Nowadays, the people all around the world are the most familiar with the Japanese poetry style known as the ‘Haiku’. Haiku is a 17-syllable poem and gained popularity in the 17th century. Whereas, on the other hand there is another type of poetic form that was developed thousands of years before the haiku, known as ‘Waka’. Waka (和歌) is a form of classical Japanese poetry and the word ‘Waka’ translates to ‘’Japanese Poem’’. Haiku was extracted from the Waka style of poetry.
Waka is a type of short poem with a specific structure, it has 31-syllables and is perfectly arranged in five lines in the form of 5-7-5-7-7 respective words in each line. Waka can be divided into two verses; it has an ‘upper verse’ that refers to the first three lines and then there is the ‘lower verse’ referring to the last two lines of the waka. Waka is written to convey our heart’s feelings. Waka’s both form and influence differs from the form and influence that our own traditional poetry has. Waka is written to encapsulate a person’s emotions and feeling rather than elucidating or explicating their emotions.
There are different forms of waka namely, the major forms being ‘Tanka’ (the short poem) and the ‘Chouka’ (the long poem), the other types of waka also include ‘Bussokusekika’, ‘Sedouka and ‘Katauta’, but these other types of forms were discontinued at the very beginning of the Heian period, now only ‘Tanka’ is the only waka that has remained till this age and when someone mentions waka it refers to tanka only.
In the Heian period, waka was the most major or the most important form of communication among lovers. Not only that but a person’s ability or skills in poetry was a dominant basis for ascertaining a person’s social and political standing in the society.
During the Heian period a renowned poet, Ki no Tsurayuki wrote the following about Japanese poetry:
“The poetry of Japan has its roots in the human heart and flourishes in the countless leaves of words. Because human beings possess interests of so many kinds it is in poetry that they give expression to the meditations of their hearts in terms of the sights appearing before their eyes and the sounds coming to their ears. Hearing the warbler sing among the blossoms and the frog in his fresh waters — is there any living being not given to song!”
The ‘song’ he mentioned in the lines above is nothing but a ‘Waka’.