Saturday, 2 November 2019

How to write a Tanka poem

Tanka is a Japanese style of poetry dating back to the 5th Century. 

Tanka poems are written about nature, the seasons, love, sadness and other strong emotions, using strong imagery with a focus on the 5 senses, Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste and Sound.

The structure of the poem is:
  • Five lines with 31 syllables or less in total 
    • 1st line – 5 syllables or less
    • 2nd line – 7 syllables or less
    • 3rd line – 5 syllables or less
    • 4th line – 7 syllables or less
    • 5th line – 7 syllables or less
Most English-speaking writers apply the ‘or less’ rule as there are too many vast differences between the Japanese and English language.

Writing 5 lines of 31 syllables ‘or less’, following the short line/long line/short line/long line/ long line form will achieve the same basic effect as the Japanese Tanka.

A syllable is part of a word which has one vowel sound e.g. Swan has 1 syllable, Autumn has 2 syllables and Butterfly has 3 syllables.

Think of a list of images and sounds from nature, e.g. rustling leaves, squawking seagulls, rushing river etc.

Next, think of a theme for your poem and the key words you want to use.

Write your poem counting the syllables.

a trail of thin mist 5
drifts along the riverbank 7
brushing the tall reeds 5
that bend towards the water 7
swirling its way to the sea 7

Visit to see some Tanka poems printed onto unique gift ideas. Contact us at if you have any questions. 

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