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Gendering the Court Woman Poet: Pedigree and Portrayal in Fukuro zōshi

From: Monumenta Nipponica
Volume 67, Number 2, 2012
pp. 201-238 | 10.1353/mni.2012.0017

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In the Kennin 建仁 1 (1201) section of Ienaga nikki 家長日記, Minamoto Ienaga 源 家長 (1170?-1234) relates that the former sovereign Go-Toba 後鳥羽 "would often lament that there were not many women poets around these days." Of the few court women who had been known as poets, Ienaga continues, most had retired, and Go-Toba regretted that "once these elderly ladies passed away the day of the woman poet would be past." After noting that Go-Toba's concern about this matter "had become a bit tiresome to listen to," Ienaga recounts that Go-Toba later invited several younger women, among them Shunzei-kyō no Musume 俊成卿女 (ca. 1175?-1250?), Echizen 越前 (?-1249?), and Kunaikyō 宮内卿 (ca. 1185-ca. 1204), to court to take part in its many poetic activities.

Go-Toba's search for court women poets raises several questions. First and most fundamentally, why had the former sovereign felt their presence to be significant- that is, what did he feel women brought to his poetic salon that their male contemporaries alone perhaps did not? When Go-Toba spoke of the passing of the "day of the woman poet," what qualities of poetry or poetic practice did he fear would be lost with her that he wished to recover or at least to preserve? Based on their sex, Go-Toba seems to anticipate some distinctiveness in the poetic skills of women, or perhaps some difference in the manner in which those skills were exercised, so that court waka practice would be somehow poorer for their absence.

Second, why did Go-Toba choose to bring to his court those three women poets rather than others; what besides their relative youth recommended them? Ienaga himself provides the beginnings of the answer to this question when he mentions another woman poet, Shichijō no In no Dainagon 七条院大納言 (n.d.), who "despite the poetic pedigree on both sides of her family" did not live up to this promise. As Ienaga goes on to remark, both Echizen and Kunaikyō were of distinguished pedigree; Echizen belonged to the Ōnakatomi 大中臣 lineage of poets, and Kunaikyō, too, could claim at least two generations of ancestors whose compositions had been included in royal anthologies. Moreover, although neither Go-Toba nor Ienaga remarks on the fact-perhaps it went without saying-Shunzei-kyō no Musume was the granddaughter (daughter by adoption) of Fujiwara Shunzei 藤原俊成 (1114-1204), patriarch of the Mikohidari 御子左 poetic house.

The confluence of these two concerns in Ienaga nikki -an expectation of some special contribution from the poet based on her gender, and the importance of poetic lineage-hints at the complex, even seemingly contradictory ways in which the image of the court woman poet was being constructed in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries as the increasing professionalism in waka practice culminated in the formation of poetic houses. To explore this construction of the court woman poet as distinct from her male peer, this article steps back half a century from Go-Toba's time to focus on the portrayal of the court woman poet in Fukuro zōshi 袋草紙, compiled by Fujiwara (Rokujō 六条) Kiyosuke 清輔 (1104-1177), the third-generation leader of the Rokujō poetic house, and presented to Emperor Nijō 二条 (r. 1158-1165) in 1159. Specifically, we will examine the ambivalence exhibited by this text regarding the place of women poets in court waka practice. On one hand, Kiyosuke recognizes women as outstanding members of court poetic circles and representatives of important poetic lineages, pointing to them as precursors for the status and recognition he felt were appropriate for the Rokujō house and for himself in particular. At the same time, he records anecdotes that attribute to these women an expressive power that is gendered female and that appears to be simultaneously admired, feared, and desired by the male court poet. In a period when poetic events in the court and especially rear court (i.e., women's quarters), in which female poets had once been so active, had diminished in number, Fukuro zōshi captures the increasingly ambiguous place of women in the emerging professionalized order of poetic houses.

Court women were active as authors of prose works from at least the tenth century and as poets from several centuries earlier. This...



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