Poetic Wordplay

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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 Em...

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...h is why so many of the poems in this volume deal with the haunting memory of a past relationship that a poet is clinging to through his or her writing.

Works Cited

Keene, Donald. Anthology of Japanese Literature, From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century. New York: Grove Press. 1955 Print.

Keene, Donald. Sources of Japanese Tradition: Volume 1: From Earliest Times to 1600. New York: Columbia University Press. Print. 2002.

Morrow, Avery. “The Undecipherable Poem, No. 9 of the Manyoshu”. 2004. Web. http://avery.morrow.name/studies/manyoshu

Nakamura, Dr. Hisashi. “Ten Thousand Leaves”. Tanka Society. 2009. Web. http://www.tankasociety.com/Tanka%20booklet%20Final%202.pdf

Reiser, Gary. “FormForAll—Manyoshu Poetry”. Dversepoets.com 2011. Web. http://dversepoets.com/2011/11/03/formforall-manyoshu-poetry-hosted-today-by-jane-kohut-bartels-lady-nyo/
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