Category Archives: Poetry

Poem: Identifying with the Prey

Identifying with the Prey

I smell the breeze
of the zephyr winds
carrying flowers’ jewels.

I smell the dew
of the early sun
delighting in its cool.

I see the blue
of the open sky
and am urged to run wild.

I see the green
of the forest glen
drawn to shadows’ beguile.

I hear the sound
of the hunting horn
and feel the fox’s fear.

I hear the pound
of the horses’ hooves
as they close and draw near.

I feel the cold
of the silver steel
striking deeply within.

I feel the warmth
of the flowing blood
bringing life to an end.



Lady Prudence the Curious

Started who knows when, but finally finished September 22, 2011; Published December 2011, Phoenix, Barony of Sacred Stone


A&S Competitions & Other Uses

2011 October 29 – Boar’s Hunt – Canton of Charlesbury Crossing; Barony of Sacred Stone – Entered in written poetry competition. Themed for “The Hunt” – Won (only 2 entrants)

Score and comments from competition: “Enjoyable read, thank you. Very creative perspective of the hunt theme. Would love to see some documentation next time (personal note: documentation not required for competition) DO continue to enter. – Score documentation (0), complexity (3), workmanship (3), Aesthetics (3), Authenticity (3), Creativity (3), SPECIAL: Theme (5 – max possible) – total score 18 out of 35.

History of Japanese Poetry

History of Japanese Poetry

Most people are familiar with the Haiku, but Japanese poetry has a much longer history then this simple and endlessly complicated just-barely-period poetry form.  The Chôka, the Tanka and the Renga are all poetry forms that existed during the centuries in which the SCA plays and are as equally fascinating as their descendant, the Haiku.

The earliest known Japanese poetry can be found within the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) published in 712.  This record was published using Chinese characters; Japanese did not develop its own distinct characters until the late eight century.  In both cases, the written languages are syllabaries in which each symbol represents a syllable rather than a letter.  This might help one to understand why their poetry is syllable base rather than rhyme and meter base like the Western World.

The poems found in the Kojiki were primarily ballads.  This book was the compilation of prose, politics and poetry, a true record of ancient matters.  But it is the Manyô-shû (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), published shortly after 759 that defines poetry in Japan.  This is the book to study the ancient poetry of Japan.  It contains two important poetry forms which are unique to Japanese culture.  The Chôka (long poem) consists of alternate lines of five and seven syllables and is often concluded with a final line of seven syllables.  Hanka (envoys) may be appended to a Chôka.  The long poem form waned as time went on.

The other unique poetic form in the Manyô-shû is the Tanka.  This short form consists of 31 syllables written in lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven – basically a five-line Chôka.  Tanka were often used in parallel with Chôka, summing up the longer poem.  The Tanka is the preeminent verse form in Japan; its remains popular throughout SCA period and continues to be written in modern times with magazines devoted just to it and the Haiku.

Two more major anthologies of poetry were collected, the Kokinshû (Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems) which was published in 905 and the Shin kokinshû (The New Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems) which was published around 1205.  These defining milestones of Japanese poetry not only give a snapshot of the poetry found by the author and the patron to be the best poetry of the period, but also gives a overview of the mood and belief systems of the people of the period.  Good poetry is characterized by capturing and capsulizing profound thought and intense feelings.  The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves has the mood of personal sincerity, the emphasis on the full involvement of the individual.  By 905, the emphasis centers on the bond between humans and nature, an empathy with everything around them.  And during the New Collection, which was published in a nation living with the grim aftermath of the collapse of the manorial system, the poetry centered on gloom and solitude.  Only as the wars became “routine” did a new poetry form develop.

The Renga (linked verse) developed in the early fourteenth century, and continued to evolve through the eighteenth century.  It required three or more poets to work together to compose a long poem, alternating who creates each verse.  One type of verse would be three lines of five, seven and five syllables, and this would be followed by the other type of verse composed of two lines of seven syllables each.  After a century or two, Renga made it way into the general populous and Renga parties began.

A good host was measured on the excellence of his hokku (the opening three lines to start a Renga).  Some enterprising poets created hokku for patrons until this became so specialized that a new poetry form, the Haiku, was born.  The Haiku was honed during the 17th to 19th centuries (post-SCA period) until it has become the premier poetry form of today.  Haiku may be written as three separate lines or as one seventeen syllable line poem.

