Best short Tanka poems about death by ancient Japanese poets

(Last Updated On: 01/06/2019)
Zentsuji Temple by Kawase Hasui

It would be common in any country or region to express the feelings of losing the important person as poems. In Japan, there is traditional fixed verse such as Tanka and haiku. And these poets have expressed sadness when their loved one died. 

Read also…

Haiku poems about death and rip by the famous poets

In particular, there are many works in which tanka shows emotions more than haiku, and their honest feelings stick into our hearts. I’ll show you the memorial Tanka poems composed by famous or not Japanese poets.

From Man'yoshu

Otomo no Minaka


何時しかと  待つらむ妹に 玉梓の   言だに告げず  去にし君

Itsu shika / Matsu ramu imo ni/ Tamazusa no/ Koto dani tsuge zu/ Sarini shi kimi


When would you come back

The wife waited for you

But you passed away

Without telling anything

By a letter

*Sympathy poem for Hasetsukabe no Tatsumaro’s death

Otomo no Yakamochi


今よりは  秋風寒く  吹きなむを  いかにか独り  長き夜を寝む

Ima yori ha/ Akikaze samuku/ Fuki nam wo/ Ikani ka hitori/ Nagaki yo wo nem


From now

The autumn wind will

Start blow coldly

How can I sleep alone

During the long night

Author unknown


鏡なす  吾が見し君を  阿婆の野の   花橘の  玉に拾いつ

Kagami nasu/ Wa ga mishi kimi wo/ Abano no no/ Hanatachibana no/ Tama ni hiroi tsu


As a mirror

I saw you

I pick up on the Abano Field

Your burned bones

Which like mandarin orange blossoms

From Kokin-wakashu

Ki no Tsurayuki


明日知らぬ  わが身と思へど  暮れぬ間の   今日は人こそ  かなしかりけれ

Asu shiranu/ Waga mi to omoe do/ Kurenu ma no/ Kyo wa hito koso/ Kanashi kari kere


Though I don’t know

What will become of my fate

Today isn’t over yet

I’m grieving

*When he lost his cousin Ki no Tomonori

Mibu no Tadamine


墨染めの  君が袂は  雲なれや   絶えず涙の  雨とのみ降る

Sumizome no/ Kimi ga tamoto ha/ Kumo nare ya/ Tae zu namida no/ Ame to nomi furu


Is the sleeves of

Your sumi-ink dyed clothing 


As with tears

It rains incessantly

*For the one who was in mourning for the loved one’s death

Ariwara no Narihira


つひに行く  道とはかねて  聞きしかど   昨日今日とは  思はざりしを

Tsui ni yuku/ Michi toha kanete / Kiki shi kado/ Kino kyo toha omowa zarishi wo


Though I heard

Everyone goes this road


I didn’t expect that

I’d be on it yesterday or today


From Shin Kokin-wakashu

Fujiwara Kanesuke


桜ちる  春の末には  成りにけり   雨間も しらぬ  ながめせしまに

Sakura chiru/ Haru no sue ni ha/ Nari ni keri/ Ama ma mo shira nu/ Nagame seshi ma ni


Cherry blossoms are falling

It have become

The end of spring

It have rained ceaselessly

I have seen

*When Daigo Emperor died

Fujiwara Toshitada


さらでだに  露けき嵯峨の  野辺に来て   昔の跡に  しをれぬるかな

Sarade dani/ Tsuyu keki saga no/ Nobe ni kite/ Mukashi no ato ni/ Shiore nuru kana


Even though

I come to Saga Fields

Showing signs of dewdrops

I’m at the graveyard

And languish with tears

*Visiting the grave of his father Fujiwara Tadaie

Minamoto no Morofusa


手すさびの  はかなき跡と  見しかども   長き形見に  なりにけるかな

Tesusabi no/ Hakanaki ato to/ Mishi ka domo/ Nagaki katami ni/ Nari ni keru kana


I thought that

The handwriting was

Just a amuse yourself

But it became

Long memento

Other themes of Tanka poets

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