Hagiwara Sakutarō 1886-1942
Japanese poet, critic, and essayist.
Hagiwara Sakutarō is considered by many critics to be the father of modern Japanese poetry. He was among the first poets to break away from the traditional, strictly metered forms of Japanese poetry-tanka and haiku. He also established a new aesthetic in Japanese poetry in which he attained a sustained poetic lyricism by using colloquial Japanese speech in free verse poems. Hagiwara was deeply influenced by European nihilistic philosophies, and his poems, which often center on existential anxiety, are pervaded by melancholy and nostalgia.
Hagiwara was born into a middle-class family in the provincial town of Maebashi, where his father was a successful physician. While in middle school, he took a keen interest in literature and began submitting traditional tanka poems to the literary magazine Bunko. He later withdrew from school due to poor health, and he made sporadic attempts to earn his high school degree into his twenties. At home, Hagiwara devoted himself to poetry and the study of Japanese and European literature. He also had an aptitude for music, and he studied the mandolin and guitar. By 1910, Hagiwara had become a regular contributor to several poetry journals. He spent several years living a somewhat Bohemian life, drifting between his hometown and Tokyo. During this time he explored his interest in Western philosophy and literature, and for a brief period he attended Christian churches. His lifestyle drew criticism from the Maebashi bourgeoisie, and his poetry includes many spiteful remarks about his native community. In 1916, he cofounded the magazine Kanjō with Murō Saisei, an author whose poems he greatly admired. The magazine featured a new style of modern Japanese poetry that was distinct from the highly intellectual poems that other magazines of the day were publishing. The following year Hagiwara published his first poetry collection, Tsuki ni hoeru. The collection, which introduced Hagiwara's extraordinary talent for using colloquial speech in a free verse style, gained wide critical acclaim and established his reputation as a significant new voice in Japanese poetry. He followed this success with several more volumes of poetry, criticism, and poetic theory. Despite his solid literary reputation, Hagiwara relied on his family for financial support throughout his life. In 1919, Hagiwara married Uedo Ineko, with whom he had two daughters. The marriage ended in divorce in 1929. His second marriage, to Ōya Mitsuko in 1938, lasted only eighteen months. Much of Hagiwara's poetry conveys the isolation and loneliness that he felt, and his later works, particularly the poems in his 1934 collection Hyōtō, are characterized by an increasingly despondent and nostalgic tone. He taught at the University of Meiji in Tokyo from 1934 until the year of his death. He died in 1942.
Hagiwara's first poetry collection, Tsuki ni hoeru, had a wide and immediate impact on the Japanese literary community. Although the collection contains some traditional tanka, many of the poems are written in a colloquial vernacular in a loose, unmetered form. Hagiwara's success at elevating common Japanese speech to a poetic form was unprecedented. In this volume, commentators noted, Hagiwara essentially created a new aesthetic in modern Japanese poetry. In the preface to the work Hagiwara wrote, "Before this collection not a single poem had been written in colloquial language of this style, and before this collection the animation in the poetry one senses today did not exist." Critics also note that the poems in this collection were among the first in modern Japanese poetry to address questions of existential anxiety. In the title piece, "Howling at the Moon," Hagiwara likened the desperate psychological state of humanity to a lonely dog plaintively wailing at the moon. Throughout the collection, in poems such as "A Hanging in Heaven" and "An Ailing Face at the Bottom of the Earth," Hagiwara created characters who are ridden with despair. Hagiwara's second collection of poems, Aoneko, achieved even greater critical acclaim than his first. The poems in this volume reveal Hagiwara's personal interest in the nihilistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and the pessimistic ideology of Buddhism. The collection centers on abstract, metaphysical themes in which characters are nostalgic for times and places that they have never experienced. Hagiwara published a second "definitive" edition of the volume in 1936, in which he included the poem "The Corpse of a Blue Cat." The piece is a sad and nostalgic love poem in which time and memory are displaced. In it, the speaker says, "We have no past, no future, / And have faded away from the things of reality." Hagiwara's last major collection of poetry, Hyōtō (1934), received mixed critical reviews. In this volume, Hagiwara abandoned his innovative use of colloquial Japanese and returned to writing in a more formal language in metered verse. The poems in the volume are set in a more realistic context, and they convey an overwhelming sense of despair and bitterness. In the autobiographical poem "Returning to My Parents' Home," for example, Hagiwara recounted the anger and rejection that he felt after his first wife left him. In addition to his poetry, Hagiwara was widely respected for his volumes on poetic theory. His most noted work, Shi no genri (1928), laid out his conception of what he contended should be the principal aims of poetry. In aphoristic statements Hagiwara asserted that poetry should strive to convey transcendental themes and be critical of reality.