If you are interested in writing Japanese poetry, the Tanka would be the best form to start with as it existed throughout SCA period.  For a challenge, you might wish to assemble a group of friends and have a Renga party.  During period such parties created poems with 100 verses, sometime high ceremonial occasions had Renga 10,000 verses long.  But don’t limit yourself, remember that the poetry forms listed are not the only forms practiced in Japan, ballads and other forms were also produced.


Microsoft Encarta Encylopedia 2001.  Entries on “Japanese Literature”, “Japan”, “Haiku” and “Poetry”.

Saigyō, Poet

Saigyō, Poet

Saigyō, poet
redefined ancient Waka
breaking restrictions;
he amazes me with his
cherry blossoms and bright moon.


Where in the Western World a piece of prose is often begun with a chapter title, in medieval Japan a Waka was used to close it (whether fictional or non-fictional), capturing the essence of the written work.  Since this is a piece of prose about the twelfth century Japanese poet Saigyō written for a Western audience, I thought it appropriate to open with a Waka.

One of the premiere and pivotal poets of Japan, Saigyō redefined the half a millennium old (in his day) form known as Waka, called Tanka in modern times.  Waka was first published in the Manyōshū in the eighth century.  The poems that appeared there covered a wide range of topics written by everyone, from guards on the far borders of the empire to the Imperial Presence.  By the time the Kokinshū was published a century and a half later, common poetry had become court poetry under the auspices of the Imperial Bureau of Poetry.  Restrictions on topics, patterns and words honed the form with stylistic precision.  But by the time Saigyō was born, everything that could be explored within the restrictive limits had been for over a century.  The form was stagnate, mirroring the culture of the day.

Waka were to be on one item or scene and the poet’s emotional response to it.  The topics were nearly exclusively nature or love.  Verbs were far more prevalent than nouns.  All five lines were to flow smoothly.  Below is a poem was written by Saigyō, and is a classic example of how a Waka would be written before his reforms, followed by a poem he wrote after his reforms.


Gazing at them, Nagamu tote
I’ve grown so very close hana ni mo itaku
to these blossoms, narenureba
to part with them when they fall chiru wakare koso
seems bitter indeed! kanahikarikere Watson p. 45
Looking at the moon Tsuki mireba
I see the branches of cherry kaze ni sakura no
trembling in the wind eda naete
and almost tell myself, hana yo tsuguru
“They’re in bloom!” Kokochi koso sure Watson p. 161


In the first one, there is only one subject, blossoms, and the poet’s response is described subjectively, giving at once emotions and distance from those emotions.  Something many would expect of a restrained Japanese courtier or Buddhist Monk, both of which Saigyō had been during his lifetime.  The second one has a number of subjects, the moon, branches and the wind.  The poet enters the poem and announces startlement, not love or regret.  This poem is dynamic, yet breaks into two very different segments, one part describing what he is seeing and the other has him talking to himself.

Saigyō’s poetry reform and poems captured the change of his times with each microcosm of syllable groupings. During the 12th century, the Heian era finished its slow fall, crumbling under its own entropy.  Emperors gave way to shōguns; courtly peace and intrigue were supplanted by warriors and hostile diplomacy.  Many of the scholars thought they had entered the time of Mappō, or the End of the Law, a period of growing formalism and ignorance of Buddhism.  This apocalyptical era of moral and spiritual decay would only end when the Amida Buddha appeared to take all of the enlightened to the next level.  And during these times while Japan moved from a period of light, color and courtly formalities to something a little more drab and harshly honest, Saigyō lived out his adult life.

Would have the change to poetry happened without him?  Most likely, yes.  The times were changing.  But Saigyō was the pivot on which this change occurred, and his personality and interests directed that change like a sluice in a dam directs a torrent of water from a river.  Through this, he has forever impacted Japanese culture.

Because Waka was an essential part of courtly life, everyone in the courts from the lowest warrior to the emperor (or empress) studied and wrote poetry.  Even today, Japan has hundreds of magazines and clubs dedicated to the creation and study of Tanka.  Only the Johnny-come-lately Haiku (which wasn’t acknowledged as its own unique form until the nineteenth century) is more popular.  But I have no doubts that the highly restrictive three-line form will eventually yield its temporary supremacy to the much more versatile millennium old five-line Tanka.


