Poets Online Archive



July 2011

The tanka (TAH'N-KAH) is a Japanese short poetic form that has existed since earliest recorded Japanese literature. Tanka has been considered the most important form and the oldest style of Japanese poetry. It dates back to the 1300s.

This verse consists of five unrhymed lines of five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables whose intent is to focus the reader's attention on a single event, or image and the mood that is associated with it.

If that 5-7-5 syllables reminds you of the haiku, that makes sense. The haiku form developed from the tanka. Those first three lines of the tanka are the hokku. Through the writings of poets like Basho in the late 1600s, the new haiku form became an accepted form.

In it its Japanese form, the tanka is considered a lyric poem. Obviously, it shares some of the concerns of haiku verse. For example, it will often contain kigo - words which indicate a season.

Tanka poems often are romantic in nature both in their view of nature and in love.

The short tanka form (from the Japanese for "short poem") consists of five lines of 5,7,5,7 and 7 syllables for a total of 31 syllables. Since English does not have the same rhythms and syllables as Japanese tankas written in English often do not adhere to the strict form. Although many English tanka simply use five lines, the first and third being short and the other three being longer, for our prompt we will impose the stricter form.

The tanka contains as its first 3 lines a haiku (5-7-5), and we should note what the two sections attempt to do. The first three lines (the kami no ku or upper poem) usually present an image or thought - much like we think of a haiku. The remaining two lines (the shimo no ku or lower poem) then shifts the focus to a related idea.

Though tankas traditionally are not titled, you may include one.

For our July prompt, we asked for a formal tanka of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables on summer and love.

In 2000, Poets Online offered a tanka prompt on yearning. that you may want to read. Our blog also has a post on the way haiku connects with tanka and a brief explanation of how syllables became part of haiku in English.

The collection Shells in the Sandimg by Gerard John Conforti contains tanka poetry by Conforti who is a pioneer in this genre in English.

For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.


now the pines we grew
begin to touch each other
gently as we planned

chair just here and wine just there
you'd hear those wood doves I hear

Nana McNeil

this sultry evening
I mistake your eyes for two
hovering fireflies
such stillness only the dead
and the truly happy know

Stella Pierides

hot sun, burgundy
cherries dip above my head,
bleed under my feet,
our presence blesses our walk
we trail happiness like smoke

Vivien Jones


Lightning Bugs in jars
Serve as night lights in our room.
Crickets chirp in the air.
Summer nights are made for fun
And one more bowl of ice cream.

Kristie Stilley


As harvest ripens,
Dog-days signal our term’s reap.
As citrus withers,
Romance turns a bittersweet.
Our passion, ‘round Solstice, turned.

Scott Root


A nurse in green scrubs.
Morning sun through the window
shines bright on his face.
Again my heart beats faster,
decades later this feeling.



bullfrog pond ripples
water lilies bob in sync
our fire licks the sky

watching the august sun set
gold stars mirrored in your eyes

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello

on this sultry day
among the drooping flowers
only the bees stir
your scent on a handkerchief
makes hope murmur in my heart

C.D Segaller


Heat, glorious heat
Ice melts on our pink tongues
Cooling our skin
Warming our frozen hearts
My hand fits nicely in yours.

Claire Dodson


A ferry ride home
Sun’s comfort, ocean’s luster
While softly I smile
Your mellifluous murmurs
Freeing butterflies in me

Sydney Honsberger-Grant


summer sun glistens
over water and oars drip
gold then disappear.
will the sea ever carry
me home to your waiting arms?

Maddison Ross

the geraniums
in the south facing window
burst ruby flame red
your lips against my temple
sunshine on running water

Patty Joslyn


In the corner lay
dust that once had danced lightly,
sparkling and twinkling,
as they transcended darkness
to become nothing but dirt.

Karen Kimbell


A full moon rises
over the Withlacoochee
a chill north wind blows
behind dark broken windows
wrens where a family once lived.

Bobbie Townsend

In summer, my love,
blue jays flutter on your neck
and heat seizes our souls,
but when autumn rains its leaves,
our love will embrace the wind.

Tara O'Day


Two trees meet as one
limbs swaying in harmony
'neath a joyful sun
they whisper their sweet secrets
lovers on a summer day

Barbara Caldwell


Deep into her glass
She asks why he wastes with one
He will never love;
Far away, the peacocks cry
How useless is their beauty.

Ron Yazinski


Hold me as we look
far out onto the calm sea.
Soft sounds touch our ears
as I lose myself in you
and we remember our love.

Julia Olson

up and down mountains
following old switchback roads
almost evening
two dragonflies dart past us
as you lightly touch my arm

Mary Kendall


Hot summer sun
Shining brightly down on us
Long beautiful days
Endless time to teach and learn
Helping our tender love grow

Uzma Anwar


The night surrounds us
One cannot find an escape
Sleep drags you under
Your deepest thoughts surrender
All that's hidden now shines through

Betsy Agosta


Everyone get ready for summer
Beautiful palms trees and bright sunny beaches
Dive into the swimming pool
Or head to the shore for surfing
Make time for love and enjoy summer

Lakia Montgomery


A long time ago
We sat in old chairs and scanned
The August night skies.
Shooting stars fell toward earth
Ending far too soon, like you.

Bryan Lane


The garden at dusk.
Soon the moonflowers will speak
of forgotten storms
that left this delicate pine
hunched like a recent widow.

Peter Goudaman

in tutus pink, rose
fuchsia ballerinas
slim stamens en pointe
pirouette as we applaud
lovely summer’s brief plié

Violet Nesdoly