Posts Tagged ‘tanka’

“A Few Haiku, a Few Tanka”

January 16, 2018
My beautiful picture

Madame Carriere climbed up the second story window but alas!  Was cut back.  In a few years she  grew 20×20 feet.  Amazing rose.  Have replaced her with another one.


Because I am so cold, I thought a few springish haiku and tanka would take my mind off Winter.  It’s not working.


Dogwoods are blooming
The crucifixion appears
White moths in the night.

(Dogwoods are a Southern tree here in the South.  White blooms
having the form of the Christian Cross, with nail heads.  They bloom in the spring  right before Easter. They are a symbol of Christianity in Nature.)

Under the dark moon

I awaited your return

Only shadows came.

The moon, a ghostly

Sliver, sails on a jet sea

Wild dogs howl beneath.

A woman in bed

Kimono revealing breast

Snow on Mt. Fuji

Tibetan earthworms

Bring a halt to all labor.

Here? Fat koi eat well.

Rooster doesn’t crow

Night’s loud thunder and lightning

Ruins his morning voice.

Even the hoot owls

Are silent this stormy night

Wind muffles their cries.


The fire of life

Is love. No exact measure.

A whirling dervish

Hands in opposite display

Gathers in the miracle.


The sound of frog-calls,
In the pond floats a pale moon
Fresh life is stirring
An early owl goes hunting
Wise mice scatter for cover.

Thin, silken breezes

Float upon a green-ribbon

Of spring—pale season.

Scent of lilies, myrtle, plum

Arouse bees from slumber.

Restless and confused,

Birds cry out, sky darkening

Rain lashes, flooding

Freshly planted fields drown

Wind sails red tiles from  roofs.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018


Tanka Introduction for the Curious, Part II

January 7, 2018

Japanese Lovers II


Like the lithe bowing

Of a maple sapling

My heart turns to you,

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.

Lady Nyo




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.

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.

(you can see the ‘haiku’ form of it which raises a question…)


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 stronger 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.


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.


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.



Savannah Birds


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.



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.




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 an 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. (And this was a problem with many (most…) of the Victorian translators. They devolved into sentimentality, kicking sensibility aside for effect.  Except for Arthur Waley.  I LOVE his translations.   In part because he translates the structure of the tanka….2sd line/ 4th line, etc. showing that when we read a Japanese tanka, it isn’t like we perceive:  The lines read differently.  Waley was the place where I began my study and language.  Anyone who likes a good translation should read him for myriad reasons.  That’s not to take anything from Keene/Burton/etc.  They are all good. 1/8/18)

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.

Basically, I have said nothing (or little) about Japanese aesthetics in tanka.  That is a fundamental and important study for anyone who wants to compose tanka instead of some lovely freeverse.  My tanka suffers from that ‘disease’ but it sometimes hits properly.  This study is a life time study (yugen, sabi, mono no aware, etc.)  and I have only begun. I am hoping that someone much more versed in this important subject of aesthetics will contribute to this presentation.



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.

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


Man'yoshu image II

Image from “Love Songs from the Man’yoshu”


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?”



“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.”



“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.”



“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?”



“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.”





The tanka to the end is mine, some published in “White Cranes of Heaven” by,  Spring, 2011. And also in “A Seasoning of Lust”, 2sd edition,, December, 2016.

Shooting star crosses

Upended bowl of blue night


Fires up with excited gaze!

A moment– and all is gone.

I wander the fields

Snow covers barren soil

Sharp winds play pan pipes

A murder of crows huddle

Black laughing fruit hang from limbs


A mourning dove cries

It is such a mournful sound

Perhaps a fierce owl

Has made it a widow.

Oh! It breaks my heart, her cry.

Like the lithe bowing

Of a maple sapling

My heart turns to you,

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.



This grim November

The month of my father’s death

Always bittersweet.

My memories float, weak ghosts-

Haunting 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.

Season of silence

Muted nature frost bitten

Black limbs empty, still

A vast field of whiteness

No music comes from the wind.


The full moon above

floats on blackened velvet seas-

Poet’s perfection!