Even in a latter age Sue no you mo
this art alone knon nasake no mi
remains unchanged! Kawarazu to
But had I not had that dream mishi yme nakuba
I’d have thought it none of my affair yoso ni kikamashi Watson p. 218


Since Japan’s only major cultural influence in period was China, the constant evolution of poetry and art found in the West was not present on this lonely island nation.  Where in Europe, a form would develop in one country (such as the Italian Sonnet) and travel changing form and rhyme scheme as it crossed languages, modifying topic and target-audience as it crossed cultures, the Japanese had only one all powerful neighbor to draw out-of-culture material.  A neighbor which they tried not to be absorbed into as much as they looked to its ancient culture for inspiration.  This isolation made the genius of creativity and metamorphoses have a very small pool to draw from.

Saigyō was such a genius.  Born in a time of change, he rode the whirlwind, and with fifteen thousand poems of thirty-one syllables, created a fulcrum to reinvigorate his society’s culture.  What makes Saigyō amazing isn’t that he came up with a new form, but that he took an old form and cleaned it up.  He respected the past and created innovation for the future.  By not ignoring previous work, he created a continuity that made the innovation fascinating. Saigyō lived at a turning point in his country’s history and he influenced its change.


Let us seek the past, Ato tomete
be an age furuki o shitau
that cherishes the old – yo naranan
then our “today” one day ima mo arieba
will be someone’s “long ago” mukashi narubeshi Watson p. 220



Kojima, Takashi.  Written on Water: Five Hundred Poems from the Man’yoshu.  Charles E. Tuttle Company: Rutland, Vermont.  1995.

This book gives some interesting background to the Japanese culture, but its translations of the poems are leaden.  I recommend checking it out of a library, not buying it.

Ross, Bruce.  How to Haiku: A writer’s guide to haiku and related forms.  Tuttle Publishing: Boston.  2002.

Useful in learning about a number of Japanese poetry forms, as well as how to write them.  This gives no historical information.  Think of it as a modern cookbook to learn to cook, before breaking out the period manuscripts.

Watson, Burton.  Poems of a Mountain Home: Saigyō.  Columbia University Press: New York. 1991.

Very informative.  This is the primary source for this article.  If you are interested in 12th century Japan or Japanese poetry, this is a very good book to own.

History of the Tanka

History of the Tanka

A Tanka is one of the oldest lyrical poem forms of Japanese poetry.  Most people are familiar with the Haiku, which didn’t develop into its own unique form from the longer Renga until the Edo Period (1603-1867).  Where the Haiku usually presents an image related to the seasons and is shaped by the Zen Buddhist tradition prevalent at the time of its development, the Tanka developed with a much wider range of topics, uses and presentations.

In English, a Tanka looks like a long Haiku.  Where a Haiku is seventeen syllables, often presented three unrhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables, a Tanka is thirty-one syllables, presented in five unrhymed lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables.  This difference is more striking in the Japanese written language where every character represents a syllable.

The Tanka form existed throughout SCA period.  The earliest published tankas are in the Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), an anthology of poetry compiled sometime shortly after 759.  They appear in the Kokinshu (Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems, 905) and the Shin Kokinshu (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems, 1205).  The form continues to be popular today.

A Tanka is usually presented in one of three ways.  The first is when it is linked with a choka (long poem).  The tanka would sum up the longer poem.  The second way would be to combine it with prose, often in a literary diary.  The poem appears at the beginning of a section of prose, with the prose expanding and explaining the meanings behind the poem and how it developed out of the author’s life.  The third would be to present the poem unexplained, unexpanded and let the reader interpret the images of the poem.  The forced brevity of a tanka leaves a reader many ways to see each line.


Microsoft Encarta Encylopedia 2001.  Entries on “Japanese Literature”, “Japan”, “Haiku” and “Poetry”.

The Architecture of a Sonnet

The Architecture of a Sonnet

Both Italian Sonnets, also called Petrarchan Sonnets, and English Sonnets, commonly referred to as Shakespearean Sonnets, are fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, though their rhyme scheme differs due to the simplicity of finding rhymes in Italian verses the difficulty of finding rhymes in English.

