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.
It was a common practice for students of poetry to write sets of ten tanka on ten sets of subjects as practice and challenge. It was a good plan. The various topics, such as snow, fog, blossoms, moon, grief, or travel, allowed the poet to explore and practice with subjects and situations not immediate or emotionally loaded. These poems were then copied and sent off, with a sum of money, to the local tanka expert for correction and appraisement.
Sometimes the poems were returned with only marks of circles or lines in the margins indicating the teacher’s opinion, but occasionally the expert was sufficiently interested in the student or his work (the majority were male) to write up comments or expound more on current theories.
Robert H. Bower, who did so much great work with Earl Miner for Japanese poetry, translated in the winter, 1985, in Monumenta Nipponica * http://www.jstor.org the teaching letter now known as Maigetsushō along with copious notes of explanation. Bower’s translation is well worth deeper study because the Japanese author, Fujiwara Teika was the most revered tanka teacher of his time and for centuries afterwards his opinions were read and adopted with a religious fervor.
As one of the compilers of the Shinkokinshū (1204) – the eighth and considered the greatest of the imperial anthologies of Japanese poetry – Teika had forty-six of his poems included which was a great honor as he was among the younger and more innovative poets of his day. So esteemed were Teika’s opinions that after his death, sons and their mothers started a fight over their rights to various documents that is evident today in the schools of tanka named for the family lines – Nijo and Reizei.
The result is that today there are several versions, with and without forgeries, of the Maigetsushō – Monthly Notes. But for scholars it is worth wading through them all because this document is considered the most extensive and comprehensive of Teika’s surviving critical writings.
There is a great deal of information to be gleaned from this letter that could be valuable for tanka writers at any age, even today. Any serious student of the form would do well to explore it.
However, my attention was caught by Teika’s mention of the ten tanka styles or techniques. He does not elaborate on all of them in this document because as he states, he had already discussed them in previous lessons. For us, the mere listing of the ten styles or techniques is one of the reasons this treatise is so famous.
In Robert Bower’s way of exploring every facet of any work, he includes a footnote that the idea of ten tanka styles had been given in an essay supposedly written by Mibu no Tadamine in the early 900s titled as Tadamine Jittei – Tadamine’s Ten Styles. However none of these styles bear the same name as Teika’s, yet similarities are clear in several cases. There is another document, Teika Jittei – Teika’s Ten Styles, in which 286 poems taken from the full range of imperial anthologies are grouped according to the concept of these styles but all are listed without comment. As so often, even this treatise, available only as a copy dating from the Edo period, has had its authenticity questioned.
Thinking that a greater knowledge of these styles might be helpful for my own work, and for helping others get a handle on some of the tanka concepts that up until now, in English had no terms for them, I have borrowed Teika’s list and defined it with further research. The styles or techniques are listed as:
- 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
- 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.As example is this poem by Shunzei, 16:988 Senzaishū:
sumiwabite / mi o kakusubeki / yamazoto ni /amari kuma naki /yowa no tsuki kana
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
- 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
- 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.Another interpretation of the style is that it uses a highly subjective sense in which the speaker’s feeling pervade the imagery and rhetoric of the poem. It is especially appropriate for poems expressing love or grief. Given as example is this poem by Princess Shikishi, 9:1034 in the Shinkokinshū:
tama no o yo / taenaba taene / nagaraeba / shinoburu koto no / yowari mo zo suru
jewel of my soul / threaded on the string /that should break /how to endure these things / I am getting weaker
- 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:
ana no to o / oshiakegata no / kumonma yori / kamiyo no tsuki / kage zo nokoreru
the coming dawn / pushes open the Gates of Heaven / from the clouds / the moon from the Age of Gods / is an image left behind
- 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:
sanae toru / yamado no kakehi / morinikeri / hiku shimenawa ne / tsuyu zo koboruru
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.
- 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?
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Mystery and depth – yūgentei – the image evoking ineffable loneliness.
again the clamor of geese
soon I will be
- 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 –
on his wrinkled face
the wistful look
of a little boy
waiting to be loved
- Elegant beauty – urawashiki tei – is characterized by harmony, balance, and beauty of cadence.
my black lacquer box
something too precious
to lie uncovered
- 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
for discussion. . .
I give my ear, my whole heart
to the voice of a mourning dove
- Lofty style –taketakaki tei – is a method of achieving grandeur and elevation.
pouring into calla lilies
tonight, i will sleep
on a pillow of stars
beyond the Milky Way
Pamela A. Babusci
- Visual description – Miru tei. This is a rather bland style emphasizing visual description and imagery and often containing no subjective or emotive statements.
along our favourite valley
the white star flowers
streaked with mist
- Clever treatment – omoshiroki tei – has a witty or ingenious treatment of a conventional topic.
steady rain . . .
still only half awake
which of these thoughts will be
the one to rouse me from bed
- Novel treatment – hitofushi aru tei – uses an unusual or original poetic conception.
up all night
working on a poem
about the sea
I write a barefoot dance
with the incoming tide
Michael L. Evans
- Exquisite detail – komayaka naru tei. This style is indicated by exact and precise details with often complex imagery.
I think I love you
but then, I’ve thought before
that dandelions heard wishes
and daisies could tell
if you loved me, or not
- Demon-quelling – onihishigitei or kiratsu no tei – is designated by strong or even vulgar diction and terms.
after another fight
we sit down
the wind continues
Alex von Vaupel
Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2010.
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