Best short Tanka poems about death by ancient Japanese poets

(Last Updated On: 11/05/2019)
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

<Japanese>

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

<English>

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

<Japanese>

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

<English>

From now

The autumn wind will

Start blow coldly

How can I sleep alone

During the long night

Author unknown

<Japanese>

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

<English>

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

<Japanese>

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

<English>

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

<Japanese>

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

<English>

Is the sleeves of

Your sumi-ink dyed clothing 

Clouds

As with tears

It rains incessantly

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

Ariwara no Narihira

<Japanese>

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

<English>

Though I heard

Everyone goes this road

Eventually

I didn’t expect that

I’d be on it yesterday or today

 

From Shin Kokin-wakashu

Fujiwara Kanesuke

<Japanese>

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

<English>

Cherry blossoms are falling

It have become

The end of spring

It have rained ceaselessly

I have seen

*When Daigo Emperor died

Fujiwara Toshitada

<Japanese>

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

<English>

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

<Japanese>

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

<English>

I thought that

The handwriting was

Just a amuse yourself

But it became

Long memento

Other themes of Tanka poets






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