Posts Tagged ‘Waka’

Some Tanka…..inspired by the Beauty of Autumn

December 3, 2014

My beautiful picture

Tanka, as many readers know, is an ancient form of Japanese poetry.  Originally called waka, it is a predominant form in Japanese literature, along with the 17th century haiku.

Tanka is much earlier than haiku, with anthologies of tanka being produced in the 8th and 9th centuries, as in the great Man’yoshu.  Basically tanka is a vehicle for  emotional verse.  In some cases, it’s deeply erotic, in other examples it celebrates nature, seasons, etc.

People who read tanka wonder:  Why so short, and why only 31 syllables? One theory is that the rhythm possesses magical power: the poems are spells. I like that.  Certainly such poems (tanka) have been used as spells, for bringing down a deity, etc. and to this day are still found embedded in the tough loam of Tantric Buddhist rites. Another practical theory is that they are formed in such a way that they can be recited in two breaths.  These poems after all, are also called songs.

I am no expert, having stumbled upon  tanka  about 7 years ago, but I have fallen in love with the form.  It is a short and powerful  vehicle for poetic thought.  And perhaps, after all, to compose them as ‘spells’ isn’t far from their historical mark.

I have found tanka to be a refuge.  Perhaps of scoundrels, but certainly a living, breathing poetry form.  I won’t go into the mechanics of tanka here, but I do have a two part essay “Short Introduction to Tanka and Classical Examples” that I was asked to present by OneShot Poetry group a few years ago.  I will post that soon.

Below are some of my tanka, though I still struggle with the form.  It is not to be confused with freeverse in the classical sense of tanka, but then again, poetry and these forms do evolve. Also, most tanka in Japan is written without punctuation.  Most English writers of tanka are more comfortable with some punctuation.  Some of my tanka have punctuation, and some don’t.

Autumn is so beautiful, even with most of the leaves gone. There is something magical in this short season that pulls at the heart. Perhaps a season of spells…..

Lady Nyo

The moon floats on wisps

Of clouds extending outward

Tendrils of white fire

Blanketing the universe

Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

Cranes wheel in the sky

Chiding cries fall to hard earth

Warm mid winter day

A pale half moon calls the birds

To stroke her face with their wings.

The cat sits dozing

Beneath a thorny rosebush

No foot can reach him

His paws retract the sharp claws

A deep purr closes his eyes.

Give me a moment

To catch my breath and settle.

Give me some peace, please!

Stop kissing my hands, stop it!

What if someone is watching?

—-

Presence of Autumn

Burst of color radiates

From Earth-bound anchors

Sun grabs prismatic beauty

And tosses the spectrum wide!

Bolts of lightening flash!

The sky brightens like the day

too soon it darkens.

My eyes opened or closed see

the futility of love.

Had I not known life

I would have thought it all dreams

Who is to tell truth?

It comes at too sharp a price-

Better to bear flattery.

I look up at blue

Sky this morning, watch leaves fall-

Whirling, colored tears

Clip my face like dull razors

The strokings of memory.

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.

When Autumn enters

Inexplicable sadness-

Season fades to death.

Hunter’s moon sits in Heaven–

Garden spiders finish, die.

Autumn wind startles–

Lowered to an ominous

Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!

The fat mountain deer listen-

Add their bellowing sorrow.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

” 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

Tanka for OneShotPoetry

February 8, 2011

 

OneShotPoetry has asked me to do a presentation on tanka February 14th and February 21st.   Tanka, as many readers know, is an ancient form of Japanese poetry.  Originally called waka, it is a predominant form in Japanese literature, along with the 17th century haiku.

Tanka is much earlier than haiku, with anthologies of tanka being produced in the 8th and 9th centuries.  Basically tanka is a vehicle for  emotional verse.  In some cases, it’s deeply erotic, in other examples it celebrates nature, seasons, etc.  I am no expert, having stumbled upon  tanka  about 5 years ago, but I have fallen in love with the form.  It is a short and powerful  vehicle for poetic thought.  My intent in this presentation- to- come is to introduce tanka to those poets and readers who are not familiar with the form and to present some of my favorite tanka writers from ancient Japanese literature, in particular the priest-poet, Saigyo, and Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, two Heian court women who were excellent and could stand in any era as superb poets.

Below are some of my tanka, though I still struggle with the form.  It is not to be confused with freeverse in the classical sense of tanka, but then again, poetry and these forms do evolve.  That is my excuse for my poor offerings.

Lady Nyo

The moon floats on wisps

Of clouds extending outward.

Tendrils of white fire

Blanketing the universe

Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

Come into my arms.

Bury under the warm quilt.

Your scent makes me drunk

Like the wine we gulped last night.

Too much lust and drink to think.

—–

Give me a moment!

To catch my breath and settle.

Give me some peace now.

Stop kissing my hands, stop it!

What if someone is watching?

—-

Presence of Autumn

Burst of color radiates

From Earth-bound anchors

Sun grabs prismatic beauty

And tosses the spectrum wide!

Bolts of lightening flash!

The sky brightens like the day

too soon it darkens.

My eyes opened or closed see

the futility of love.

Had I not known life

I would have thought it all dreams.

Who is to tell truth?

It comes at too sharp a price.

Better to bear flattery.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008,2011

I have fallen in love with the Japanese Tanka, or Waka, a form of poetry.

November 4, 2008

I walk around during the day, counting on my fingers:  5-7-5-7-7, trying to ‘fit’ the words to the alloted measure of each line.  I don’t like to ‘wrap around a line’ but some times it’s unavoidable.  Others do it, and though it’s not ‘traditional’, it works.  And who’s judging?  We are just applying our creative thoughts to a traditional form.

Tanka was already in use during the 7th century in Japan if I remember correctly, and haiku was to come much later.  There were other forms that came in and out of fashion, and freeverse has been very popular in the 20th century amongst Japanese poets, but tanka has remained the favourite form of many Japanese.

I am studying the history of Japanese literature right now, and will try to write something as to my findings.  They will be thin for a while, because the understanding is slow coming.

Lady Nyo

MORE TANKAS

My husband caught me
Counting fast on my fingers.
You I was thinking
Of, composing a tanka.
(He was making love to me.)

Last night he slapped me-
not hard, to make me attend.
He guesses too much,
while lying in his arms now
my mind is far, far away.

Listen to the wind.
Does it blow hard where you are?
I send a message.
Hang out your window. Catch it!
Let it rub upon your breast.

Women sneer at me.
“She thinks she is a virgin,
she forgets her place.”
Do I? Your touch makes me young.
Do not laugh at me so much!

I have not heard from
you, now it is seven days.
I constantly sigh.
My heart is like a leaden
weight, it turns into a stone.

I saw you last night
But you were so misshapen.
This is what happens
When the heart hopes without cease.
Dreams become houses of fear.

You smiled and I
hung upon it like a thread.
This is not proper.
I must detach my heart soon,
I will disappear like smoke.

I am now jaded!
These past weeks have made me so.
Some say now wisdom
Has finally visited
My senses restored, reclaimed.

Out of the corner
Of my eye, I saw you there.
I dare not look more,
My husband has been patient.
He deserves no more folly.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008


%d bloggers like this: