ASIA212Varley

Kakinomoto no hitomaro was fully capable of writing

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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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