Role Of Poetry In Heian Period Prose

1467 words - 6 pages

For centuries the waka, or Japanese poem, was by far the predominant form of literary art in medieval Japan. Collections of poetry such as the Manyoshu and Kokinshu contain poems written in the 5th century. (Man’yoshu, Encyclopedia of Japan) The development of waka in its various forms such as the haiku, tanka, and choka reached a point of high sophistication in the Heian period in an exquisitely refined culture. (Heian Period, Encyclopedia of Japan) The older collections of works contained in Manyoshu and Kokinshu provided examples and writing manuals for Heian court poets, thereby establishing poetic guidelines and vocabulary to be used in writing traditional Japanese waka. Writing poetry was a social necessity in Heian period Japan. Even those outside of the prestigious and highly literary Heian court needed a cursory understanding of how to interpret and compose poetry in order to be socially successful. (Tale of Genji Introduction, Royall Tyler)
During the Heian period Japanese literature expanded to include works other than the traditional forms of poetry exemplified in the manyoshu and kokinshu. In the court of Heian Japan, two additional forms of literature were developed and produced: the nikki and monogatari. Nikki can be translated as dairy or journal and indeed some examples of nikki are rather methodical daily records of feelings and events. (Nikki Bungaku, Encyclopedia of Japan) Monogatari on the other hand can be translated as talk of things, and is by far the more narrative of the two literary genres. (Monogatari, Encyclopedia of Japan) Well known examples of nikki are Tosa Nikki by Ki no Tsurayuki and Izumi Shikibu Nikki by Izumi Shikibu while the most famous example of monogatari both during Heian Japan and today was and is Genji Monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu. The development of these two new genres of literature in Heian Japan provides evidence of a shift toward the use of prose narrative either in conjunction with or superseding the waka.
Both nikki and monogatari contain prose alongside poetry. The degree to which each is used within a given work is indicative of the author and chronology of works produced during the Heian period. Earlier works tend to use much more poetry in their writing while later works shift noticeably toward the use of more and more prose. Authors during the period looked upon the works of their contemporaries for inspiration just as was customary to look to Manyoshu or Kokinshu for the writing of poetry. This awareness of prior works contributed to the evolution of nikki and monogatari and the use of prose literature in general. Examples of both genres written in the earlier Heian Japan contain greater amounts of poetry, some only using prose as short explanations for the series of waka, as in the case of Ise Monogatari. (Ise Monogatari, Encyclopedia of Japan) In later works, such as Genji Monogatari, the poetry is integral to the narrative but is overshadowed by the story...

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