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  • Haikai Poet Yosa Buson and the Bashō Revival
  • Roger K. Thomas
Haikai Poet Yosa Buson and the Bashō Revival. By Cheryl A. Crowley. Leiden: Brill, 2006. x + 310 pages. Hardcover $99.00/€79.00.

Many who have placed Yosa Buson (1716–1783)—along with Matsuo Bashō (1644– 1694) and Kobayashi Issa (1763–1827)—in the conventional triumviral pantheon of early modern haikai are surprised to discover that his apotheosis was relatively recent, the result of Masaoka Shiki's (1867–1902) rediscovery and reevaluation of the bunjin poet's work. And yet, that Buson was no mere epigone of Bashō is amply attested by the many fine studies that have been devoted to him, a corpus to which Cheryl Crowley's scholarship is a solid addition.

To a far greater extent than previous work, this study focuses on Buson's relations with his readership and with the patrons of his painting, two groups that often over-lapped. This emphasis is intentional; drawing on Lucy Newlyn's theory, Crowley maintains in the introduction that Buson was beset by an "anxiety of reception" rather than by the "anxiety of influence" that Harold Bloom so famously described in his book of the same name. She describes Bloom's "anxiety of influence" as affecting "'strong' poets," who "are said to be engaged in a struggle to overcome the legacy of their poetic predecessors" (p. 4). In his book, Bloom in fact characterizes strong poets as those who overcome the anxiety and go on to "wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the death"; he contrasts strong poets of this sort to weak ones, such as "Oscar Wilde, who knew he had failed as a poet because he lacked strength to overcome his anxiety of influence" (Harold Bloom, Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 5–6). Through this slight misreading of Bloom (whose theory is in any case not central to her study), Crowley unintentionally lauds [End Page 193] Buson as a "strong" poet even on Bloom's terms, for she demonstrates persuasively how he overcame the "anxiety of influence" from Bashō's work even while he contributed so richly to its revival.

Chapter 1 describes the social and literary context of the revival, beginning with the evolution of the bunjin ideal over the generation preceding Buson. A major point of intersection between the revival and the bunjin ideal was "the contempt for ambition and profit that was common to both" (p. 17), a topic emphasized throughout this study and a compelling feature of the portrait it paints of Buson. The historical background continues with a description of the various stages of Bashō's style, moving from the early sinophile compositions to the karumi, or "lightness," of his late verses, the shifts giving rise to competing factions among his successors. The study characterizes the legacies of these factions leading up to the revival, tracing its genesis to the 1731 publication of the collection Ink of Five Colors (Goshikizumi) and to the collection's preface, which is a sort of manifesto. Crowley sees the revival as in no small measure a reaction against the crass commercialization of tentori, or "point scoring," a practice that reformers claimed had lowered artistic standards.

Chapters 2 through 4 consist of a biographical treatment of Buson, the primary emphasis being on his literary associations and on the evolution of his poetic style from his discipleship under Hayano Hajin (1676–1742) through his assumption of the headship of Hajin's school, the Yahantei, in his later years. In addition to copiously documented biographical details, these chapters include materials from a variety of sources that illustrate Buson's relationships with teachers, students, and patrons. Throughout, Crowley emphasizes the communal nature of haikai composition; the group "afforded a sense of identity and allegiance," and as a result, "the anxiety of reception was always at the heart of haikai practice, as the very nature of the genre meant that poets were keenly aware of their position within a larger community of fellow writer-readers" (p. 58). The book describes Buson's literary relations with such contemporaries as Miyake Shōzan (1718–1801), Tan Taigi (1709–1771...


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