("short poem"). A 31-syllable poem consisting of five lines in the pattern 5-7-5-7-7; the dominant form in classical Japanese poetry (waka) from the 7th century to the present. In the oldest anthology of native poetry, the 8th-century Man’yōshū, the term tanka is used to distinguish the short 31-syllable poem from the "long poem" (chōka), a form consisting of an indefinite number of pairs of 5- and 7-syllable lines, with an extra line of 7 syllables at the end. Following the virtual disapppearance of the chōka and other less important genres by the end of the 8th century, the tanka became essentially the only form of sophisticated Japanese vernacular poetry and retained its dominance for 1,200 years. For this reason, tanka came to be synonymous with waka. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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