ASIA212Varley

Use of the pivot word can be illustrated by the line

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Unformatted text preview: gthy pieces. The longer the poem, the greater the risk that it will become indistinguishable from prose. Instead, poets have since earliest times preferred shorter poetic forms, usually written in combinations of fiveand seven-syllable lines. No one has been able to say with certainty why the five- and seven-syllable line units have been so preferred, although one interesting conjecture is that they are another reflection of the Japanese taste for the asymmetrical. Precluded by the scope of the waka from writing extended narratives or developing complex ideas, poets have concentrated on imagery to elicit direct emotional responses from their audiences. They have also fully exploited the exceptional capacity of the Japanese language for subtle shadings and nuance, and have used certain devices such as the “pivot word” (kakekotoba) to enrich the texture of their lines and make possible the expression of double and even triple meanings. Use of the pivot word can be illustrated by the line Senkata naku, “There is nothing to be done.” Naku renders the phrase negative, but at the same time it has the independent meaning of “to cry.” Thus, an expression of despair may simultaneously convey the idea of weeping. During the Heian period (794–1185), when poetry became the exclusive property of the courtier class, strict rules were evolved that severely limited the range of poetic topics and the moods under which poets could compose. Poetry was intended to be moving but not overpowering. By contrast, the Man’yòshû contains poems dealing with many of the subjects that later poets came to regard as unfitting or excessively harsh for their elegant poeticizing, such as inconsolable grief upon the death of a loved one, poverty, and stark human suffering. A “long poem” from the anthology expresses one poet’s feelings after the loss of his wife: Since in Karu lived my wife, I wished to be with her to my heart’s content; But I could not visit her constantly Because of the...
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