Sakutarō Hagiwara

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(Poetry Criticism)

Hagiwara Sakutarō 1886–1942

Japanese poet, critic, and essayist.

Hagiwara 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 as practiced in the writing of 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.

Biographical Information

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 became accomplished on 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 Kanjo with Muro 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 (Howling at the Moon). 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 literary theory. Despite his high standing in the world of Japanese letters, Hagiwara relied on his family for financial support throughout his life. In 1919 he married Uedo Ineko, with whom he had two daughters. The marriage ended in divorce in 1929. His second marriage, to Oya 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 Hyoto, are characterized by an increasingly despondent and nostalgic tone. He taught at the University of Meiji in Tokyo from 1934 until his death in 1942.

Major Works

Hagiwara's first poetry collection, Howling at the Moon, had a wide and immediate impact on the Japanese literary community. Although the collection contains some traditional tanka, many of the poems use colloquial language and are written 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 Howling at the Moon were among the first in modern Japanese poetry to address questions of existential anxiety. In the title piece Hagiwara likened the desperate psychological state of humanity to a lonely dog plaintively wailing at the moon. Throughout the collection Hagiwara created characters who are...

(The entire section is 1,087 words.)