even writing tanka and haiku.

This last unit of 7-7 is used as a repetition or summary of the top poem. I think of this shim-no-ku more as a re-enforcement or continuation of the sentiment of the whole poem. Perhaps like a repeated refrain?

To further complicate the form of tanka, it usually contains a Kigo which is a word that reveals the season without making it plain. Or not. In the example above, perhaps the ‘red maple’ gives a hint of the season, but I wasn’t carrying that ‘rule’ in my head when I wrote this tanka.

After a while, we pick up on seasonal (what I call) ‘markers’. Plum trees (ume) are the first blossoming trees of early spring. (though with Global Warming my red maple is budded out with these clusters of red blossom in January!) Dragonflies and mosquitoes represent hot summer; green tips of wheat in a field, early spring; a cardinal, winter; frogs, summer; golden leaves, autumn; the list is endless, but here, they are all from nature.

I don’t want to set up stumbling blocks to the thrill of composing tanka for modern, English speaking poets. These are the forms that many learn in the beginning, and perhaps later discard. But it’s good to learn them and to try to formulate your tanka in the classical sense. Too often poets attempting haiku and tanka never attend to the ancient rules and in not learning they miss the important DNA of these specialized forms. What they write (and I have long made this mistake) is nothing but freeverse. Study classical examples; get a feel for them in the head and mouth, and then go further afield. But see the beauty and reason for these rules first.

Rhythm

As to rhythm in tanka, there are two distinct rhythmic parts (top and bottom) separated by a major stop at the 12th onji. Then the rhythm starts out again to the end of the poem.

Basically, in reading a tanka out loud it is done in 2 breathes: the first three lines complete the first breath and the last two, the second breath. However, this is more applying to Japanese than English poets. (In haiku, it is one breath.)

Rhyme

There isn’t any in Japanese poetry. It would be too simple as most Japanese words end in one of the five open vowels. But that shouldn’t dismiss the poems of other poets who do use a rhyming scheme in their works. But is rare and is not favorable to most tanka poets.

Subjects

Things changed with the passage of centuries but nature, (especially the moon), seasons and their lifecycles, the rustle of leaves, the sighing of the wind, the crickets, frogs, reflections of the moon in the frog-pond.

Expressions of love and devotion, yearning, mourning and love loss, plum blossoms, cherry trees, death poems, praise of Emperors, poems upon aging, illness, things of a personal interest, were some of the topics of ancient tanka. They still stand for tanka of today. Saigyo came along and added the ‘common element’ by his writing of fishermen, prostitutes, nuns (sometimes the same thing…) laborers, beside the moon and nature, and certainly we read his very personal expressions of longing, loneliness, and self-doubt.

Tanka has that pointed ability to embrace every topic, but to compress, to distill or refine our words and work.

Later in the 19th century jiga-no-shu, poems about the ego, were beginning to be written. There was a poetry reform movement around 1900 in Japan where many new developments in tanka and haiku were read. A nascent women’s movement developed from the writings of one woman poet, Akiko, who wrote ‘uninhibited compositions of sexual passion and love, and this came from the core of her poems, called jikkan, which means writing from the emotions that the writer is actually experiencing. Since this was confusing to me when I read this early in my study of tanka, I think I have come to an understanding. Then, in 1900, the forms were more ‘polite’….though you will read a lot of bitching in classical tanka!….and to write about direct emotional experience would possibly be new? But in a way this denies the beautiful poems of Komachi, Shikibu, etc. Well, maybe I don’t have a clue here.

To some eyes, tanka seems too simple, sometimes falling into platitude. Japanese poetry depends on the subtlety of its effects. It is a poetry of sensibility. And according to Kenneth Rexroth, (One Hundred Poems From the Japanese) If these effects are extended and diluted, the sensibility easily degenerates into sentimentality.

A poetry of sensibility no longer seems as strange as it did. If you think of a poet like Emily Dickinson, Whitman, you see this ‘immediate experience’.

And further from Rexroth: “Classical Japanese poetry is read in a slow drone, usually a low falsetto; this is the voice is kept lower and more resonant than its normal pitch, with equal time and stress on each syllable. And this is quite unlike spoken Japanese.

Somewhere I read the way to compose tanka was to grab a lover, a friend, break off a plum branch and contemplate, grab even your wife! and dig deeply into your soul.

Tanka can be a deep, contemplative statement of observation, declaration, etc. In other words, today tanka can incorporate any theme.

