Sunday, September 1, 2013

Dark Wings of Night: Tankas for Toraiwa by Seamus Heaney

The tanka below were first published in Poetry International 7/8 (2003-4)


I loved to carry
Her violin case, its nose
In air, its back end
Nice and heavy, the balance
Factored in and factored out.

*

Every time she placed
Her two thumbs to the two snibs
And opened the lid
She couldn’t help a quick frown
(Disguised pleasure?) as she checked.

*

Then her brow would clear
And the sun disc of her face
Tilt up and brighten
At the tap of a baton,
At the tip of a baton...

*

In the baize-lined case
Emptied of the ingrown jut
Of the fiddlehead,
A lump of ancient resin
And a dirty chamois cloth.

*

The conductor’s hands —
Big and out of proportion
To his skinny wee
Professor’s body — always,
She said, "interested" her.

*

Fiddlehead ferns: why
When I think of them do I
Think: Toraiwa!
Because — surprise — he quizzed me
About the erotic life.

 
Updated:

Seamus Heaney seemed to merely write 5-line poems closely following the traditional 'syllabic pattern' of a Japanese tanka, with no knowledge of its bipartite structure. Below is a relevant excerpt from Eric Thomas Sherlock's MA Thesis, titled "Kokoro as ecological insight : the concept of heart in Japanese literature" (Asian Studies, University of British Columbia, 1984, p. 107), clearly indicating the origin, historical and aesthetical, of a tanka's bipartite structure:

Since ancient times there had been a custom of having one poet write the first three lines of a waka (kami no ku), while another poet finished the poem by adding the final two lines (shimo no ku). This practice eventually became extended, through multiple authorship, to a hundred stanzas of alternately three and two lines. The new verse form, which became known as renga, first originated among court poets as a form of amusement and relaxation after an evening of serious waka [ancient name for tanka] composition. By the Ashikaga period, however, renga itself had achieved maturity as a serious poetic form.


Note: You can read Heaney's haiku and his view of haiku in relation to English poetry in general and to the Irish lyrical tradition in particular.

2 comments:

  1. Below is a relevant excerpt from Eric Thomas Sherlock's MA Thesis, titled "Kokoro as ecological insight : the concept of heart in Japanese literature" (Asian Studies, University of British Columbia, 1984, p. 107), clearly indicating the origin, historical and aesthetical, of a tanka's bipartite structure:

    Since ancient times there had been a custom of having one poet write the first three lines of a waka (kami no ku), while another poet finished the poem by adding the final two lines (shimo no ku). This practice eventually became extended, through multiple authorship, to a hundred stanzas of alternately three and two lines. The new verse form, which became known as renga, first originated among court poets as a form of amusement and relaxation after an evening of serious waka [ancient poem for tanka] composition. By the Ashikaga period, however, renga itself had achieved maturity as a serious poetic form.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Seamus Heaney seemed to merely write 5-line poems closely following the traditional syllabic pattern of a Japanese tanka, with no knowledge of its bipartite structure.

    ReplyDelete