Monday, April 22, 2013

Tanka by Ishikawa Takuboku

Selected from the above paperback, I have translated a number of tanka and showed them on Facebook.  Lately, I've been neglecting my blog, so here I am.

Takuboku is one of Japan's major poets.  He lived in extreme poverty, so many of his poems are grim, but I think I've selected here a good mix just to introduce to those readers who have never heard of his name.  His tanka speak to our heart.  Talking of heart, I’m still writing about my mother.

Takuboku was one of my mother's favorite poets.  She often recited his poem effectively at the right moment.  Yes, she was a great private actress!  But I didn’t think we were poor when I was young, and I didn’t think much about it.  Now I’m older and live in my fixed income, I feel much more.   

I thought about it.  I think my father had influence on Mother in the area of poetry.  He kept quiet.  Mother performed all the artistic expressions throughout our daily life.  The first one was my mother’s favorite when I was young.  

I hope you enjoy reading.

i work and work more
but my life doesn't get easier
stare at my hands

the hustle and bustle of Asakusa
in the evening
meanders in and out
that sad heart

pick up a mirror
and make every possible various faces
when i'm tired of crying

'die for such a small thing?'
'live for such a small thing?'
stop, stop questions and answers

cross my arms
and think lately
storm out before many eyes of enemy

on the road side
a dog makes a long yawn
i do the same
out of envy

without a reason
i want to dash out and run
until no more breath
perhaps on a meadow

show just one incredible thing
and while people are surprised
I think I'd disappear


ZACL said...

The four lines verses seem to be to be proverbial in nature. Very interesting.

keiko amano said...


Tan means short, and ka means song. One tanka comprised 5-7-5-7-7 of Japanese smallest units of speech.

For example, take this tanka.
i work and work more
but my life doesn't get easier
stare at my hands

5 hatarakedo
7 hatarakedo nao
5 waga kurashi
7 raku ni narazari
7 jitto te wo miru

So, if you count hatarekedo, it's 5, right? ha-ta-ra-ke-do. The second line is wa-ga ku-ra-shi, and in Japanese roman letters, shi is si as ku-ra-si.

FYI, we are not restricted by the number of lines. Some books show tanka as one long line without any space in-between words and almost no punctuation because punctuation is considered disruption to our especially in poetry. But not always because people nowadays probably prefer with some punctuation for easier reading.

Because the smallest unit of our speech often has meaning, again not always of course, and we have much more details such as changing one smallest unit of sound makes a big difference in the meaning or feeling.

I should probably show one tanka at a time, but I wanted to show a good mix of his tanka. He also wrote poems in long form.