Meditating on the Coming of Christ: A Trilogy of Advent Tanka Poems

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Tanka is a cousin to the popular poetic form of the haiku. The word tanka translates to short song. Originating in medieval Japan, it is a free verse poem consisting of 31 syllables. Early Japanese writers composed these in one unbroken line; contemporary Japanese tankas are now written in three lines. English tankas are also 31 syllables but in five lines and a 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 syllable/line pattern. 

Like a haiku, a tanka focuses on one thing; but it is different from a haiku because it is not just about capturing a moment in time and in nature. A tanka describes something in a stirring or profound way while also holding onto something universal. Key to a tanka is the emotional response starting around the third line. 

A Trilogy of Advent Tanka Poems was written in December 2021. While reading several passages in Isaiah and ruminating on a series of Advent sermons, I challenged myself to write one tanka a week. Hope in Christ’s return, the final fulfillment of our salvation, and the renewal of creation tug strongly at my heart and imagination during Advent season. I tried to bring that into these poems. 

Annunciation 

. . . and the stillness the dancing.” -T.S. Elliot

As if Mary’s yes
opened the dark skies for the 
light to appear and 
then blink along smooth waters,
while kingfishers and herons
sat still, waiting for the dawn. 

Isaiah 35:1

A fir tree’s fresh scent—
a hint that one day streams of
living water will
flow through the wilderness and
the deserts will blossom bright. 

Matthew 1:19-25

This time of year I
often remember Joseph 
giving up his life 
for Mary and also how
you follow in his footsteps. 

Leslie Anne Bustard writes for Cultivating, Black Barn Online, Anselm Society, Story Warren, and Calla Press. Her poetry book The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living, published through Square Halo Books, comes out winter 2023. Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children, co-edited with Carey Bustard and Théa Rosenburg, was published in spring 2022. You can read more of her ruminations at Poetic Underpinnings and listen to her podcast at Square Halo Books.


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