Japanese Poetry Since 1800 Analysis

Traditional Japanese Poetry

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the long and powerful tradition of Japanese poetry continued to make possible the production of accomplished and moving poems in the great forms that had developed during various periods in the past: the thirty-one-syllable waka (also known astanka, the name by which the form is familiar to many Western readers), the seventeen-syllable haiku, and the more philosophical medium of kanshi, or poetry in Chinese, which permitted both greater length and the kind of philosophical abstraction that had long been deemed unsuitable for the shorter forms of classical Japanese verse. These traditions might well have ossified but for the spread of literacy and learning and the inspiration of Chinese poetry available from the continent, which made it possible to achieve new variations within old forms. For example, Kobayashi Yatar, known as Issa (1763-1827), a farmer from the mountainous countryside, had been able to create a style of haiku that could capture both the joys and the anguish of the plebeian world in which he lived, while kuma Kotomichi (1798-1868) extended the boundaries of waka to include an interest in human personality and psychology that gave his poems a strikingly modern flavor. Rai Sany (1780-1832), writing in Chinese, dealt with extremely diverse subject matter—including the presence of the Dutch in Nagasaki—in his lengthy and sometimes polemical poetry. The traditions of...

(The entire section is 406 words.)