Distinct poetic forms were also developed. The two most important forms were the "short poem" (tanka), consisting of five measures in a syllabic pattern of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7, and the "long poem" (chōka), which consisted of an indefinite number of alternating measures of 5 and 7 syllables, concluding with three measures of 5, 7, and 7 syllables.
The two main themes of this newly constructed tradition of "Japanese" poetry were love and power, i.e., the relation between the sexes, and the relation between ruler and realm, or ruler and subject. During the reign of Tenmu's successor, Jitō, at the end of the seventh century, this poetry began to be collected and anthologized as a tradition of court poetry that would embody the cultural identity of the new state.
The two myth-histories that were completed in the early eighth century, the Record of Ancient Matters and The Chronicles of Japan, each include over one hundred poems. Most of these poems are attributed to the various rulers of the past, and also to subjects of the rulers in exchanges, or to wives or lovers of the rulers. In a sense, we can say that the inclusion of these poems in historical texts signifies a desire to represent the voices of the sovereigns of the past as well as the voices of their subjects.
The most ambitious poetic project of this new state was the anthology which we know as Man'yōshū (Collection of Myriad Leaves, or perhaps, Collection of Myriad Ages). Man'yōshū is Japan's oldest anthology of poetry, and it has twenty volumes containing more than four thousand five hundred poems, most of which were composed from the mid-seventh to the mid-eighth centuries. The collection was completed sometime at the end of the eighth century; however, it began to be compiled at the end of the seventh century, in the reign of Jitō (686-697). The first two volumes, which were the earliest to be completed, are arranged historically, with poems classified under the reign in which they were composed. Some of these poems are attributed to sovereigns, others to princes and high-ranking aristocrats, and some to lower-ranking professional poets. Today, Man'yōshū is regarded as one of the great works of Japanese literature. Particularly in the twentieth century, it was often cited as a text that represents the origins of Japanese culture and the Japanese people.
Two of the formal or rhetorical characteristics of this poetry of Man'yōshū (and indeed, of the poetry included in the two myth-histories, the Record of Ancient Matters and The Chronicles of Japan) are that (1) it is always in the first person, i.e., the "voice" of the poem is also one of the protagonists of the poem, and (2) it is always in the present tense; i.e., the time of which the voice of the poem is speaking is simultaneous with the time in which the voice of the poem is speaking. This doesn't mean that poems do not refer to the past, or even sometimes to the future. But it does mean that the voice of poem is always standing, so to speak, in a present moment, in the now.
Thus, while the historical narrative of myth-histories such as the Record of Ancient Matters and The Chronicles of Japan show us how the past was produced, poetry, and particularly poetry on the theme of the relation between ruler and realm, or between ruler and subject, shows us how the political present was conceptualized. In order to examine this representation of the present political order in poetry, we will look at three poems, two from volume 1 of Man'yōshū, and one from Nihon shoki.