A poet of unique gifts, Kenji Miyazawa spent his relatively brief life in almost total obscurity. Living in a primitive rural area, writing virtually as a form of religious practice, Miyazawa published only one volume of stories and one of poetry during his life. Neither work attracted attention at the time of its publication.
Shortly after Miyazawa’s death, however, his work began to be noticed. His utilization of scientific, religious, and foreign terms became familiar, and the striking images and energy of his verses seemed exciting alongside the generally restrained modes of Japanese poetic expression.
Most surprising of all, Miyazawa started to attain the prominence and affection he still enjoys among the general public. Almost any literate Japanese would know one poem that he jotted down in his notebook late in life. Sketching the portrait of Miyazawa’s ideal selfless person, the poem begins with the lines, “Neither to wind yielding/ Nor to rain.”
Miyazawa began composing tanka poems while still a middle school student. His principal works are in free verse, however, and these he composed mostly during the decade of the 1920’s. Throughout these years, various forms of modernism—Futurism and Surrealism, for example—were being introduced to Japan, and certain native poets experimented with these new styles of writing. Miyazawa, however, worked in total isolation from such developments. This is not to say that his work is sui generis in any absolute sense. Assuredly a religious poet, Miyazawa worked out a cosmology for certain of his poems that, according to one Western scholar, resembles in a general way the private cosmologies of such poets as William Blake and William Butler Yeats.