The Role Of Poetry In Narrative Prose Of The Heian Period

1658 words - 7 pages

The Heian period in Japan represents the period of time that began in 794 and ended in 1185. During the Heian period, literary styles were flourishing and poetry played a crucial role in society. Two of the most important styles during this period were Monogatari and Nikki Bungaku. Monogatari is a narrative story, similar to an epic of the western world. Nikki bungaku is a form of Japanese diary literature, often offering a chronological order of actual events. The monogatari I will be analyzing is Taketori monogatari and the nikki I will analyze is Kagerō Nikki.
Taketori monogatari is an important piece of literary work for many reasons. It is one of the oldest Japanese narratives, dating back to the 10th century. It is unique in many ways, but one of the more intriguing aspects of the story to me is its science-fiction like traits. Furthermore, Taketori monogatari uses different fictional events to describe the origin of actual idioms. The use of poetry throughout the story is limited yet critically important, and aspects of the bamboo cutter are inspired by poems from Man'yōshū.
In Taketori Monogatari, an old, childless bamboo cutter finds a girl in a stock of glowing bamboo. The girl, known as Kaguya-hime, is unnaturally tiny and taken by the bamboo cutter to his home to be raised. Throughout the story, one learns of Kaguya-hime’s immaculate beauty and she quickly becomes the desire of every man. Under pressure from her ‘earth’ father to get married, she offers herself to any man who can fulfill specific, yet impossible, tasks. At the close of each failed task, the origin of an idiom is revealed. Learning of Kahuya-hime’s unnatural beauty, the Emperor Mikado made it his mission see her and make her his wife. Toward the end of the story, the reader learns that Kaguya-hime is actually from the moon, and she was sent to the earth as punishment. Just before she returned to the moon, she left letters for her ‘earth parents’ and one for Emperor Mikado along with the elixir of life. This sets up the origin for more idioms and the origin of the name Mt. Fuji.
Stories such as Taketori Monogatari have such significance and are a window that the modern person can use to look into the past. We can see that it was certainly not only in the western world and in China that great literary works were produced. This story can also be considered one of the first Japanese works of science fiction. Throughout the story we can see the importance of courtship and respecting your parents during this time in Japan. Kaguya-hime truly struggled with making a choice between what she wants to do and what is expected of her. In order to save face and please her parents, she agrees to be suited, even though she was well aware that she had no intentions of marrying after all.
The use of poetry throughout Taketori Monogatari is limited, but the timing is crucial and intentional. Poetry was used to express emotions in an eloquent way,...

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