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Unformatted text preview: g the medieval age was inexorably toward the imposition of feudal control at every level of society. And from the outset
of the age we find a despairing awareness among the courtiers that their
days of splendor as a ruling elite could never be revived. Increasingly deprived of political power, the courtiers became ever more covetous of
their role as the custodians of traditional culture. This can perhaps best
be seen in the realm of poetry, long the most esteemed of the gentle pursuits. Some skill in waka versification had of course been mandatory for
members of the courtier class throughout most of the Heian period. In
the medieval age, it became a way of life for its chief practitioners, who
formed exclusive cliques and entered into fierce rivalries over issues involving minute differences in style, choice of words, and appropriate
Needless to say, medieval poets never used waka to describe the fighting and disorder that accompanied the rise of the samurai to power. But
the sentiments they sought to express were nevertheless far darker and
more deeply moving than those of their predecessors a century or so
earlier. Here, for example, are two poems from the Shinkokinshû (New
Kokinshû), compiled about 1205 and usually regarded as the last of the
great imperially authorized anthologies.
In a tree standing
Beside a desolate field,
The voice of a dove
Calling to its companions—
Lonely, terrible evening.
Even to someone
Free of passions this sadness
Would be apparent:
Evening in autumn over
A marsh where a snipe rises.4 These two poems are by Saigyò (1118–90), a leading contributor to
the Shinkokinshû and, in the minds of many, one of the finest poets in
Japanese history. A man of warrior background who became a Buddhist
priest, Saigyò is perhaps best remembered as the first of the great traveling poets. During the Heian period, few among the upper levels of Kyoto
society aspired to travel into the provinces, and such travel was usually
undertaken only when unavoidable. But with the coming of the medieval 96 The Canons of Medieval Taste age there was a reaction agains...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at UBC.
- Spring '13