Anthology of Japanese Literature, from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Anthology of Japanese Literature, from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Anthology of Japanese Literature, from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Anthology of Japanese Literature, from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Excerpt

Japanese literature has about as long a history as English literature, and contains works in as wide a variety of genres as may be found in any country. It includes some of the world's longest novels and shortest poems, plays which are miracles of muted suggestion and others filled with the most extravagant bombast. It is, in short, a rich literature which deserves better understanding and recognition.

It is not the purpose of this brief introduction to give a history of Japanese literature ; I shall attempt instead to trace some of the developments linking the works included in this anthology. Most of the selections are prefaced by introductory remarks giving specific information on details of composition, etc., and it is hoped that the reader will consult them as the occasion requires.

The earliest surviving Japanese book is the "Kojiki," or "Record of Ancient Matters," completed in 712 A.D. It is clear, however, that there were books before that date, as well as a considerable body of songs and legends such as are found in every country. Some of this oral literature is preserved in the "Kojiki" and elsewhere, but much of it must certainly have perished, in view of the failure of the Japanese to develop independently a means of recording their language. It is interesting, if essentially fruitless, to speculate what course Japanese literature might have taken if the Japanese had devised their own script or had first come in contact with a foreign nation which had an alphabet. It was in fact the widespread adoption of Chinese culture, including the wholly unsuitable Chinese method of writing, which was to determine the course of Japanese literature over the centuries.

In the Ancient Period, if so we may designate Japanese history up to the establishment of the capital at Kyoto in 794, the important . . .

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