The Tanka Poem Format

Tanka poetry originates in 7th century Japan, where it was the prefered poetic form of the Imperial Court. Also, lovers used it to communicate short, romantic and poetic messages to each other during courtship.

Format

A Tanka poem consists of 5 lines with either 5 or 7 syllables in a non-rhyming set count (see list below). Characteristic is the pivotal turn in the third line, where the poem shifts from a descriptive narrative to one that personifies the subject. A typical example would be the observation of some natural phenomenon in the first three lines (the ‘upper poem’) and then using last two lines (the ‘lower poem’) after the pivotal turn (in line three) to personify the phenomenon (see ‘Examples’ below).

  • Line 1: 5 syllables (3 lines of ‘upper poem’)
  • Line 2: 7 syllables
  • Line 3: 5 syllables (pivotal turn)
  • Line 4: 7 syllables (2 lines of ‘lower poem’)
  • Line 5: 7 syllables

Examples

Many examples exist in Japanese classical literature, so be sure to search for them if you want more (and better) examples than the ones found on this website. For now, here’s two of the Tanka poems I’ve written. More examples can be found in the Tanka & shadorma category:

Early Spring Sun


morning sun on walls
rainbowed drops of melting snow
yellow bright spots warm
sleepy sun says here comes spring
from below: hello, I’m back

Source: ihieronymus.com

Autumn Hues

wind blows and whistles
autumn hues lift off and land
dancing colored leafs
from red to brown and yellow
air paints sky in ending life

Source: ihieronymus.com

More examples can be found in the Tanka & shadorma category.

Source: //www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/tanka-poetic-form