Just Living: Poems and Prose by the Japanese Monk Tonna

Just Living: Poems and Prose by the Japanese Monk Tonna

Just Living: Poems and Prose by the Japanese Monk Tonna

Just Living: Poems and Prose by the Japanese Monk Tonna

Excerpt

One wonders what sort of answer one would get from Japanese scholars today to the question of who was the finest poet of the Japanese uta form. The mid—Edo period poet-scholar Mushanokōflji Sanekage was unequivocal about the subject: “One should continually ponder the masterworks of the poets of the past,” he said, “and among these it is the poems of Tonna most of all that one should continually savor.”

Of course, Sanekage was not a modern reader. In fact, he was probably not thinking about readers at all, modern or otherwise, when he made his comment, but rather about young poets—producers rather than merely consumers of the art. That he chose not an earlier master such as Saigyō or Fujiwara no Shunzei or his son Teika but Tonna (1289— 1372) is noteworthy, however, especially when one realizes how neglected the works of Tonna have been by mainstream Japanese scholarship. The modern Japanese academic establishment has concentrated so much on earlier periods of literature that poets writing after the Shinkokin age (1180–1225) have generally gotten short shrift. It is also true that Tonna has often been attacked simply because he was a conspicuous . . .

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