The Manyoshu, consisting of works created from 625-750s
compiled c. 758
4,516 poems, varying lengths and styles, though 4,200 are in the tanka
(short verse) or the 31 syllable form (5-7-5-7-7), also known as the waka or "Japanese verse"
MYS poems feature "a simply clarity, a pure lyrical impulse"and can
be seen as the first flowering of an artistic and literary sensibility in Japan.
(See Ian Hideo Levy, The Ten Thousand Leaves, Princeton, 1981). Says
The Manyoshu is a chorus of lyrical voices born out of a tradition
of ritual verbal art that stretches back into Japan's preliterate centuries,
back into myth itself.
Another critic observes,
...I think we can say that the poems of the Manyoshu represent
the sparks thrown off by the combustion of the human spirit in early times.
The men and women who produced these poems probably had very little consciousness
of literary genres and, in most cases, did not give any deep thought to
what sort of social function their works might fulfill. They simply found
themselves with a kind of rush of feeling that demanded expression.
They were possessed by something that welled up from deep within them.Therefore,
their works, although they may at times be rather naive and artless in expression,
have a sense of realness and urgency about them--they are fashioned out
of actual flesh and bone. (Ikeda Daisaku)
Poems, or uta in Japanese, are both public and private, personal utterances.
The age of the MYS was the age of the establishment of the Japanese monarchy,
so many of the early poems were public in nature, what Levy calls a "patterned,
ritual evocation of the sacredness of the Yamato land," something it was
incumbent on the monarch, who was also the high priest of Shinto, to ennuciate
SEE the PDF "Manyoshu.pdf" on WISE for a few selected poems
One of the better known "Manyo" poets is Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro.
Although not much is known about him, he wrote the following when Emperor Temmu
ascended the throne after defeating his rivals in a brief conflict knows as
the Jinshin War:
a very god,
has turned the fields
where red steeds wandered
into his capital city.
a very god,
has turned the marshes
where nested flocks of waterfowl
into his capital city.
But he also composed more personal poems of longing like:
In the autumn mountains
The colored leaves are falling
If I could hold them back,
I could still see her.
This morning I will not
Comb my hair.
It has lain
Pillowed in the hands of my lover.
The colored leaves
Have hidden the paths
Of the autumn mountain.
How can I find my girl,
Wandering on ways I do not know?
Or, when ending a long poem (choka) on the death of his wife, he writes,
I struggled up here,
kicking the rocks part,
but it did no good;
my wife, whom I thought
was of this world,
Toward the Kokinshu
So, the scene is set even in the MYS for Japanese poetry to come full-circle,
from a fresh, naive, ritual expression, to a specifically aesthetic vision outside
the boundaries of ritual. (Levy) A century and a half after the appearence of
the MYS, in the early 900s, much had changed both politically and linguistically
in Japan; the poetic sensibility had evolved to be more self-conscious, more
refined and more complex in its subjectiveness.
In other words, poetic truth as it comes to be expressed in the Kokinshu
(905)--the next major poetic anthology--is not so much something "out there"
that poets proclaim in public, but more a construct of the poet's thoughts and
emotions, what the poet him or herself articulates the truth to be. So, in this
sense, it is a fairly "modern" style of poetic sensibility. At the
least, it is something with which we moderns can feel fairly comfortable.