Finally, tanka means “short (or brief) song”. To me, it’s a colorful burst, a declaration, like a songbird trilling in the dead of winter. It can startle us, shock us, it can be memorable, like that sudden burst of birdsong.
But the real essence is the myriad possibilities of creativity with tanka. Don’t get too hung up in form, or trying to understand all the ins and outs of classical tanka. I believe even the greatest poets learn and abandon some of them to fly beyond a cultural standard. (But! They learn them.)

I want to end with some poems, some tanka from “Love Songs from the Man’yoshu” one of the most influential books I have come across, and one of the most erotic in poetry. I will also offer my own tanka.

Have fun with tanka. It will enrich the soul.

Lady Nyo

From the Man’yoshu, 8th century anthology. (Man’yoshu means “The Collection of a Thousand Leaves”)

“Tonight too
Does my woman’s pitch-black hair
Trail upon the floor
Where she sleeps without me?”
–Anonymous

“As I stay here yearning,
While I wait for you, my lord,
The autumn wind blows,
Swaying the bamboo blinds
Of my lodging.
—Princess Nukata (8th century)

“Thick and fast stream my thoughts of you,
Like the layers
Of endlessly falling snow
Upon the cedars.
Come to me at night, my man.”
—The Maiden Osata Hirotsu


“Your hair has turned white
While your heart stayed
Knotted against me.
I shall never
Loosen it now.”
—Hitomaro

“Oh for a heavenly fire!
I would reel in
The distant road you travel,
Fold it up,
And burn it to ashes.”
—The Daughter of Sano Otogami

“I dreamed I held
A sword against my flesh.
What does it mean?
It means I shall see you soon.”
—Lady Kasa

“The flowers whirl away
In the wind like snow.
The thing that falls away
Is myself.”
—Kintsune

“Brave man like the catalpa bow
That, once drawn,
Does not slacken—
Can it be that he is unable to bear
The vicissitudes of love?”
—Anonymous


“I shall not take a brush
To this hair that lies
Disheveled in the morning,
For it retains the touch
Of my dear lord’s arms that pillowed me.”
—Anonymous

—–

The poems to the end are Lady Nyo’s poems, some to be published in “White Cranes of Heaven” by Lulu.co, Spring, 2011.

Shooting star crosses
Upended bowl of blue night
Imagination-
Fires up with excited gaze!
A moment– and all is gone.


This is the problem!
Do not give over your soul,
it returns tattered.
What tailor can mend the rips?
The fabric too frayed by life.

“Shall an old gray wolf
subdue a woman like me?
“I shall be born soon.
The wolf head I will cut off
and nail the pelt to the cross.”
(Lady Nyo’s Death Tanka, but not dead yet.)

This grim November,
The month of my father’s death
Always bittersweet.
My memories float, weak ghosts-
Haunting in the fog of life.


So lonely am I
My soul like a floating weed
Severed at the roots
Drifting upon cold waters
No pillow for further dreams.


A late Summer moon
Floats above the conifers.
Autumn is coming.
Do pines know the season turns?
Their leaves don’t fall; do they care?

—Lady Nyo, various tanka and extended haiku.

Jane Kohut-Bartels,
Copyrighted 2011-2013

” A Short Presentation on Tanka”

February 15, 2013

Autumn in all its glory

National Haiku Month still:

The young plum has died
white blossoms never opened
Mockingbirds homeless


A daffodil moon
sails across a charcoal sky
Dawn-it comes too close!

Lady Nyo

A little more than a year ago, I was asked by a poetry group, “OneShotPoetry” to do a presentation on tanka. I have been studying this early Japanese form of poetry for the past five or more years. I love this form to distraction, and my own poetry has gone through many changes as I learned. I always feel that the study of tanka is a life long endeavour. It took me years to finally come to grips with the ‘hidden’ concepts, which aren’t really very hidden. The structure of tanka is rooted in the earliest poetry in Japan, before the 6th century, but blossoming into its fullest beauty before the 12 century. In my opinion, this has many reasons, in part because of the contributions of women poets in Japan. This is well before the advent of Confucianism, where the freedoms of women were corralled and their creativity also demeaned.

Lady Nyo


TANKA PRESENTATION FOR ONESHOT

The morning wren sings
I stand in the moonlit dawn
Kimono wrapped close
Last night I made my peace
Now free from all attachments

Lady Nyo

To understand tanka one should go back into the Japanese literary history of the 8th and 9th century. Poets of this time, male poets, were writing in a Chinese poetic technique. They were still not able to use the language skillfully enough to present their own emotions. This would take another century but by the 10th century, women were using a new written language to write their poetry. For the next two centuries, excelled in it.

