I always think that one of the best ways to really engage with specific forms of poetry is to try your hand at writing them! Below, I have described and given examples of two specific poetic forms found in each of the classical traditions of China, Japan, and Korea. Choose one of these six forms, and do your best to write original poems in these forms. If you actually speak and write in one of these languages, you may write in that language (as long as you include English translations for me!)
#1 – Chinese “Jueju” poetry – a matched pair of couplets (4 lines total), with each line consisting of five or seven syllables. Jueju poems often dealt with such topics as nature, philosophy, religion, emotions, or history.
Example – “Enjoying Flowers Walking Alone on a Riverbank” by Du Fu (c. AD 721)
江畔独步寻花 jiāng pàn dú bù xún huā
黄师塔前江水东 huáng shī tǎ qián jiāng shuǐ dōng
春光懒困倚微风 chūn guāng lǎn kùn yǐ wéi fēng
桃花一簇开无主 táo huā yī cù kāi wú zhǔ
可爱深红爱浅红 kě ài shēn hóng ài qiǎn hóng
TRANSLATION: Before Abbot Huang’s pagoda, east of the river water,
Spring is bright and delicate in the gentle breeze.
One clump of peach blossom’s opened, no-one to own it,
Is dark or light red more to be loved?
#2 – Chinese “Fu” poetry – a longer blend of prose and rhyming poetry, similar to Western “odes.” A place, object, feeling, or other subject is meditated on and described in detail, often times employing symbolism or figurative language.
Example – “Fu on the Parrot” by Mi Heng (c. AD 198)
TRANSLATION: A marvelous bird from the Western Regions manifests a wondrous natural beauty.
It embodies the sublime substance of the metal essence embodies the shining brilliance of fire’s power.
Gifted with wit and acuity, it is able to speak; intelligent and bright, it can perceive the imperceptible.
Thus, it plays and sports on lofty peaks, nests and perches in secluded vales.
Whenever it flies, it does not land at random; wherever it soars, it is sure to choose a good grove.
It has reddish-black feet, a vermilion beak, green coat, azure mantle.
Bright and colorful, lovely in appearance, it chitters and chatters in a lovely voice.
#3 – Japanese “Haiku” poetry – the famous three line 5-syllable, 7-syllable, 5-syllable poems. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku seek to create a certain mood or impression in the reader by employing simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression.
Example – by Matsuo Basho (c. AD 1644)
初しぐれ猿も小蓑をほしげ也 (ha-tsu shi-gu-re
はつしぐれさるもこみのをほしげなり sa-ru mo ko-mi-no o ho-shi-ge na-ri)
TRANSLATION: the first cold shower
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw
#4 – Japanese “Tanka” poetry – Japanese for a “short song,” a tanka is comprised of 5 lines with a 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count. Often compared to a sonnet, subjects of tanka are usually quite emotional, intimate, and involve a personal response to something.
Example – by Kisen, the Monk (c. AD 938)
わが庵は (waga io wa)
都のたつみ (miyako no tatsumi)
しかぞすむ (shika zo sumu)
世をうぢ山と (yo o ujiyama to)
人はいふなり (hito wa iu nari)
TRANSLATION: My mountain dwelling
is south-east of the City.
Though I live content,
my world’s a “Mount of Sorrow”
they call Mount Uji, I hear.
#5 – Korean “Sijo” poetry – A famous poetic form consisting of only three lines, with 14-16 syllables in each line. There is usually some sort of narrative structure in a sijo, with a conflict or theme introduced at the beginning and concluded at the end.
Example – by Chung Chul (c. AD 1536)
물 아래 그림자 지니 다리위에 중이 간다
저 중아 게 있거라 너 가는 데 물어보자
막대로 흰 구름 가리키며 돌아 아니 보고 가노메라
TRANSLATION: A shadow strikes the water below: a monk passes by on the bridge,
“Stay awhile, reverend sir, let me ask you where you go.”
He just points his staff at the white clouds and keeps on his way without turning.
#6 – Korean “Kasa” poetry – A longer, rhythmic, free-verse form of poetry that often expresses personal sentiments or beliefs.
Example – from “Song of Indulgence in Spring” by Chŏng Kŭg-in (c. AD 1401)
TRANSLATION: You who live in the dusty world, judge how my life is—
Whether it’s worthy of the ancient sages who lived in grace.
Though I’m no wiser than many born between heaven and earth,
Should I, living in retreat, not know the consummate pleasure of life?
Having built a hut near a clear stream. I dwell among the thickly grown
Pines and bamboos, and have come to own the wind and the moon.