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Valentines Day Excerpt: Haiku, Tanka, and Japanese Free Verse Poetry on Love

Valentines Day Excerpt: Haiku, Tanka, and Japanese Free Verse Poetry on Love

Happy Valentines Day everyone! Today is a day to celebrate love and to reflect upon the meaning that it, in its many nuances, luminously bestows upon us.

We are, by our very nature, social animals, and the relationships we form, particularly those of intense emotional intimacy, come to hold an ineffable existential weight, one that alters our lives profoundly. For many, Valentines Day provides a pleasant contrast to the hatred and violence rampant in society, drawing us away from the negative valences of human nature and reminding us of the capacity for love to overcome the collective angst and vexing commotion of the world.

In light of all this, and to commemorate Valentines Day, we’ve pulled this week’s excerpt from three of our poetry books: A Long Rainy Season, a landmark anthology of traditional haiku and tanka in which fifteen Japanese women poets reveal universal female themes; its companion piece, Other Side River, in which 36 modern Japanese women poets, writing in an "imported" Western free verse form, display their diverse viewpoints, rhythms, themes, and insights; and I Wait for the Moon, a collection of 100 haiku written by celebrated Japanese poet Momoko Kuroda.

Below you will find various poems from these three poetry collections, all of which display deep insights into the nature of love in its many incarnations – from falling in love to sliding, perhaps jarringly so, out of it; from erotic sentiments and violent love to honoring and cherishing an aging and tender relationship; from the slight, everyday gestures pregnant with heart to the sexual passions which awaken our most primal impulses toward connection. Enjoy, optimally with a loved one:


bright as a tulip in bloom–

take me


in February.


I finger the

lace on my collar

until night, when you

turn over my petals.


Carry me off

as if scooping up

fallen leaves

in one stroke,

won’t you?


If you love him

love him

to destruction;

a yellow day lily

bending to the wind


for my man

in the darkroom

I’m grilling sanma


distinguishing the crickets’ chrip...our passing years together



by Saho Asada

If the gentle roundness of our arms

Around the napes of each other’s necks

Quietly adorns our two naked bodies,

Beating in the dark of night,

Like garlands of benediction

On a long journey–

We can start walking

To where the earth becomes round.

At the twenty-sixth hour

Something like invisible snow

Soundlessly falls and stays,

Making the earth brighter than any dawn.

Then we can remember clearly

Everything that shines

We can cross the river easily.

It is the nocturnal river

Cutting through the headlands

That have witnessed our footprints.



by Yufuko Shima

the light of a feast in the intermittent darkness

your back waits & then stands still

urged on by the sound of the snakeskin shamisen

my geta are growing impatient

led by the hand that steps on gravel

where the shadow of the Takakura Granary lowers its voice

we go under

the adan tree’s branches

on my back

toward the moon you kiss me on the lips

the swaying waves we gaze at

sitting by the sea

my dangling legs trembling

one geta disappears on the beach

your fingers running through the black hair

that hides my cheeks

fingers speaking in whispers

I will leave here tomorrow

days passing by the window

gathering lost composure

a child smiles

in the hopes of capturing

its mother’s heart

that was so long ago what has become of it now?

fingers halfway resting on the lips

looking up at the sea the moon recedes

this thing called fleeting love

comes back in pieces.



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