Mindful Poetry | January Notes

Murasaki Shikibu, c. 978-1014 – Noted Tanka Practitioner

 “As the song of the crickets/fades in the hedge/it is impossible to/stop autumn’s farewell/ how sad they must be too…


Mindfulness Focus – Sensory Experience

The tanka is an ancient Japanese form poem that like its counterpart, the haiku, is dedicated to syllables and precision. The tanka is a poem consisting of five lines; the first and third line are comprised of five syllables, and the second, fourth and fifth lines are comprised of seven syllables – for a grand total of 31 syllables in all. Think 5,7,5,7,7! One of the early practitioners of tanka verse was Lady Murasaki Shikibu (c.978-1014) whose famous book, Tales of the Genji, is considered one of the first psychological novels of all time. Here’s another of Lady Shikibu’s tankas:

Westward messages 
following the moon, 
why would I forget 
to send news along 
with the drifting clouds?

When Lady Murasaki Shikibu’s tankas are translated from the Japanese, the exact syllable count is not as precise, but you can still see how the 5-lined tanka first begins with an image from nature and then pivots into a sentiment about life – a universal message. 

The participants at the January 26 group practice wrote this tanka together:

Snow Geese
All rise together:
Is that a white cloud I see?
Commuters honking,
Myriad of wings reply,
Silencing wind washing through.  

Continuing Contemplation

  • Place yourself in the setting of the poem.  What can you see, hear, taste, touch and smell?  What sensation stands out for you in the poem?
  • What is the pace of the poem?  Does it move quickly or slowly? Boldly or timidly?  
  • What is the voice of the poem?  For example, is it relaxed, passionate? Humorous or sober?  
  • What do you notice or appreciate about the poem?
  • What connections do you have to the poem?  What chord does the poem strike in you?  Memories or experiences that you’ve had? 
  • How do you feel as you read the poem?  What is the mood of the poem – the “emotional weather” of the poem?
  • What dazzles you in the poem?  What line or image “lights up” for you?
  • How has the poem continued its effect on you since our mindful reading?

Looking ahead, Poetry in Politics:

Amanda Gorman recites her poem at Presidential Inauguration, Jan. 20, 2021

Lin-Manuel Miranda recites Seamus Heaney poem at Inaugural Celebration, starts at 34 second mark.

Local Sources for Poetry:

Visit our Mindful Poetry Reading page to learn more about this program.

Mindful Poetry | January Notes