Tsuki ni hoeru [Howling at the Moon] (poems) 1917
Aoneko [The Blue Cat] (poems) 1923
Junjō Shōkyoku Shū [Short Songs of Pure Feelings] (poems) 1925
Shi no genri [Principles of Poetry] (criticism) 1928
Hyōtō [The Ice Land] (poems) 1934
Nekomachi [The Cat Town] (prose) 1935
Kyōshū no shijin Yosa Buson [Yosa Buson: The Poet of Nostalgia] (criticism) 1936
Face at the Bottom of the World, and Other Poems (poems) 1969
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SOURCE: An introduction to Face at the Bottom of the World, and Other Poems by Hagiwara Sakutarō, translated by Graeme Wilson, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1969, pp. 11-32.
[In the following excerpt, Wilson discusses Hagiwara's contributions to modern Japanese poetry, noting the influences of European philosophy on his works and his success at integrating western and Japanese poetic styles.]
Hagiwara began writing during that critical period in the history of Japanese literature when western influences, almost overwhelming in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), were at last being so successfully assimilated as to permit the regrowth of that essentially Japanese spirit which characterized the succeeding Taisho Era (1912-26). By 1910 the seeds dropped from foreign flowers, not all of them Fleurs du Mal, into the loam of Japanese consciousness were coming up like cryptomeria. Wakon yōsai, that Meiji slogan stressing the need to meld "western learning and the Japanese spirit", was still a living inspiration; and Hagiwara, working in full awareness there of, achieved universality.
It is still sometimes said that the artist's function is to hold a mirror up to nature. The time when that remark was true, if ever such a time there was, is now long past. The photographers have taken over; the photographers who implement the lawyers' pettifogging mania for reasonable facsimiles. The artist's...
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SOURCE: A review of Face at the Bottom of the World, and Other Poems, in Pacific Affairs, Vol. XLIII, No. 3, Fall 1970, pp. 481-82.
[In the following review, Dunn offers a favorable review of Hagiwara's Face at the Bottom of the World, and Other Poems.]
This book includes forty poems by Hagiwara (1886-1942), in an English version by Graeme Wilson, who also provides a short but enthusiastic introduction. I think it is true to say that Hagiwara's poems were characterized by a freshness of thought, and a clarity of description, in which language not greatly differing from the ordinary was used to write about things that were blinding by original, and sometimes shocking, at the time. The English versions appeal to me very much as poetical utterances (though I suspect that readers in their twenties might find them rather artificial), with some very telling collocations, and some fine effects of rhyme and alliteration, but they seem to go much further in the direction of poetic language than does Hagiwara. Are they the same poems as the Japanese originals? I doubt it very much, and if anyone were bold enough to translate them back into Japanese, they would, I wager, be very different from what Hagiwara wrote. Graeme Wilson disarms criticism by likening what he has done to what Fitzgerald did for Omar Khayyam. I think that this little book is very worth-while. Some paintings by York Wilson are included....
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SOURCE: "Transmutations of a Westernizer," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3618, July 2, 1971, p. 755.
[In the following review, the critic asserts that translator Graeme Wilson's use of traditionally western images distorts the meaning of the poems in Hagiwara's Face at the Bottom of the World, and Other Poems.]
Owing to some remarkable resemblances in tone and imagery Hagiwara Sakutarō has had the misfortune of being dubbed "the Japanese Baudelaire". In much the same way Chikamatsu Monzaemon became "Japan's Shakespeare" and Osaka (of all places) "the Venice of Japan". Such pairings compel invidious comparisons and are invariably unfair to the supposed Japanese counterparts. Chikamatsu and Hagiwara are major writers, but the juxtapositions with Shakespeare and Baudelaire serve only to point up their shortcomings.
Hagiwara Sakutarō (1886-1942), who has also been described as "the father of modern Japanese poetry", is undoubtedly the most important of all the Western-style poets since the Meiji Restoration. His work is hypersensitive, introspective, and often deeply affecting. The title-poem, one of the most successful of Graeme Wilson's ingenious versions, suggests his writing at its best:
Face at the bottom of the world:
A sick, a lonely face,
One invalided out
Of every inner place;
Yet, slowly there...
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SOURCE: Face at the Bottom of the World, and Other Poems, in Poetry, CXVIII, No. 4, July 1971, pp. 234-38.
