Love and Their Inter-Relations in Manyoshu Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1697 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … inter-Relations in Manyoshu

Poetic Wordplay

One of the recurring themes within Manyoshu, a collection of over 4,000 poems (Keene 1955, 33) written by a variety of authors -- some of whom were emperors and their paramours -- is love and the coping with the loss of one's love. The very nature of the Manyoshu lends itself to this subject matter, particularly since many of the poetic works contained within are tankas that are highly symbolic and suggestive of association. As such, many of the poets found within this work utilized various literary devices to express their notions of love and its absence, some of the most important of which include diverse aspects of diction, anaphora, alliteration, and other forms of sentence structure. There is a definite proclivity of the structure of a poem influencing and coloring its content, particularly due to the utilitarian aspects of much of the literature that comprises Manyoshu. Many of these poems were also regarded as songs that would be stated or sung aloud during important rituals to utilize a spiritual aspect of the words and the sentiments they conveyed. Therefore, when discussing the topic of love and its loss within this compendium, it is important to understand that specific choices of words are highly influential in conveying the desires and feelings of both the poets and their poems.

Numerous examples abound in which one can see how the diction of a poem helps to impart a particular meaning, especially when the thematic issue of that poem has to do with love. Oftentimes, much of the poetry within Manyoshu -- which is the oldest known work of poetry written in Japanese (Morrow 2004) -- treats of unrequited feelings of passion between individuals, such as the verses composed by Empress Iwa no Hime, who was romantically involved with Emperor Nintoku despite the latter's penchant for acts of infidelity (Nakamura 2009, 3). The author utilizes that is evocative of her patiently waiting for her husband's return from such affairs, a fact that is underscored by the connotations of winter in her poem. The author writes that she will "wait for" her "Lord/Till on my black hair,/Trailing unconfined/the frost shall fall" (Nakamura 2009, 3). Her choice of diction is highly important within this first stanza, since it shows that she is willing to tarry for her husband's arrival until her dark hair is whitened with "frost." On a literal level this passage suggests that the author's love is so intense that she is willing to wait until season's change, while figuratively, the imagery of frost and its winter-like connotations suggest that she is willing to wait until she gets old, and her hair turns white. The uncertainty that characterizes the author's period of waiting -- which is suggested to be a considerable period of time in the first stanza is emphasized by anaphora, as she beings the second stanza of the poem by writing that "As the morning mist trails/Over the ears of rice/in the autumn fields,/I know not when and where/My love will end" (Nakamura 2009, 3). The repetition of the word trail in each stanza is representative of the indefinite period of waiting, which is alluded to by the connotations of extension and prolongation that "trails" and "trailing" suggests. The author's trailing hair and the trails of "morning mist" imply that she does not know how long that she must wait, but that her love is so intense that it can wait lengthy periods of time for her lover.

In many ways, there is a definite sense of tranquility that characterizes much of the love poetry within Manyoshu, regardless if the poet's affections have or have not been met. Much of these poems "speak with frankness and clarity" (Reiser 2011). It is therefore not a coincidence that one of the recurring motifs that appears in much of the love poetry is related to memories, of how lovers once were or of the time spent with another. This theme of memory is often attended by a type of spectral sense of haunting of the very words themselves, since in many of the poetry the actual writing of the verses was thought of as memorializing spirits and previous moments with one's lover. To that end, the usage of diction is highly influential as it actually provides a somewhat cinematic preservation of the sentiments and spirits conveyed though past affairs.

An excellent example that illustrates the haunting, retrospective quality that is so important to much of the poetry in Manyoshu is found in Donald Keene's anthology entitled "Anthology of Japanese Literature From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century." In an anonymous work in the beginning of the section on Manyoshu, an author compares the strength of his and his lover's affection to one another to a weed enmeshed with the ocean, which the following quotation illustrates. Like the swaying sea tangle,/Unresisting would she lie beside me -- /My wife whom I love with a love/Deep as the Miru-growing ocean" (34). The employment of anaphora, which is utilized by the repetition of the word love, demonstrates how potent the feelings are between the poet and his lover. Additionally, the simile between his love and the ocean underscores the depths of the author's sentiments for his lover

However, the conceit involving the ocean and the author's affections for his paramour has other connotations as well, some of which are not reaffirming of the fortitude of the feeling between the pair and which connote a darker, despairing separation between the two. The ocean is also dark and unfathomable, and in that sense symbolizes the vastness of the distance that eventually surfaces between the author and his paramour. This fact is underscored by the following quotation in the third stanza, which serves as a shifting point from the halcyon recollections of the author's lover to the present reality that they are no longer together. The following quotation readily demonstrates this fact. "Away I have come, parting from her/Even as the creeping vines do part" (Keene 1955, 35). It is noteworthy to see that the author utilizes his same conceit of the vines, which were once tightly interwoven, to demonstrate the "creeping" distance that eventually surmounts the once happily married pair. This simile merely emphasizes the fact that there was a "parting" between the author and his lover, while the rest of the poem laments that sadness and its spirit that is preserved through the very words themselves.

The spectral characteristic of many of the poems that are in Manyoshu, that add an ethereal, haunting quality that tends to shape them with an intrinsic sadness, is demonstrated in the following poem from Sano no Chigami. This author was an eighth century poet whose works were largely inspired by the fact that her husband was exiled due to a discrepancy with the government and their marriage. The plaintive longing which typifies the majority of the poem is alluded to by the employment of anaphora and the repetition of the subjunctive "would" which begins the first stanza, as the subsequent poem demonstrates. "Would that a fire from heaven/Would pull up the long road/You must travel,/Roll it up/and burin it to ashes" (Nakamura 2009, 7). The author purposefully uses anaphora to emphasize the fact that she wishes her husband's road would get consumed in a blaze -- so that he would no longer have to leave her. Despite the typical connotations that associate charnel characteristics with the imagery of fire, the poet takes care to underscore the fact that in her poem, such a blaze would be undoubtedly benign by stating that it is descendant from "heaven." Also, the swiftness and the celerity that the poet wishes such a fire would consume her husband's path to exile is alluded to by the alliteration in "fire… [END OF PREVIEW]

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