Role of Poetry in Heian Narrative Prose

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Poetry has a long history in both Western and Eastern literature. As an art form, it is thought to even pre-date the written word (“Poetry,” n.d.). Some argue that the role of Eastern poetry, specifically Japanese, differs from that of the West because in Japan it is meant to capture a moment of emotion whereas Western literature is meant to describe an emotion. Nonetheless, poetry plays an extensive role in new and old Japanese society—some of the earliest written texts and the most important were poem anthologies. In the Heian period, the role of poetry reflected its real life matchmaking role; that is, it was a reflection of the romanticism an individual, which was considered an important factor in their suitability for marriage. Also, poetry was a mark of social sophistication—those who could create and reference the classics were thought of as very refined. This was further narrowed down in the narrative prose of the era which was frequently romantic: poetic ability was a much more important factor than physical appearance, and the poems themselves would strengthen the relationship in the same way a modern-day date would.

To understand poetry’s role in narrative prose, you first must understand its significance to society as a whole. Poetry, and the ability to create poetry, was a highly-regarded value in Heian society. The Japanese originally had no writing system prior to Chinese influence and, like the ancient Hawaiians, traditionally relied on oral histories. Chinese, like Latin in the West, was considered the language of academics and was the foundation of men’s academics (Gerber, 2007). Additionally with the introduction of kanji, “the ancient songs of the oral tradition… could now be put down on paper (“Ha...

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Works Cited

1. Gerber, M. (2007, May). The importance of poetry in Japanese Heian-era romantic relationships. Retrieved from;jsessionid=0B8B75B5AAFE25DC605B846EA3CC3F86?sequence=1

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3. Joseph, L. (2004). Heian poetry jam: the poetic and social history of waka. Retrieved from

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5. Shikibu, I. (n.d.). The diary of Izumi Shikibu. Retrieved from

6. Waka. (n.d.). Retrieved from
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