The term tanka poetry refers to a Japanese five-line poem. Tanka, translated, means “short song.” It is similar to haiku in that there are specific amounts of syllables for each line of the poem and it utilizes the literary techniques of personification, metaphor and simile to describe and create the ability for the reader to visualize the author's descriptions.
Tanka poems are also similar to haiku in that they often discuss the same topics of emotions, seasons, nature, love and sadness.
Here is an example from a young writer published on Edu.Pe.Ca:
"Pretty colored trees
That are orange, red and yellow
In the Autumn air
An old barn by the water
With a white fence around it."
Here are two examples from Shadow Poetry:
"A cool wind blows in
With a blanket of silence.
Straining to listen
For those first few drops of rain,
The storm begins in earnest."
"Subtle hints of spring
In the wet bark of the tree
Dew dripping from leaves
Then runs down the russet trunk
Pools round the roots and is drunk"
Here is an example from Poetry for Kids:
"Crash at two A.M.
I opened my bedroom door
A white cat ran by
Startled by the clanging fall
Of the treat jar’s metal lid"
And here are several more examples:
"The dog likes to bark
His bark is loud for others
He is a cute dog
So people don't mind too much
They sometimes come to pet him"
"The weather is cool
It's clear that fall is coming
The leaves will soon change
The days will become shorter
And then winter will fall too.
As you can see, in line one and line three of a tanka poem there are five syllables. Lines two, four and five all have seven syllables. This equates to thirty one total syllables in the poem. The first three lines of the poem are called kami-no-ku (upper poem) while the last three lines are called shimo-no-ku (lower poem).
In the 7th century, tanka was so popular that nobles in the Japanese Imperial court would write tanka poems and compete. Tanka poetry was also frequently given to a partner in courtship at the end of an evening spent together.
Important to note, the tanka poem is similar to the sonnet. Mid-way through the tanka poem, in line three, there is a change in perception. As with a sonnet, the change occurs as a transition from examining an image to examining a personal response.
Now you have seen some examples of tanka poetry and can better understand this specific type of writing.