Sunday, May 15, 2011

Today's post is actually from a paper I wrote in graduate school about the Kin'yo wakashu and Minamoto Toshiyori.  I've included the introduction and the first three spring poems (the first three poems of the anthology).

Compiled by Minamoto Toshiyori (源俊頼) at the behest of Retired Emperor Shirakawa, the Kin'yô wakashû is designed to be an intentional departure from the typical imperial anthology, varying in both structure and aesthetics. As Toshiyori is one of the few non-Fujiwara editors of the chokusenshuû, it is clear that Shirakawa chose him as much for politcal reason (to help break the hold on power that the Fujiwara had) as for poetic reasons. Comprised not of the typical twenty-two books, but of ten, the compilation includes the following books: spring, summer, autumn, winter, congratulatory poems, poems of separation, two books of love poetry, a book of miscellaneous poetry, and a book of both miscellaneous and travel poetry. One of the major difficulties in studying this collection, however, is the three textual lines: Toshiyori submitted three different drafts before Shirakawa accepted one, but it is the second, not the third, that is generally recognized as the definitive Kin'yô wakashû.1 In any case, the Kin'yô wakashû is the shortest of all imperial anthologies.
As Donald Keene mentioned in Seeds in the Heart, this collection is interesting in the editor's approach to both poetics and the compilation of the Kin'yô wakashû. Minamoto Toshiyori was considered a radical in his time, and his radicalism can be seen in the selection of poetry for the anthology. The most striking aspects are Toshiyori's emphasis on contemporary poets and his appreciation for rustic and natural imagery over more emotional poetry. However, as Keene also points out, Toshiyori was also original in his use of waka to express “grievances”, going so far as to include a headnote indicating his bitterness over “not having obtained office until the age of seventy”.
As the collection does not contain a preface, it is difficult to guess what, exactly, Toshiyori's intentions were in the compilation process. However, as poems by Toshiyori himself are the greatest in number (thirty-seven poems out of about six-hundred fifty total), and as Toshiyori was the sole compiler, we can assume that his poetic vision and aesthetics were the primary factor, despite requiring Retired Emperor Shirakawa's final decision for approval.
Minamoto Toshiyori (sometimes read as Shunrai), despite maintaining a low standing in terms of court rank, was somewhat of a revolutionary in terms of poetics. He had no problem with poems dealing with “vulgar” topics, going so far as to include poems riff with 'vulgarities' in a collection submitted to Emperor Horikawa2, included below:
Is it because
To be love's coolie has become
A habit I am stuck with
That even on a journey it wells up,
This day's-end clatter banging in my breast?

This poem was obviously startling for a courtly audience, where elegence was the rule, as it deals so directly and coarsely with “relations”.
However, Toshiyori was not limited to vulgarities, or he surely would not have been selected to compile the collection by Retired Emperor Shirakawa. Looking at his own poems he chose to include in the selection, we can see a powerful ability to provoke emotion with concrete images. Turning to poem 51 of the Kin'yô wakashû, we can see an elegent demonstration of Toshiyori's descriptive abilities:
Even though the wind blows in the treetops, it can't be seen; the lucious
beauty of sakura flowers: the wind has become clear

In this poem, Toshiyori creates a unique spring poem—while it is a common trope to mistake sakura flowers for other things, such as clouds, here he's taken that trope and inverted it, by using sakura as an illuminating image. Though we cannot “see” the sakura, their scent allows us to detect the wind with our other senses. In a way, this poem is creating a new way of looking at the world—while our eyes may fail us, if we use our various senses thoughtfully, we can find a way to approach things difficult to “see”.
Despite being the shortest imperial anthology, the Kin'yô wakashû is of great importance, as Toshiyori's asthetic vision has a great influential power on what eventually becomes the dominate vision of Japanese poetics in the the following eras. While Retired Emperor Shirakawa was not himself an complete advocate of Toshiyori's renegade style, he was lucky in his selection of Toshiyori, as his name is now forever associated with one of the most influential anthologies of Japanese poetry.
1Keene, pg 307
2Brower and Miner, pg 244

yoshino yama mine no shirayuki itsu kiete kesa ha kasumi no tachikawaruran

Composed on the appearance of the first day of spring
The white snow of the summit of Mount Yoshino—when will it vanish?
and when will the first spring morning mist swell with magic?
Minamoto no Shigeyuki (????-1000)
uchi nabiki haru ha kinikeri yamakawa no iha ma no tsurara kefu ya tokuran

Composed on the heart of moved by New Years day, upon reading the Hundred Poem collection from the reign of Retired Emperor Horikawa
The plants' branches have grown long, spring has come; the mountain rivers are yet
frozen between the rocks, but will they, perhaps, thaw today
Official In Charge of Palace Repairs Fujiwara no Akisue (1055-1113)
kurahashi no yama no kahi yori haru kasumi toshi wo tsumite ya tachi waruran

Composed at the Emperor's palace at the poetry meet of the fourth year of Tentoku
From within the narrows of Yamato's mountains, the spring mists seem to
accumulate the years, swell, and spill out over the land
Middle Counsellor Fujiwara no Asatada (910-966)
furusato ha haru mekinikeri miyoshino no mikaki no hara mo kasumi kometari

Same as previous poem
Since the ancient times treasured Yoshino that seemed like spring
even the Imperial villa filled with mist
Taira no Kanemori (????-990)
asa midori kasameru sora no keshiki ni ya tokiha no yama ha haru wo shiruran
Same as previous poem
From the hue of the pale green of the misty sky about the mountains,
who live eternally, cannot one see that spring draws nigh?
Major General Kinnori's mother4 (????-????)
toshigoto ni kaharanu mono ha harugasumi tatsuta no yama no keshikinarikeri

Same as previous poem
Each and every year, completely without fail, the spring mists do swell,
seeming to have risen up around Tatsuta Mountain
Courtier Fujiwara no Akisuke (1090-1155)
aratama no toshi no hajime ni furishikeba hatsu yuki to koso ifu bekaruran

On honorably watching the snow fall in the first month of the year
As it is falling all about at the beginning of the new year
is it not right for us to call it the “the first snow”?
Official In Charge of Palace Repairs Fujiwara no Akisue (1055-1113)
asa to akete haru no kozue no yuki mireba hatsu hana tomo ya ifu bekaruran

Upon opening the door in the morning and seeing spring treetops
covered in snow could not one say, “Indeed! The first flowers!”
Steward to the Crown Prince Fujiwara Kinzane (1043-1107)
1A makurakotoba for spring
2A makurakotoba for the first state of Japan (Yamato)
3A makurakotoba for mist
4The Kin'yô wakashû is the only anthology to contain her work