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Role Of Poetry Of The Heian Period

1690 words - 7 pages

The Heian period in Japan was from 794 to 1185. During this time, the imperial court was believed to be at its peak, when literature and poetry flourished. China was thought to be an exemplary model of culture and civilization, and Japan desired to break away to become its own powerful entity. Due to the steady decline of Chinese influence, Japan was able to establish its own native identity. Through literature, the Japanese elevated their status to challenge China. The first imperial anthology was the Kokinshū that consisted of over 1000 poems, most of them in tanka form. This anthology displayed waka as an acceptable and valuable art form. Thus, it was through poetry that Japanese literature gained appreciation and respect. Throughout the Heian period, poetry held a central role in traditional Japanese literature, in both monogatari and nikki. The focus of this paper will be the role of poetry in narrative prose in the Heian period as shown through the Ise monogatari, Taketori monogatari, and Tosa nikki. These specific works were chosen because each represents a different style of traditional Japanese prose narratives, yet they are all connected by the central thread of poetry.
The explosion of literature was due to the development of kana symbols, which were simpler to use than Chinese kanji characters. Kana was used to compose Japanese poetry and was used among the court ladies. Thus, it is thought that some of the best works of Heian literature were produced by women. In the Heian period, there were two basic types of prose literature: monogatari and nikki. Monogatari are poem stories whose topics range from romances to historical articles to short anecdotes. They are narratives mainly written in prose but contained many poems. Japanese narrative prose writing originated in the development of stories or tales centered on poems. There are different varieties of monogatari, but the ones focused on in this paper are uta monogatari, which are stories that are formed around poetry with prose parts of varying lengths, and tsukuri monogatari, which are creative fictional tales or stories. Nikki is a literary genre of diaries or stories told in diary form. The subjects are mostly personal impressions or opinions of court life.
The Ise monogatari was compiled in the mid-10th century and contains about 125 literary pieces composed of both poetry and prose episodes written by anonymous authors. This is the oldest uta monogatari¸ which was viewed as an indispensible textbook for poetry; everyone of the aristocratic imperial class knew of the Ise monogatari, and it was very famous. It represents the early development of the Japanese narrative. Ariwara no Narihira is believed to be the author of many of the episodes in this collection, which is why the Ise monogatari is thought to be almost a biography of his love quests. The role of poetry is very central and significant in the Ise monogatari; the prose is based around the...

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