Japanese Forms of Poetry

One of the most well-known forms of Japanese poetry is Haiku.  Yet there are many other forms of poems in Japan and it’s interesting to learn about them.

Haiku poetry follows a pattern of 5-7-5.  That means the 1st line has 5 syllables, the second line has 7 and the third line has 5 syllables.  Haiku poems are usually about nature. 

There’s another type of poem with the same pattern of 5-7-5 called Senryu.  Senryu is more about human foibles and can be cynical.  You can find examples of Haiku and Senryu here.

Here are two other syllable patterns in Japanese poems:

Tanka (Short Song) – Tanka doesn’t normally rhyme.  It’s a 31 syllable long poem that’s usually written in one long line in Japanese.  It’s one of the oldest forms of Japanese poetry. 

Syllable Pattern: 5-7-5-7-7 

Here’s an example of Tanka by the poet Okura:

Shirokane mo
What are they to me,

Kugane mo tama mo
Silver, or gold, or jewels?

Nanisemu ni
How could they ever

Masareru takara
Equal the greater treasure

Koni shikame yamo
That is a child? They can not.

Choka (Long Poem) – This form had already became old-fashion in ancient times. It’s a long form of poetry in which the 5-7 syllable pattern can go on for many lines.  It’s a non-rhyming type of poem.

Syllable Pattern:


Here’s an example by the poet Okura:

Uri hameba
When I eat melons

Kodomo omohoyu
My children come to my mind;

Kuri hameba
When I eat chestnuts

Mashite shinowayu
The longing is even worse.

Izuku yori
Where do they come from,

Kitarishi monoso
Flickering before my eyes.

Manakai ni
Making me helpless

Motona kakarite
Endlessly night after night.

Yasui shi nasanu
Not letting me sleep in peace?

Japanese poetry has a timelessness about it that really touches me.  The poems above could have been written today, yet they’re roughly 1300 years old.  It’s quite interesting to explore poetry from different countries and different periods of time.

Many thanks to Sadao Mazuka for sharing these types of Japanese poetry with us.

The two poems with their translations can be found on Wikipedia.

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 at 2:28 pm and is filed under Choka, Countries & Cultures, Haiku, Japan, Japanese, Japanese Poems, Languages, Poetry, Senryu, Tanka. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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