Three Japanese Tankas
Ono Komachi, translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani





Sent anonymously to a man who had passed in front of the screens of my room
Should the world of love
end in darkness,
without our glimpsing
that cloud-gap
where the moon’s light fills the sky?


Sent to a man who seemed to have changed his mind
Since my heart placed me
on board your drifting ship,
not one day has passed
that I haven’t been drenched
in cold waves.


Sent in a letter attached to a rice stalk with an empty seed husk
How sad that I hope
to see you even now,
after my life has emptied itself
like this stalk of grain
into the autumn wind.

Heart! We will forget him!

Heart! We will forget him!
You and I-- tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave--
I will forget the light!

When you have done, pray tell me
That I may straight begin!
Haste! lest while you're lagging
I remember him!

Making Meanings 

First Thoughts

1. Do the three tankas leave you with the same feeling you get from Emily Dickinson's poem, or do they make you feel something different? Explain.

Shaping Interpretations 

2. Dickinson personifies her heart by telling it to do things that only aperson can do. What does she tell Heart? How would you paraphrase what she means by "warmth" and "light" (lines 3-4)?

3. Which do you think is more powerful: the mind or the heart? How does Dickinson feel?

4.. Look back at the images in the tankas. What feelings do they suggest? 

Extending the Text 

5. These poems were written many years ago—the tankas are centuries old. Are they dated? Could they still apply to people’s feelings and experiences today?


1. Collecting Ideas for a Comparison/Contrast Essay

Finding details. Work out a chart in which you compare and contrast one of the tanks and Dickinson's poem according to the various elements of poetry you've looked at in these collections. Example elements: Subject, Mood/Feeling, Images, Figures of Speech, Message

2. The Hidden Characters

These four poems contain hidden, unidentified characters - the men in Komachi's poems and the lost love in Dickinson's poem. Write a letter or journal entry in the voice of one of these hiding characters, responding to the way the poet/speaker has written about you and about your love.

3. Try a Tanka

In tanka style, write a series of poems that trace a relationship. Describe a symbolic object you might send with the tanka.