Two tankas inspired by Japanese Death Poems

Two tankas

Ones I know and love
Each day fewer and fewer
World filled with strangers
Soon I will know nobody
Likely not even myself

Each day the sea eats
More and more of our red flesh
Our small island home
Solid no longer—dissolves
Into sea currents—shifting


Depth charge: I am finding reading Japanese Death Poems by Yoel Hoffman extremely productive.

The first tanka above came to me after reading this death poem by the wife of a warrior who died in battle:

They who are no more
increase from day to day—
in such a world
how could I think
that when it came to me…

by the Wife of General Hyogo, Japanese Death Poems by Y. Hoffman, p. 63.

A corollary of the sentiment expressed in this death poem is that as time passes our world, which is already populated overwhelmingly by strangers, becomes even more so with the death of each loved one.

The second tanka comes from reading this death poem by a woman married to the man who killed her brother:

My heart
is a bottomless river,
a raging torrent—
how can I throw my name
into the tempting waters?

by Nara Yayoi, Japanese Death Poems by Y. Hoffman, p. 64.

The original death poem about a woman choosing suicide over marriage to the man who murdered her brother is transformed into a poem about loss of home and climate change, among other things.

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”


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