Waka forms in classical Japanese poetry

One of the most popular poetry forms, because of its brevity, is the haiku. Consisting of three lines, this form is broken down into the number of syllables per line:

By the ancient pond [5]

When a frog leaps into it [7]

The sound of water [5]

This poem by Matsuo Basho focuses on the external. It doesn’t often stray into internal emotions, but focuses on the physical world, which is common to haiku.

Here are 5 other forms of waka poetry.

Tanka (5-7-5-7-7)

Our life in this world

To what shall I compare it?

It is like a boat

Rowing out at break of day

Leaving not a trace behind

– Priest Sami Mansei, translated by Steven D. Carter

Another popular form of waka, the tanka is slightly longer than a haiku. Another version of the tanka, called a renga, was popular from the 10th to 17th centuries. This form was written by two people. It consisted of a haiku, or hokku, written by one individual, followed by two lines that were written by another other. The renga was a collaborative form.

Katauta (5-7-7)

Shadow of moonlight

The breeze travels with her hair

Hearing her voice on the bank

katauta is similar to a haiku despite the longer line at the end, although it is considered a “fragment” as compared to the other waka forms.

Sedoka (5-7-7 -5-7-7)

The sedoka is sometimes a dialogue poem, or mondoka, possibly between two lovers.

Bussokusekika (5-7-5-7-7-7)

Choka (5-7-5-7-5-7…. 5-7-7)


Sources: Wikipedia, Poetic Meter and FormWorld Poetry