Sunday, December 28, 2008

Right and wrong in poetry

Hanazono, the 95th emperor of Japan, began his reign 700 years ago today (according to Wikipedia’s 28 December listing). However, after only 10 years he abdicated, and focused his attention on religious and literary matters. He also wrote a diary. Although there is very little information about him or his diary in English, there are a couple of extracts from the diary online, and these demonstrate a keen interest in music and poetry.

According to Wikipedia, Tomihito-shinnō was born on 14 August 1297, and died on 2 December 1348. He was the fourth son of the 92nd Emperor Fushimi, and belonged to the Jimyōin-tō branch of the Imperial Family. He became Emperor Hanazono after the abdication of his second cousin, the Emperor Go-Nijō. His reign as emperor started exactly seven centuries ago according to Wikipedia’s event listing for this day of the year. (Of course, such exact dates from so long ago can only be tied down to the Gregorian calendar with much approximation.)

During Hanazono’s reign, both his brother and father, the retired-Emperor Fushimi, are said to have exerted influence as cloistered emperors. And the reign was marked by negotiations with another family line that claimed the throne and the Bakufu (military). An agreement to alternate the throne every 10 years between the two lines (the so-called Bumpō Agreement) was broken by Emperor Go-Daigo, Hanzono’s second cousin, who took over when Hanazono abdicated in 1318.

In 1335, Hanazono became a Buddhist monk of the Zen sect. He was considered very religious, never failing to miss prayers to the Amitabha Buddha. He was also literate, and is said to have excelled at tanka, a kind of poetry. He left behind a diary, Wikipedia says, called Hanazono Tennō Shinki (Imperial Chronicles of the Flower Garden Temple). There is very little information about this diary online and in English, but a couple of books, viewable on Googlebooks, use short extracts.

Sacred Gardens and Landscapes: Ritual and Agency by Michel Conan says this: ‘Emperor Hanazono describes in his diary an imperial progress in the fourth month of 1320; on this occasion, when the imperial party boarded two boats and played music in them under the moonlight, as the parties rowed around the lake, he observes that ‘the sounds of the wind and string instruments and the water’s voice from the waterfall filled our ears’. ’

Another quote from Hanazono Tennō Shinki can be found in Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a Combinatory Paradigm, edited by Mark Teeuwen and Fabio Rambelli. However, it comes (slightly modified) from another book Kyogoku Tamekane: Poetry and Politics in Late Kamakura Japan by Robert N Huey.

‘Ordinary people do not understand these religious truths. Tameyo, who claims the main descent from Shunzei and Teika, has no idea of such things. They just made no impression on him. He jealously holds to the six modes of poetry and cannot see the true meaning of the art. Yet most of the world follows him, and the true Way of Poetry is gradually being abandoned . . . In recent years I have met with the holy man of Sōko and learned the tenets of religion. I have also met with Shinsō Hōnin and heard doctrines of Tendai. I have perused the Five Classics and have come to understand the doctrine of Confucianism. With this knowledge I have thought anew about the Way of Poetry. Truly the distinction between right and wrong in poetry is like that between heaven and earth.’

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