Reprinted from Ribbons, Journal of the Tanka Society of America.
6:1 Spring, 2010
Teika's Ten Tanka Techniques
Teika’s Ten Tanka Techniques
According to tanka tradition Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241) is said to have been written a letter in 1219 to an unnamed student in which he mentions the ten tanka styles of techniques.
1. Mystery and depth – yūgentei – the image evoking ineffable loneliness. This category is associated mostly with Fujiwara Shunzei (1114-1204) Teika’s renown father and tanka expert. Teika mentions this in some of his other teachings and uses as examples poem #3:254 Kin’yōshū by Toshiyori: uzura naku / mano no irie no / hamakaze ni / obananami yoru / aki no yūgure
cries of quail / from the shore of Mano cove / winds blow / waves of plume grass / ripple in autumn dusk
#5:533 Shinkokinshū: furusato wa / chiru momijiba ni / uzumorete /noki no shinobu ni / akikaze zo fuku
my birthplace / buried under crimson leaves / fallen in the garden / sedge grass from the eaves / melancholy autumn wind
2. Appropriate statement – koto shikarubeki. From the former emperor Go-Toba’s Secret teachings, is his statement that the Priest Shun’e said of this style “that a poem should be composed so that seems to glide as smoothly as a drop of water rolling down the length of a five-foot iris leaf.” The priest was known to have composed in a smooth quiet manner.
weary of the world / I thought to hide myself away /in this mountain village / but it reaches every corner of the night / bright radiance of the moon
3. Elegant beauty – urawashiki tei is characterized by harmony, balance, and beauty of cadence. Examples of this style are the poem above by Toshyori on Mano Cove and this one from the great poet of the late seventh century – Kakinomoto no Hitomaro from the Kokinshū, 9:409. honobono to / akashi no ura no / asagiri ni / shimagakureyuku / fune o shi zo omou
dimly dimly / on the shores of Akashi Bay/ morning mist / vanishing by distant islands / longing follows the ship
4. Conviction of feeling – ushintei – is Teika’s most famous poetical ideal; one that he most developed in his middle and later years. Over this time he came to give ushin two distinct senses. One, in the narrow sense of ‘deep feeling’ as one of the ten styles and in the broader sense of ‘conviction of feeling’ – the quality the must be part of every good poem. Teika felt this could not be an adopted ‘style’ but could only result if the poet “approached the art with the utmost seriousness and concentration.” These strong words of stubborn and uncompromising demand were typical of Teika’s goal of the highest stand of artistic integrity.
jewel of my soul / threaded on the string /that should break /how to endure these things
5. Lofty style –taketakaki tei – a method of achieving grandeur and elevation. One of the traditional examples of this style is the poem by Fujiwara Yoshitsune (1169-1206) composed on the given theme of ‘The moon at dawn’ in the Shinkokinshū 16:1545:
the coming dawn / pushes open the Gates of Heaven / from the clouds / the moon from the Age of Gods / is an image left behind
6. Visual description – Miru tei. This is a rather bland style emphasizing visual description and imagery and often containing no subjective or emotive statements. Some of the decedents of Teika, such as his son Tameie, used this style or technique to counteract the strong subjective vein of the ‘Fujiwara style.’ In the Teika Jittei are twelve examples of this style among which is this poem by Minamoto Tsunenobu (1016-1097) written on the subject of ‘Young Rice Shoots’ as published in Shikokinshū, 3:225:
the water pipe / leading into mountain fields / must be leaking / moisture drips down sacred ropes / around the beds of rice
It seems Shiki’s shasei style of ‘sketching’ in haiku would be a carry-over from this tanka technique.
7. Clever treatment – omoshiroki tei. A witty or ingenious treatment of a conventional topic. The style must have been popular because Teika gave 31 poems in his anthology of style examples. This one is by the Archbishop Jien (1155-1225) on the topic of ‘Snow’ from the Shinkokinshū, 6:679: niwa no yuki ni / waga ato tsukete / idetsuru o / towarenikeri to / hito ya miruran
in the snow only / I was in the garden / leaving footprints / will people think someone brought / comfort to my loneliness?
8. Novel treatment – hitofushi aru tei. Using an unusual or original poetic conception. Among the 26 examples is the poem by Fujiwara Motozane (ca 950) from the Shinkokinshū, 11:1060: namidagawa / mi mo uku bakari / nagaruedo / kienu wa hito no / omoi narikeri
a river of tears / floats my body off / on its current / but it cannot quell the fire /you have set in my heart
9. Exquisite detail – komayaka naru tei. This style is indicated by exact and precise details with often complex imagery. In Teika’s anthology of tanka styles he has twenty-nine examples. One of which is one from the Kokinshū, 4:193, written by Ōno Chisato (890-905) – tsuki mireba / chiji ni mono koso / kanashikere / waga ni hitiostu no / /aki ni wa aranedo
gazing at the moon / a thousand sad things / overcome me / not only I feel this / in autumn alone
10. Demon-quelling – onihishigitei or kiratsu no tei is designated by strong or even vulgar diction and terms. Because its methods are at odds with the classical poetical values of beauty, elegance, and grace, Teika said the style to be “more difficult” and should only be attempted when the student has become proficient in the other methods. One of Teika’s examples is taken from the Man’yoshū, 4:503 which is a more violent version than a similar poem in the Shinkokinshū, 10:911: kamikaze ya / Ise no hamaogi / orishikite / tabine ya suran / araki hamabe ni
divine winds / reeds on the Ise beach / are broken / to make a traveler’s bed / on this rough shore
The operative words to demonstrate the demon-quelling style are ‘divine winds’ the breaking off of reeds, and the rough seacoast. Teika taught that even though the poet put these elements into a poem, they should be treated with sensibility and gentleness however, it seems this has been most easy to ignore. Yet in an exploration of current tanka examples, I found this style underrepresented and in no way as violent as the ancient poems.
Wondering if these sample poems, over one thousand years old and in translation, adequate portray the different styles, I have found these examples from current winners in the 2009 Tanka Splendor Awards contest which could also illustrate these techniques.
1. Mystery and depth – yūgentei – the image evoking ineffable loneliness.
2. Appropriate statement – koto shikarubeki meaning that a poem should be composed so that seems to glide as smoothly as a drop of water rolling down the length of a five-foot iris leaf.”
retirement dinner –
3. Elegant beauty – urawashiki tei – is characterized by harmony, balance, and beauty of cadence.
4. Conviction of feeling – ushintei – in the narrow sense of ‘deep feeling’ as one of the ten styles and in the broader sense of ‘conviction of feeling’ – the quality the must be part of every good poem. It uses a highly subjective sense in which the speaker’s feeling pervade the imagery and rhetoric of the poem.
no room left
5. Lofty style –taketakaki tei – is a method of achieving grandeur and elevation.
Pamela A. Babusci
6. Visual description – Miru tei. This is a rather bland style emphasizing visual description and imagery and often containing no subjective or emotive statements.
7. Clever treatment – omoshiroki tei – has a witty or ingenious treatment of a conventional topic.
steady rain . . .
8. Novel treatment – hitofushi aru tei – uses an unusual or original poetic conception.
up all night
9. Exquisite detail – komayaka naru tei. This style is indicated by exact and precise details with often complex imagery.
I think I love you
10. Demon-quelling – onihishigitei or kiratsu no tei – is designated by strong or even vulgar diction and terms.
Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2010.