Recently, my sister sent me a small book of Japanese Haiku as a memory of my mother, who passed away several years ago. It is a small hard-cover book that my mother purchased as a gift for her beloved aunt, who had cared for her when she was a young girl and needed a place to stay. The inscription is lovely, and says, "To Aunt Edith at Torch Cottage - To one who has enriched my life beyond all means of explanation. With all my love for your love which has never failed me. Janet, Spring, 1964" It was titled, Japanese HAIKU, published by Peter Pauper Press out of Mount Vernon, in New York in 1955-56 and sold at that time for $1.00. It offered two hundred twenty examples of seventeen-syllable Japanese poems by Basho, Buson, Issa and other Japanese poets, mostly of the 15th and 16th century. It was translated by Peter Beilenson.
The book explains that a haiku poem is comprised of seventeen syllables, looking something like this: 5 syllables 7 syllables 5 syllables. The tanka has 14 more syllables added to the haiku, for 31 syllables total, looking like this:
5 syllables 7 syllables 5 syllables 7 syllables 7 syllables This is a grand total of 31 syllables.
Below, is an haiku and tanka that I prepared as an illustration. 5 NIGHT COMES BUT NOT YET 7 THE DIM SKY SPEAKS TO ME NOW 5 BLUE, WHITE, GOLD, ENDLESS. 7 DECLINE TO NEW BLOOMS OF GREY 7 ALL BECAUSE OF THE END GAME. MJC
Historically, I am told, several poets were involved in the writing of a tanka usually with the first poet preparing the haiku and the second poet completing the last two lines, thus becoming a tanka. Small drawings were often added, artistically, to the poem. Additional examples of poems and art based on the haiku and tanka are shown here. Inspired by this little book, I wondered whether it might be possible to paraphrase my mother's words using the rules of Japanese haiku and tanka poems and here is what I came up with. TO MY LOVING AUNT LIFE ENRICHED BEYOND ALL MEANS BY TORCH LAKE COTTAGE FOR YOUR LOVE THAT NEVER FAILED GRIEF ENSNARED BUT NOT BY YOU MJC
Although I have never really completely understood why poetry has so many rules and quite often rebelled against them when forced to use them, I find this simple way of playing with words and syllables intriguing. Thus inspired, I think over the next few days, will try to come up with some personal versions of haiku and tanka, with personal drawings illustrating them, just for the fun of it.
Who knows, perhaps a tanka a day keeps the doctor away?