But who does not yearn for a

crescent in lavender sky?


Perhaps a strong man

Should not offer love without

Having love returned

But this grieving warrior

Still finds his love growing


(this last tanka is from “Song of the Nightingale”, 2015,, by Jane Kohut-Bartels)

Jane Kohut-Bartels (who is also Lady Nyo)

Copyrighted, 2018

Song Book cover


December 30, 2017

Moon dec 30, 2017

(taken tonight, December 30th, 2017, looking East)


The full moon above

floats on blackened velvet sea-

poet’s perfection!

But who does not yearn for a

crescent in lavender sky?

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

(“Moon” originally appeared in “A Seasoning of Lust”, 2sd edition,  2016,

Some short poems or possibly Tanka….

June 7, 2017

For my poetical friends, but especially Kanzen Sakura…..

Watercolor, Salisbury, janekohut-bartels, 2005

(“The Downs”, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2003)

The rain has finally stopped, and the sun is brilliant in the sky this morning. The mosquitoes are flying and the birds singing.  How can you not love life?  Even the garbage men this am add to the earth song with their clanging cans and motorized groan of the truck.

Lady Nyo


Mist drifts in waves
Ribbon-ing maple branches
The rising of moon
Make Egrets shimmer silver-
Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

How could I forget
The beauty of the pale moon
A face of sorrow
Growing thin upon the tide
No one but she visits me.

The moon floats on wisps
Of clouds extending outward.
Tendrils of white fire
Blanketing the universe
Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

Presence of Autumn
Burst of color radiates
From Earth-bound anchors
Sun grabs prismatic beauty
And tosses the spectrum wide!

Cranes wheeled in the sky
Their chiding cries fell to hard earth
Warm mid winter day
A pale half moon calls the birds
To stroke her face with soft wings.

Glimpse of a white wrist
Feel the pulse of blood beneath-
This is seduction!
But catch a wry, cunning smile
One learns all is artifice.

Overhead, the cranes,
Sandhills– swirl in broad circles.
Broken GPS?
No matter, their cries fall down
Celestial chiding rain.

The full moon above
Floats on blackened velvet seas
Poet’s perfection!
But who does not yearn for a
Crescent in lavender sky?

In this single branch
Of a wintry holly,
A hundred words hide.
A thousand blushes appear.
Do not overlook the thorns.

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

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.

Shooting star crosses
Upended bowl of deep night
Fires with excited gaze.
A moment– and all is gone.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008-2017

Spring Haiku, Tanka and Two Poems

February 28, 2017

spring garden 4

(Front Garden in Spring)

It is Winter-Spring. Most of February has been warm and now the daffodils, tulips, snowbells, grape hiathyns, and azaleas are in full bloom.  Strange and unusual for February.  Tomorrow is predicted severe storms in the South, with possible tornadoes.  We didn’t have a decent Winter, so the fleas and mosquitoes will start their pestering of anything with flesh and blood very soon.  This morning, I found three  dead baby squirrels , killed by my dogs. They were only a month or so in the living, perfect little babies.  I don’t know what nest they came from, or fell, but the dogs mauled them.  Such beautiful and tender little creatures.  How sad that they didn’t get to live this spring.  So many are taken by tornadoes and severe wind storms here, people and animals.  Well, all this has turned my heart to Spring, and the fragile  and impermanent beauty of it all.

Lady Nyo 





Dogwoods are blooming

The crucifixion appears

White moths in the night.



Soft rains caress earth

A hand slides up a soft thigh

Cherry blossoms bloom.


Changing curtains

Helicopter red maple

Pollen fills the air.


Willows whip about

Red kimono flares open

Eyes savor plump thighs.



A swirl of blossoms

Caught in the water’s current

Begins the season.




The sound of frog-calls

In the pond floats a pale moon

Fresh life is stirring

An early owl goes hunting

Wise mice scatter for cover.


Thin, silken breezes

Float upon a green-ribbon

Of spring—pale season.

Scent of lilies, myrtle, plum

Arouse bees from slumber.



