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Waka Poetry

Robert Oxnam :: In the Heian court, one of the highest and most popular arts was that of writing poetic verse. At this time, waka poetry became the dominant form with its characteristic five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. The first three lines were the basis for the later haiku form that retains its popularity down to the present.

Haruo Shirane :: Poetry, the thirty-one syllable form, extremely short, compressed, was something that everyone composed. Unlike in the West — where poetry is for poets, poets compose in their studios or at home — you had to have the ability to compose poetry; otherwise you couldn't have conversation. The men and women were divided, separated physically, so that anyone who hoped to have any encounter with the opposite sex had to do it through poetry. So it was an extremely important social medium. It also became an important public medium because the ability to turn out a good verse put you in very good standing with those in higher authority.


[Reading of a waka poem]

I thought to see whether I could do without you.
I cannot tell of the longing, even in jest.


H. Paul Varley :: Waka poetry is the very essence of Japanese aesthetic taste, sensibility, of the way the Japanese look at themselves, look at nature, look at the world. And this remained the core of aesthetic values, the expression of aesthetic values, right until recent times. Even today, poets, and others, are influenced by the qualities of classical waka poetry.

Poem, anonymous, Kokinshû, 1025.