Poetry plays a vital role in the Heian period narrative prose, Izumi Shikibu Nikki, written by Izumi Shikibu. This is evident not only by the large number of poems written, but also through the context of the poems, which characterize and reveal the feelings and desires of the two main characters. The poems are very private exchanges between the Prince and the lady, who is believed to be Izumi Shikibu herself. Because they are so personal, readers may connect to the diary on a deeper level. Without poetry, this piece of literature would be incomplete and probably not nearly as valuable as it is considered to be today.
By simply glancing through the Izumi Shikibu Nikki, one may conclude that poetry plays an important role in the diary. There are about three poems, tanka, per page. In contrast,
Taketori Monogatari, which is written by an unknown author, and Kagerō Nikki by Fujiwara no Michitsuna’s mother have significantly less. This is definitely not to say that the poetry in these other works is insignificant, but only that by purely counting the number of poems before beginning to even read the diary, one may assume that poetry plays a key role in the Izumi Shikibu Nikki.
The poetry in this Heian period narrative prose acts like a window into the depths of the hearts of the Prince and the lady, whom will be referred to as Izumi for clarity. Referring to The Izumi Shikibu Diary: A Romance of the Heian Court translated by Edwin A. Cranston, the very first poem expresses Izumi’s uncertainty in communicating with the Prince, half-brother to her deceased lover: “Sooner would I hear your voice – / Is it the same as his?” (132). The poems reveal every emotion from longing – “This evening filled with longing / Intense beyond all expectation” (136) – to sadness – “Only my sleeves are drenched” (134) – to the feeling of being on cloud nine – “If now I speak of love…My heart this morning / Admits no parallel” (135) – to disappointment – “As I stood waiting / At the pine-wood gate / You would not open for me” (139) – to anger – “I think you an unfeeling wretch” (147). The feelings expressed are all very strong and passionate.
Due to the fact that many of the poems are overflowing with emotion, the Prince, Izumi, and their relationship are characterized through the poems. Izumi composes a poem, “Imagine then, compare / What one must feel whose days / Drag on and on in idle melancholy” (133), which reveals that she is gloomy day in and day out. Her later poems mention piety, temptation, and path, which show the influence of Buddhism in her life. Another poem she writes shows the meaningful connection she has with the Prince: “Perhaps because we share / A bond with him who is no more” (136). Aside from being lovers, they share a special connection in a different way. The fact that Izumi was once the lover of the Prince’s half-brother might have made it easier for Izumi to grow close to the Prince. Poems that characterize the Prince are...