Pentameter refers to the fact that there are 10 (pent) syllables (meter) per line.  Iambic describes the emphasis of the syllables to be alternating soft then hard.  A classic example of iambic pentameter is:

“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks”.

It would be pronounced:

“but SOFT what LIGHT through YONder WINdow BREAKS”.
1 2 3 4 5 6     7 8     9 10

Italian Sonnets are split into two portions: an octave rhymed abbaabba and a sestet usually rhymed cdecde, though cdcdee is also popular.  English Sonnets have a pattern of abab cdcd eded gg.  Because of the differences in patterns, the two forms of a sonnet create different ways the subject of the poem is developed, but in either case the theme was almost exclusively love, whether that love be sacred or profane.

Italian Sonnets proceed more smoothly than the English version with the opening octave introducing the subject and setting the scene while the sestet presents the conclusion, often expressing the poet’s feelings on the subject.  The natural pause between the two parts lends itself well to philosophic thought where two closely related ideas can be presented.  Normally the octave builds to a climax and the sestet diminishes to a quiet close.

With English Sonnets, the three quatrains each advance a different aspect of the same subject with the finishing couplet summing up the poem.  The slight pause at the end of each quatrain prevents the flowing rise and fall of the Italian Sonnet.

While solitary sonnets can be found, sequences and cycles of sonnets were often developed around a central theme and published as a unit.

The romance of sonnets have been around since the thirteenth century with the structure of the fourteen line iambic pentameter poem virtually unchanged except for a few minor adjustments due to language differences.   While the form seems very restrictive, it has produced as many different shades and expressions of feeling as the love it so often describes.



Sheehan, Terry.  “Italian (Petrarchan) Sonnets” (p. 45), “English (Shakespearean) Sonnets” (p. 46).  The Complete Anachronist #67:  Ars Poetica Societatias.  The Society for Creative Anachronism: California, 1993.

Brittain, Robert.  “Sonnets” (Volume 21 p. 213).  Collier’s Encyclopedia.  The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company: USA, 1965.

Poem: Or we shall diminish

Or we shall diminish

Come nigh to me, my lord
While darkness does enfold
and hide our acts from prying eyes.
Nought shall know who thou art
my precious love.

Guard me openly, gallant man
With all love and caring in thee
when daylight shines on kin and king.
Forsake not your knightly vows
nor friendships dear.

But at night, I pray thee
Whilst none know and are harmed
let my gardens soothe thee.
Our love cannot be ignored
or we shall diminish.



Lady Prudence the Curious


Written January 1990; Published March 1990 Ironmonger, Barony of Iron Bog; Published in Emerald Quill 2006, Shire of Emerald Keep



Poem: Chase the Moon

Chase the Moon

“Chase the Moon”
The dark clouds cry
With patchwork precision
They hunt night’s single eye
Dancing in and out of vision
‘gainst the starless sky.
Midnight clouds
In darkness quiet lie
Waiting to jump
Leap on their bright prey
The reflective cousin of day.



Lady Prudence the Curious

Written April 8, 1998; Published in the May 1998 Ironmonger.


Tanka (series): An Exchange of Letters

An Exchange of Letters

Contemplating cloth
I watch the breeze dance its length
until its stopped by the gate.
I wonder my own
welcome should I ask entrance.

I fear the dragon
lies far too close to your home.
I will not cry welcome sir,
for it will follow.
Tigers are sewn on my sleeves.

Yearning to study
The stitching on your silk sleeves
I beg a stroll by the lake
Perhaps the moonlight
Will turn lapis to emerald.

The lake seems to have
Washed all color from my sleeves
Or did you pluck out the threads
Like you did my heart
When I helped retie your belt.

Lady with silk sleeves
You tied my belt and no one
But you knows the knots you tied
Please visit my camp
To free me from its binding.

Anon and anon,
tents will disappear like dew,
leaving a moment of mist.
Let us melt into
the Dream with a timeless kiss.



Lady Prudence the Curious

Written July 12, 2005


Documentation Note

Written after reading “Only Companion” by Sam Hamill

In Japanese tradition, Tanka were exchanged as love letters. Untieing and references to the sash/belt/obi implied other activity. Gates and other entry matters were often topics of the barriers they presented to star-crossed lovers.