The Role of Poetry in Narrative Prose of the Heian Period

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From 794 C.E. to 1184 C.E., the Heian era was widely known for its ground breaking art, poetry, prose, and other forms of literature; most of which was contributed by the imperial court. Of the different types of literature that came from the Heian era, nikki, monogatari, and setsuwa are used as prime examples today of traditional Japanese literature. Despite being different forms of literature, different subjects, and of different lengths, most authors applied applied poetry within nikki, monogatari, and setsuwa and used poetry as a means to embellish the pieces. Monogatari, translated as ‘talk of things,’ are a retelling of folk stories, myths, romantic stories, etc as prose. Famous monogatari include Genji Monogatari, Heike Monogatari, Ise Monogatari and Taketori Monogatari to name just a few. Among the monogatari, there are various genres, such as uta monogatari, reikishi monogatari, tsukuri monogatari, and uta monogatari, gunki monogatari, setsuwa monogatari, and giko monogatari. Each different genre of monogatari pertained to subjects like romance, folk lore, historical narratives, stories about war, and more. Although an important part of Japanese literature, monogatari were not popular during the Heian era. Typically written in what was at the time the new Japanese character, kana, monogatari was associated with women. This was particularly because women were looked down upon and were not educated in Chinese, what was formerly considered a scholarly and upper class language to the Japanese. For example, Lady Murasaki Shikibu, a member of the court, wrote the renowned Genji Monogatari. Authors of other monogatari such as the Ise Monogatari are never known. Monogatari were written in prose, however, many authors included... ... middle of paper ... ...ons. Much of Japan’s valued traditional literature came about during the Heian era, despite many of its literary forms being under-appreciated at that time. Not all of the authors used poems in their pieces, however, for those of whom who did, the poems were used as an extension of a character’s emotions and beliefs. Actions could have easily expressed the character, however, during a time as peaceful as the Heian era, expressing one’s self through literary form was of higher value and esteem. Some works may have been embellished with poems than others; however, both literature with and without poetry would later influence other forms of Japanese art and literature in the future. Works Cited Keene, Donald. Anthology of Japanese Literature, from the Earliest Era to the Mid- nineteenth Century. New York: Grove, 1955. Print Class handouts from Laulima
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