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Unformatted text preview: es. The function of court poet in Hito- The Introduction of Buddhism 46 maro’s time entailed the composition of commemorative poems or encomiums on occasions such as courtly journeys or imperial hunts and of
eulogies upon the deaths of members of the imperial family. This use of
poetry for the expression of lofty sentiment in response to prominent
public events or ceremonies was no doubt influenced by the Chinese
practice, but it was not perpetuated in Japan much beyond Hitomaro’s
time. Japanese poets have always been powerfully drawn to personal lyricism rather than the pronouncement of what may be regarded as more
socially elevated, if not precisely moralistic, feelings. The early Japanese
language was particularly suited to lyrical expression, and the extent to
which Japanese poets went to retain that quality can be seen in how carefully they protected their native poetic vocabulary, consisting mostly of
concrete, descriptive terms, from the intrusion of more abstract and
complex Chinese loan words. Kakinomoto no Hitomaro was fully capable of writing lyrical poetry, as his deeply felt lament on the death of his
wife reveals; but he also composed sustained verse, particularly in the
“long poem” form, on topics of public and stately relevance that were
not regarded as the proper concern of later poets.
Since it was the waka that was to reign supreme in later court poetry,
let us examine one of these poems from the Man’yòshû:
I will think of you, love,
On evenings when the gray mist
Rises above the rushes
And chill sounds the voice
Of the wild ducks crying.7 In this poem, which is attributed to a frontier guard, we find a blending
of the two main subjects of waka, romantic love and nature. We will observe in the next chapter the important qualities of romantic love as they
evolved in the courtier tradition. Let us note here some aspects of the
Japanese attitude toward nature.
The Japanese seek beauty in nature not in what is enduring or permanent, but in the fragile, the fleeting, and the perishable. Above all, their
feelings about nature have from earliest times been absorbed by the
changes brought by the seasons...
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