[In the following review, Reeve offers a positive assessment of Hagiwara's Face at the Bottom of the World, and Other Poems and praises Graeme Wilson's translations of the poems in the collection.]
Having no Japanese and not trusting Amy Lowell's What's o'Clock? or other Imagist imitations of Japanese style, such as Richard Aldington's:
One frosty night when the guns were still
I leaned against the trench
Making for myself hokku
Of the moon and flowers and of the snow
I hesitantly admire Graeme Wilson's translations of forty poems by Hagiwara Sakutarō. Although Hagiwara (1886-1942) was a sort of skeptical humanist who knew Baudelaire's work and who led a loose, drunken if not raunchy life, he seems to have overcome both the insipidity of early 20th-century Japanese culture and a prevailing subservience to Western models. With him I admire
The sleeping earth; and how therein
The simple creatures now begin
Building the house of your repentance.
My hesitation is caused only by what seems to be Mr. Wilson's excellence. In his introduction he says that he sought to report the tonal...
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SOURCE: "Some Longer Poems of Hagiwara Sakutarō," in Japan Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1972, pp. 170-81.
[In the following essay, Wilson assesses critical appraisals of Hagiwara's works.]
The last few years have seen a steady enhancement, both within Japan and outside Japan, of the reputation of Hagiwara Sakutarō as the best poet there to have emerged during the last hundred years. His outstanding quality has, of course long been recognized by his more perceptive fellow-countrymen. "He was," wrote Miyoshi Tatsuji, "the greatest poet on earth. Such a poet could hardly be found in an hundred years." But that recognition has often been qualified by a basic feeling, however variously expressed, that he really went too far; that his neurasthenic vision of reality was less a poetic analysis or exposure of extreme states of human feeling than a deliberate harrying by a skilled poet of the human nervous system. There will always be many in any human group, even among the Japanese (whose refusal to compromise in matters of emotional conviction is more generally relentless than among other groupings of mankind), who prefer the moderate approach. But the unrelenting heart is a major item in the working equipment of a poet: for, as another man of total conviction once remarked, staking his life (which he lost) on his convictions, "less than thorough will not do it." Nevertheless, perhaps because Hagiwara's...
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SOURCE: "Hagiwara Sakutaro," in Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature, Stanford University Press, 1983, pp. 137-83.
[In the following excerpt, Ueda discusses the conception of poetry that Hagiwara put forth in his Principles of Poetry and analyses his works within that critical framework.]
Hagiwara Sakutarō (1886-1942) is generally considered the most original of the poets who helped perfect the art of free-style poetry in modern Japan. Shi existed before him: Shiki, Akiko, and Takuboku, along with many other poets, tried their hands at that new verse form. But in two respects Sakutarō's contribution outweighs that of anyone else. First, his consummate skill with words demonstrated that modern spoken Japanese could be used for verse writing in an artistically satisfying way. Takuboku and some others had made use of the vernacular in their works, but their diction was little different from that of everyday speech. With Sakutarō, modern Japanese became a poetic language for the first time. Second, he was the first Japanese poet to write successful poems about the existential despair of a modern intellectual. Born into a wealthy physician's family, he never experienced the financial struggles Takuboku confronted. Yet his extraordinary sensitivity and resulting personal conflicts led him to harbor grave misgivings about the meaning of human existence, eventually driving him to a...
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SOURCE: "The Taishō Period (1912-1926)," in Dawn to the West, Japanese Literature of the Modern Era: Poetry, Drama, Criticism, Vol. 25, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984, pp. 255-91.
[In the following excerpt, Keene discusses the emotional characteristics of Hagiwara's poetry and his innovative use of colloquial language.]
Hagiwara is by common consent the chief figure of modern Japanese poetry. He is not an easy poet, and the exact interpretations of many works elude the exegesis of even his most devoted admirers, but his work both commands the respect of other poets and critics and is popular with the general public. The novelist and poet Fukunaga Takehiko gave a representative evaluation: "Hagiwara Sakutarō is the outstanding writer of Japanese modern poetry; it is a recognized fact that his works constitute the most beautiful crystallizations of the Japanese language."
Hagiwara was born in Maebashi, an unremarkable city famous chiefly for its gusty winds. He is known as a poet of nostalgia, and a number of moving poems are recollections of Maebashi; but these are essentially references to his own past, rather than affectionate descriptions of buildings or landscapes. Although imposing mountains are visible from Maebashi, and the nearby countryside was still beautiful in Hagiwara's youth, he frequently expressed his lack of interest in the country and his love of the crowds and...
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