Tanka, earlier name waka, was described in this way: “ Japanese verse is something which takes root in the soil of the heart and blossoms forth in a forest of words.”

Tanka, if nothing else, was the medium for lovers: written on special paper, a fan, wrapped around a small branch of a flowering plum or cherry, it was communication between a man and a woman.

Married couples in a certain class didn’t live together. Perhaps a wife had her own quarters in a compound, or in another town. A tanka was composed, a personal messenger delivered the poem, waited, was given a drink, flirted with the kitchen maids, and an answering poem was brought back.

People were judged as to how “good” their poetry was.

During the Heian court of the 12th century, tanka became one of the greatest literary influences. Large and prestigious competitions were developed by nobles and priests alike, striving for the most ‘refined’ tanka. This led to restricted poems because of limited themes thought ‘proper’. Praise of nature, the Emperor, and loyalty were much the court poems.

However, it was still the written form of communication between lovers. Poetry from that time, outside the court issue, still exalted the passions—made connection between hearts — fertilized the soil of humanity.

Ono no Komachi, Izumi Shikiba and Saigyo are a few of the great tanka poets of the early Heian period (8-12th centuries).

The first two court women, great poets, and the third was a Buddhist priest. Saigyo is perhaps the most influential poet to come out of Japan. Even the famous haikuist Basho (17th century) said he studied Saigyo .

Saigyo came from the Heian Court in the 12 century. He was of a samurai/warrior family and at the age of 23 became a priest. He was always worried his warrior background (he did serve as samurai) would ‘taint’ his Buddhist convictions. He left the court when the Japanese world was turning upside down with politics and civil war.
For those who want a deeper history of Saigyo, read William LaFleur’s “Awesome Nightfall” about the life and times of Saigyo.

Saigyo’s wandering all over Japan was not so unusual. Saigyo travelled with other priests and welcomed their company on the lonely treks through mountains and remote terrain. Some were spies for the Court. Many priests wore a large woven basket over their heads, extending down past their shoulders. Some were Shakhauchi flute players who would play their wooden flutes under the basket as they walked.

Generally Saigyo adheres to the 5-7-5-7-7 structure of tanka . I will give the original in Japanese of one poem, because the translation into English doesn’t necessarily follow the 5-7-5 etc. structure when translated.

1.
Tazunekite
Kototou hito no
Naki yado ni
Ko no ma no tsuki no
Kage zo sashikuru

“This place of mine
Never is entered by humans
Come for conversation.
Only by the mute moon’s light shafts
Which slip in between the trees.

2.
(Remembering a lover)
The moon, like you,
Is far away from me, but it’s
Our sole memento:
If you look and recall our past
Through it, we can be one mind.

4.
Here I’ve a place
So remote, so mountain-closed,
None comes to call.
But those voices! A whole clan
Of monkeys on the way here!

This is only a teaser of Saigyo’s superb verse, but shows the brilliance, power and inventiveness of the short burst of tanka.

Ono no Komachi (8th century) and Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?) wrote during the times of the court culture’s greatest flowering. As with Saigyo, Ono no Komachi mostly writes in the 5-7-5-7-7 form of tanka.

1.
No way to see him
On this moonless night—
I lie awake longing, burning,
Breasts racing fire,
Heart in flames.

No way to see her lover without the light of the moon, perhaps she dare not strike a light. But the repeated imagery of light: flames, fire, burning clearly relays her desire. “Heart in flames” is common, but “Breasts racing fire” pushing this poem up a notch.

2.
Since this body
Was forgotten
By the one who promised to come,
My only thought is wondering
Whether it even exists.

Do we exist independently of the one we deeply love? Would we exist without them?

3.
I thought to pick
The flower of forgetting
For myself,
But I found it
Already growing in his heart.

Izumi Shikibu is a poet that can make one uncomfortable in the reading. Her poems are so personal, so erotic.

1.
Lying alone,
My black hair tangled,
Uncombed,
I long for the one
Who touched it first.

2.
In this world
Love has no color—
Yet how deeply
My body
Is stained by yours.

3.
If only his horse
Had been tamed
By my hand—I’d have taught it
Not to follow anyone else!

This last poem quoted is hard to read. Shikibu’s daughter Naishi has died, snow fell and melted. The reference to ‘vanish into the empty sky’, is the smoke of cremation.

4.
Why did you vanish
Into empty sky?
Even the fragile snow,
When it falls,
Falls into this world.

The next section will be about the formation of tanka, with classical examples and a few of my own.

