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Two Tanka -- Otomo No Yakamochi

(Poem #87) Two Tanka
From outside my house,
only the faint distant sound
of gentle breezes
wandering through bamboo leaves
in the long evening silence.

Late evening finally
comes: I unlatch the door
and quietly
await the one
who greets me in my dreams.
-- Otomo No Yakamochi
Translated by Sam Hamill.

[from Merriam-Webster online]

Main Entry: tan$B(Bka
Pronunciation: 't$B(B[ng]-k&
Function: noun
Etymology: Japanese
Date: circa 1877
: an unrhymed Japanese verse form of five lines containing 5, 7, 5, 7,
and 7 syllables respectively; also : a poem in this form


Tanka are 31-syllable poems that have been the most popular form of
poetry in Japan for at least 1300 years. As a form of poetry, tanka is
older than haiku, and tanka poems evoke a moment or mark an occasion
with concision and musicality.

During Japan's Heian period (794-1185 A.D.) it was considered essential
for a woman or man of culture to be able to both compose beautiful
poetry and to choose the most aesthetically pleasing and appropriate
paper, ink, and symbolic attachment---such as a branch, a flower---to go
with it.

Tanka were often composed as a kind of finale to every sort of occasion;
no experience was quite complete until a tanka had been written about

Tanka have changed and evolved over the centuries, but the form of five
syllabic units containing 31 syllables has remained the same.Topics have
expanded from the traditional expressions of passion and heartache, and
styles have changed to include modern language and even colloquialisms.

In Japanese, tanka is often written in one straight line, but in English
and other languages, we usually divide the lines into the five syllabic
units: 5-7-5-7-7. Usually, each line consists of one image or idea;
unlike English poetry, one does not seek to "wrap" lines in tanka,
though in the best tanka the five lines often flow seamlessly into one

[the original poem]

Wa ga yado no
fuku kaze no
oto no kasokeki
kono yube ka mo

Yu saraba
 yado ake makete
ware matamu
ime ni aimi ni
komu tou hito o

[my own comments]

A lovely little vignette, today's poem emphasizes the minimal aesthetic
so typical of Japanese art. Note that these were written a full thousand
years before Basho - evidently, this particular form of refined
elegance has been around for a long time.


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