Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Sequence in Elegance

Can be found here
The poetry of what they call “Medieval Japan” is an interesting case. We’re talking about the time period during which the clans of samurai ruled over Japan before the “Early Modern” era with the Tokugawa Shogunate. In short, the sophisticated aristocratic culture that prevailed in Kyoto during the Heian Period (~800 A.D. to 1185 A.D.) was abruptly ended by the rise of the Minamoto clan and the Genpei war.

Can be found here
Poets such as Saigyo and Fujiwara no Teika lived during this tumultuous time and produced some of the most compelling works in the Japanese poetic canon. There was a aesthetic stagnation among the later Heian poets. I believe this was due to an over-emphasis on following the poetic formula and traditional aesthetics passed down by their innovative ancestors. Teika and Saigyo lived during a time of transition and thus were freshly stimulated by real turmoil and emotion.

After Teika and Saigyo’stime, poets during the age of the samurai had their wings clipped. They lost their previous prestigious position as the new rulers were not so interested in patronizing the arts. There was also the rise of Zen Buddhism which added a new dimension to the poetic landscape. There were several poetic anthologies that were compiled after Teika’s time but only a few are considered worthy of study. Too many poets of that time were trying hard to emulate the “golden age” poetry (from the Heian Period) that they sacrificed their creativity.
Can be found here
The next major breakthrough in Japanese poetry came with the popularization of renga (group poetry composition) and eventually the revolutionary haiku.
The following three poems are from the Fūgashū or the “Collection of Elegance”. It is a kind of depressing work but very sophisticated. It was compiled by Emperor Hanazono (1297-1398). I chose three poems in the order that Hanazono had chosen. I like this sequence, since although they were all composed independently, they form a sort-of narrative.


When I look upon
The sky’s hue, or even the grass,
Sadness pains my heart,
As I ponder my fate,
Lost in my own destiny.

Princess Shinshi



Each one of my thoughts,
With the splendid tint of love,
Has been dyed.
Even the clouds I can see,
Make me think only of you.

Kyougoku Tamekane


Overwhelmed by love
I look to the evening sky,
Surely, she doesn’t know
That my heart has colored
This lingering sunset...

Emperor Hanazono

No comments:

Post a Comment