Taneda Santoka

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(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Santoka Taneda 1882-1940

(Pseudonym of Shoichi Taneda) Japanese poet.

Santoka is considered a unique proponent of "free-style" haiku poetry, a mode that abandoned much of the customary form and subject matter of traditional haiku in favor of a direct and unadorned depiction of human experience. A wandering poet and ascetic Zen priest for the last fifteen years of his life, Santoka emphasized many of the essential qualities of Zen Buddhism in his verse, including mujo (impermanence), the necessity of sabi (solitude), the importance of simplicity in life, and the pervasive sadness that accompanies all human affairs. Many of his poems point toward the Zen goal of overcoming this ubiquitous melancholy by achieving spiritual enlightenment and serenity. To this view Santoka added his concern with what James Abrams called "the vital necessity of movement and the partial release it brings to the anguish of the soul."

Biographical Information

Santoka was born Shoichi Taneda in 1882, the son of a wealthy landowner from Hofu in western Japan. He studied literature at Waseda University in Tokyo, and while there began writing poetry. He adopted a pen-name, as is the custom among haiku poets, choosing the name Santoka, which can be rendered in English as "burning mountain peak." Excessive drinking and a severe nervous breakdown forced him to drop out of school in 1904, however. In the ensuing years he attempted to assist his father in running a sake brewery, but this too failed in all respects and contributed to Santoka's growing alcoholism. His arranged marriage in 1909 proved yet another failure in Santoka's personal life. Still, he continued with his literary efforts, and by 1911 had produced translations of such writers as Ivan Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant. The forthcoming years witnessed the steady influence of the haiku poet Seisensui Ogiwara on Santoka. Leader of the so-called "new tendency" or "free-style" school of haiku poetry, Seisensui was also founder of the literary journal Soun, of which Santoka became poetry editor in 1916. Meanwhile, Santoka made half-hearted attempts to maintain employment and support his family when not succumbing to his addiction to sakè. In 1924 he attempted suicide by standing in front of an oncoming train. Before impact, however, the train's engineer saw him and was able to stop. After the incident Santoka was taken to a nearby Zen temple in order to recover. He stayed there for a year, studying Zen Buddhism, and in 1925 was ordained a priest and placed in charge of a small temple. But by the following year...

(The entire section is 824 words.)