Great winds come before a storm,

tree branches whirl-

green pinwheels near heaven.

One shakes like a foxtail by the ground.

All this wind!

I think of the impermanence of life,

the ghost-smoke of one loved, now gone.

Even the snow falls to the ground

But you have disappeared into air.

Perhaps that foxtail sends greetings

to comfort the heart?

Rude Spring

Sharp brittle wind

Sails like clipper glass

Cuts the skin razor thin,

And flays off winter.


This spring can’t wait.

It lies,

Promises comforting warmth

Yet delivers a numbing cold-

Too much in love with winter still.


I hear the laughter in the pines.

They moan or echo an evil chuckle.


No matter.

This argument will be over

Once the earth

Pirouettes on point.


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



‘Shinto Temple’, a tanka.

November 29, 2016
Cover painting for "Pitcher of Moon"

was to be the cover painting for “Pitcher of Moon” but didn’t work out.

Over at Carpe Diem Haiku Kai, today’s prompt is Pilgrimage.  This tanka is my take on this.

A Shinto Temple

Spirit shattered, heartbroken

Worthy of mending?

Priest’s belly laughs and incense

Helped me knit back the pieces.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016

For many decades I felt battered by the religious fundamentalism of my birth family. I was never good enough for them to be a Christian.  So I stopped trying to  come up to their expectation.  Later I would realize that they are not Christians at all, but bullies that isolate and try to dominate in the name of their Christ.  I feel that, for their personal issues, they distorted this Christ and Christianity.  But it was too late. At the lowest point of my life I discovered Shintoism and found  acceptance.  I didn’t have to jump through hoops. Actually, it was more than acceptance.  Fundamentally, I found a wonder at Creation that had no walls and took in diversity and difference.  I didn’t have to paint bathing suits on my nudes as my sister in law suggested.  Lord Jizo and that Joker of a Buddha Fudo became real and gave guidance in my life.  Compassion with Jizo and sense with Fudo.  These two expanded my heart and mind.  I am very grateful for their presence in my life.  But I don’t think that Christ or Christianity is ‘owned’ by these others….just distorted.

Lady Nyo

Three Tanka on Silence: for Carpe Diem Haiku Kai

November 27, 2016


(“Winter’s Geese”, Jane Kohut-Bartels, watercolor, 2010)

Over at Carpe Diem Haiku Kai, the prompt was ‘Finding the Silence’. (Winter themed)   These are my submissions.


I walked a landscape

An unfamiliar dreamscape

The only sound heard

Was the tinkling of bells

Then silence covered the snow





Season of silence

Muted nature frost bitten

Black limbs empty, still

A vast field of ghostliness

No music came from the wind.


Oh, such a Season!

An invisible wind blows

Toneless, no music

Winter gives such bitterness

Silence leaches tune and song.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016


“Chrysanthemum”, a Tanka for Carpe Diem Haiku Kai….

November 21, 2016
Image result for chrysanthemums

Over at Carpe Diem Haiku Kai, the prompt #20 was “Chrysanthemum”.  This is a flower of Autumn, but also a kigo word for Winter.

My submission:

The Chrysanthemum-

Explosion in different hues

Cushion for the bees.

Perfume the Autumn garden

Desired by the chickens.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016


One haiku, two tanka for Carpe Diem Haiku Kai

November 19, 2016

The haiku is a ‘revised’ haiku based on one written by Kiyoshi

Kiyoshi :

Only silence

the summer breezes caressed

Wisteria blossoms


Lady Nyo:

Only stillness

Escapes summer’s intentions

four o’clocks close up.

(four o’clocks are flowers in the south that close up with summer’s heat and open at dusk when it cools.  They remain open, scenting the night and feed moths, nocturnal feeders.  heavy scent.)

Prompt “fragile beauty”


Her lovely snow-flesh

tracery of blue veins

fold themselves gently

grief’s ragged breath draws

hauntings of her beauty


A prompt to do with wit?

Yes, I forgive you.

(Hands unclean from previous crimes)

Go wash them in snow.

(The snow of last year’s falling)

Then I will reconsider.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016

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