Lady Nyo ( who is also Jane Kohut-Bartels)

Copyrighted, 2012-2013

Winter to Spring, and the House Guest from Hell….

March 16, 2012

Well, I’ve been coasting this winter, mostly doing research, reading whatever I can grab that either fulfills the self-imposed requirements of ‘research’ or whatever comforts, satisfies.  This last varies, but I keep coming back to the soothing nature of Japanese classical literature.  Tanka, waka, biographies with work attached of Ono no Komachi, Saigyo, Basho, and the works of Royall Tyler (“Japanese Tales”, which are ‘fairy tales’ of a folk, horror nature), another attempt to settle down and plow seriously into Ruth Benedict’s “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” (a dated but weighty book on the Japanese written during WWII from her anthropological studies and interviews of interned Japanese in the US), Morris Berman’s “Coming to Our Senses” (and excellent and too far ranging book), and most recently,  Albert Hourani’s “A History Of The Arab Peoples”, which was started recently for more research for “Tin Hinan”, but is actually so well written it’s something I climb into bed for comfort at the end of the day.

This past week I’ve needed comfort, or perhaps a realization that some ‘friendships’ are not what you need in life: or perhaps I need some ‘smudging’, a clean broom or something to dispel negative energy left by a short-lived houseguest. Although we had little winter, I am ready for spring and all the changes to come.

When she was finally gone, (after changing plans repeatedly) it was a great relief.  But the negative energy she left behind was ‘real’.  I felt the house needed to be purged.  It was that bad.  So I opened windows, vacuumed, moved furniture around (the ‘go to’ when I need a change in environment or am bored….) and then on the suggestion of a dear friend, burned some candles and tried a little ritual of “bad be gone”.

It was a process that took all week, and I kept finding different and annoying remains of her around the house, like her cast off toothbrush left on the tub rim.  I kept throwing things out. In case I sound intolerant, yes I am. Guilty as charged.  It’s been a halting process, but it has rewards.  I should have developed this ‘aspect’ of my personality a while ago.  I think women in general tolerate too much in life: stupid, insulting, demeaning people because they are relatives or because we have assumed the position so long that we don’t realize the nature of things. We are numb to insults thrown out by hurtful people.  Either we can’t believe our ears or we don’t want to ‘rush to judgment’.  Hah! That kind of  behavior only emboldens these kind of people because they are insensitive to what they do…most times.  If they do it on purpose, they generally fall on the side of sadism and nobody really likes a sadist.

Perhaps we finally find our place in the sun.  I know  it took a long time for me to do so.  I am  considered accomplished enough,  but it took years  to ‘own’ those accomplishments.  Perhaps that has something to do with my intolerance now.  I refuse to have fools and ignorant people around me. I refuse to accomadate them, and if I lose ‘friends’ …well, so what.

I have a 99 year old Aunt  I call “Mother”, and she calls me “Daughter”.  It has taken many years for this to happen, but we both know that there isn’t much time left on the earth to acknowledge our deep love and respect for the other. She has told me many things that makes sense of my family life, and I have told her many things of great concern.  I love her deeply, and find that her love, instead of having to reach for it….reaches down to me. She is not only a cherished relative, but she is a friend.  I know that this can’t be forever, but I write to her every week, and call her, too, and she does the same.  I just wish, and I say this with tears, that I had done so earlier in my life.  She gives me love  I have never understood because it is constant and it is unconditional. 

 My aunt is a regal and elegant woman.  She  knows her place in the sun, but she does have regrets. I know she teaches me many things, and her age is no barrier in this. Perhaps tolerating people who ‘grate’ on the mind is one of them.  It’s not just good health that gets you to 99.  Perhaps it’s something else.  Perhaps it’s called grace.

Lady Nyo

(I love it when a reader, in this case, a fine poet, Yousei Hime, suggests an illustration to go with a poem.  I went to Google one, and my own painting was in the Google Image pile…LOL!  And it was under the caption: “Pitcher of Moon”.  Now, it’s not really a moon picture, but it is late dusk, and the sky is reflected in the pond…but what are the chances that this painting would pop up under that caption?  Thank you, Yousei Hime, for suggesting an illustration.  Good thing I had something to post that I didn’t have to steal!)

Pitcher of Moon

  

I dip into the pond

And gather a pitcher of moon.

Above it glimmers,

Smiles at my efforts

This late-winter moon.

 

It is just a bowl of cool water

I am holding

But the magic of the cosmos settles

In this plain clay vessel.

 

Janekohutbartels,

Copyrighted, 2012


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