Tuesday, March 26, 2013

To the Lighthouse: Principles of Integration in Tanka Sequences

Below is an excerpt from my Lynx interview with Jane Reichhold:

L: Where do you stand on the issue of single poems or sequences?

CL: There is a centuries-old practice of writing poem sequences in the Chinese poetic tradition. Therefore, I have no problem with writing poem sequences.  According to classical Chinese poetics, a poem sequence is a group of poems by one poet or perhaps even by two or more poets intended to be read together in a specific order. The integrity of a poem sequence is dependent on this prescribed order of presentation. A poem sequence by a single author is sustained throughout by a single voice and point of view, and it shows consistency in style and purpose from one poem to the next. The defining characteristic of a poem sequence is that each poem must have its own value and integrity yet contribute to the artistic wholeness of the sequence while keeping the logical progression of events.

The techniques of association and progression used in Chinese poem sequences are mainly temporal and stylistic, thus less developed than those employed in Japanese court poetry, which are well explored in Earl Miner’s 60-page long essay, entitled “Association and Progression: Principles of Integration in Anthologies and Sequences of Japanese Court Poetry, A. D. 900-1350” (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies,Vol. 21, Dec., 1958, pp. 67-127), also in Brower and Miner's Japanese Court Poetry, pp. 319-329, 403-413, and 491-493.

The first English translation of a complete sequence is that of Robert H. Brower and Earl Miner, Fujiwara Teika's Superior Poems of Our Time, "a collection of poems Teika felt to be excellent models, with a preface dealing with his critical philosophy, sent to Sanetomo to instruct him in how his poems should emulate the great ancient Japanese poets- teaching by example" (p. 270). Fujiwara Teika's Superior Poems of Our Time consists of 83 poems and detailed commentary on their ordering by progression and association.

Below is a relevant excerpt about the principles of integration in anthologies and sequences of Japanese court poetry, which is taken from Noriko T. Reider's essay, entitled "Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams,as Seen through the Principles of Classical Japanese Literature and Performing Art," (Japan Forum, 17:2, 2005, pp. 257–272):

Principles of Progression and Association in Japanese Poetry

The principles of progression and association in classical Japanese poetry, as put forward by the eminent Japanese scholar Konishi Jin’ichi, posit that there is a narrative-like structure in some royal anthologies of classical Japanese poetry. The poems in such anthologies were written by people from all walks of life over several centuries, and the anthologies are organized by topics, such as the four seasons, travel or love. Within each topic, the poems are carefully sequenced according to temporal or spatial progression and association. In the season of autumn, for instance, each poem in the sequence ‘effects change through various temporal and spatial transitions, as the sequence itself progresses from early autumn to mid-autumn, and on to late autumn’. In terms of association, ‘linkage in later times was usually achieved less by common subjects than by disparate subjects having conceptual elements in common’ (Konishi 1986: 229). For example, on the topic of love in Book 12 of Shinkokinsh¯u, the first poem, numbered 1081, is linked to the next poem, 1082, through subjective association: (12:1081)

Shitamoe ni                        Burning secretly
Omoikienan                       Love will consume me in its flames;
Keburi dani                        Smoke from my pyre
Ato naki kumo no              Will vanish among the clouds
Hate no kanashiki.             Making my unhappy end!

Nabikaji na                        You do not yield,
Ama no moshiobi               Though I begin to burn with love
Takisomete                        (A fisher’s seagrass fire)
Keburi wa sora ni               And my smoke rises skyward
Kuyuriwabu to mo.            Curling about in misery
                                         (Konishi 1991: 247–8)7

Konishi Jin’ichi explains that:

[t]he first poem in the sequence, number 1081 . . . shares one word with poem 1082: ‘keburi’ (smoke). In addition, ‘Clouds’ (kumo) in 1081 evoke ‘skyward’ (sora) in 1082. The fairly abstract ‘Burning secretly’ (shitamoe) of poem 1081 may be seen to correspond to the concrete ‘burn’ (taki-) of 1082. Similarly, in poem 1081 the base ending ‘-hi’ . . . of the inflected verb ‘omohi-’ (modern ‘omoi’; love) is a homophone for ‘fire’; this draws our attention to the ‘seagrass fire’ (moshiobi) of poem 1082. (Konishi 1991: 250)

Further, poems in the anthologies are arranged qualitatively in patterns that are called ‘background’ (ji) and ‘design’ (mon). Background poems are plain, inconspicuous works, whereas design poems have vivid, striking expression. If only superior works are selected and sequenced, Konishi Jin’ichi writes, good individual works will be cancelled out. ‘When properly set off by background poems, design poems appear to even greater advantage than in their original settings’ (Konishi 1991: 251–2).

1 comment:

  1. "Robert H. Bower, who did so much great work with Earl Miner for Japanese poetry, translated in the winter, 1985, in Monumenta Nipponica * http://www.jstor.org the teaching letter now known as Maigetsushō along with copious notes of explanation. Bower’s translation is well worth deeper study because the Japanese author, Fujiwara Teika was the most revered tanka teacher of his time and for centuries afterwards his opinions were read and adopted with a religious fervor."

    Here is the link, http://www.ahapoetry.com/tanka%20techniques.html, to Teika's Ten Tanka Techniques