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Thursday, August 11, 2016

June 24, 2016 What Is a Waka?

June 24, 2016 What Is a Waka?

The form of Japanese poetry most familiar to Americans is the haiku, the 17-syllable poem that reached the height of its development in the seventeenth century. But the haiku derived from an older, but still popular poetic form, the waka, which had been used for a thousand years before the haiku. The word waka means "Japanese poem," and it is a form so basic to Japanese literature that Japanese still study and write it today. It is also known by the name tanka, which means "short poem."
About a thousand years ago, a poet named Ki no Tsurayuki wrote:
"The poetry of Japan has its roots in the human heart and flourishes in the countless leaves of words. Because human beings possess interests of so many kinds it is in poetry that they give expression to the meditations of their hearts in terms of the sights appearing before their eyes and the sounds coming to their ears. Hearing the warbler sing among the blossoms and the frog in his fresh waters — is there any living being not given to song!"
The "song" he meant (uta) was a waka. It is a poem in thirty-one syllables, arranged in five lines, of 5/7/5/7/7 syllables respectively. For example, here is a poem written by a famous Heian-period woman, Ono no Komachi:
The flowers withered, (5)
Their color faded away, (7)
While meaninglessly (5)
I spent my days in the world (7)
And the long rains were falling. (7) (1)
The waka is often said to have an "upper verse," which refers to the first three lines, and a "lower verse," the last two. The haiku form is based on the "upper verse"; another form, called a renga, is made from alternating the two — first a three-line, seventeen syllable verse, then a two-line, fourteen syllable one, each by a different poet for up to a hundred verses!

FROM: Asia For Educators

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