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Senryū ("river willow"') is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction, but haiku are about nature and tend to be serious or profound, while senryū are about human activiies and are often cynical or darkly humorous. They share the same economical three-line format, composed of 5, 7, and 5 "syllables" (actually, a unit of sound callled a "mora," including two vowels occurring in succession; however, sounds that ended in an "n" sound counted as two morae, and words with a double consonant [such as nattō, "fermented soybeans" or yappari, "as I thought" ] were only counted as one mora.) Unlike haiku, senryū do not include a kireji (cutting word, at the end of the 1st or 2nd line), are usually one grammatical unit, and do not generally include a kigo, or season word. A haiku usually shows a definite ending, but a senryū closes with a continuative verb form, suggesting further action. The senryū often omits or abbreviates the key word or topic, perhaps a famous aphorism, forcing the reader to filll it in. Many times, that practice involves the use of wordplay such as puns and word associations, and relies on unexpected metaphors or comparisons. The haiku (originally "hokku," opening verse) was the beginning of a sequence of linked verses, but the senryū evolved from "manku awase" (10,000-verse contests), poetry competitions in which a judge would use an earlier verse to set a 14-syllable theme and the poets woud recite a 17-syllable verse in reply. They are named after the 18th-century official in the Asakusa district of Edo (Tokyo), Karai Hachiemon ("Senryū), who was renowned more as a "manku awase" judge than as a poet. In 1765 one of his colleagues, Arubeshi Goryoken Arubeshi, collected Karai's 23 booklets of prize-winning verses (omitting the themed models) into a 756-verse book, "Haifūyanagidaru" (Willow Barrel); it was so popular that others continued to add examples until its last edition, in 1838, included 167 volumes. However, Senryū's name did not become eponymous for the genre until the early 20th century. Before his death in 1790 at 73, he composed the following jisei (death poem):Now the wintry wind—but then let your buds blossom,river willow.[--tr. David Bowles]
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