Love Poetry in the Hyakunin Isshu

February 6, 2012

Tale of Genji 2

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it seems appropriate to post some of the many love poems from the Hyakunin Isshu. So, starting tomorrow, I’ll post one poem a day until the 14th.

The Hyakunin Isshu has two very popular topics frequently used in poetry: love poems and seasonal poems. While seasonal poems have been frequently posted here, love poetry probably comprises the majority of poems in the anthology. There are many reasons for this:

  1. Poetry was a very popular past time among the nobility of the Nara and Heian Court. Poetry contests were very common, and a skillful poem could earn high praise among Court circles, and possible promotion. Poetry topics frequently included lurid subjects such as a jilted lover, broken promises, or secret love. Poems 40 and 41 are among the best examples in the anthology.
  2. Courtship in the Nara and Heian periods frequently involved indirect exchanges between men and women. In fact, men and women rarely saw each other face to face even while flirting with each other. So, poetry was very useful medium of expression. Some of the more brilliant poems were preserved and praised by later generations.
  3. Confucian values, which were very popular even then, stressed the importance of cultivating one’s self through the arts. Naturally this included poetry.
  4. Unlike the later generations of the medieval “samurai” period, expressions of love through poetry, sadness, etc were not discouraged among men. The martial cutlure that characterized medieval Japan had not taken hold yet.

Anyhow, enjoy the next several poems, and feel free to use them on the ones you love. 🙂

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