- Readings from the Bamboo GroveA Translation of Sōgi’s Oi no Susami (Part 1)
The place of Sōgi 宗祇 (1421–1502) in literary history is secure. The first of the professional masters of renga (linked verse), he was a major force in literary affairs for more than three decades and established patterns of poetic practice and aesthetic values that would prevail for more than a century.1 Furthermore, it was Sōgi’s artistic lineage, from Sōseki 宗碩 (1474–1533) to Satomura Jōha 里村紹巴 (1524–1602), that remained at the center of renga culture until the beginning of the Edo period and beyond.
Sōgi’s origins are somewhat obscure, but we know that as a young man he entered one of Kyoto’s premier Zen temples, Shōkokuji 相国寺; that by his thirties, having evidently opted out of a clerical career, he was active in renga circles; and that he studied under the chief masters of the time, first Takayama Sōzei 高山宗砌 (d. 1455) and then Senjun 専順 (1411–1476) and Shinkei 心敬 (1406–1475).2 Sōgi enters the textual record in 1457, when he contributed ten verses at a renga gathering, showing that he was already a figure of great promise. Like many other artists, he spent a good deal of time on the road visiting patrons and plying his trade, especially during the Ōnin 応仁 War of 1467–1477, which laid waste to most of Kyoto. By this time he was a master in his own right, busily building his own roster of patrons and disciples and establishing the social and literary foundation that would support him for the next quarter century. [End Page 1]
Yet it is also true that Sōgi was not like the other towering literary figures of the fifteenth century—Shinkei, Shōtetsu 正徹 (1381–1459), and Zeami 世阿弥 (1363–1443)—in that he did not write anything as theoretically focused as Shinkei’s Sasamegoto ささめごと (Whisperings; 1463) and Shōtetsu monogatari 正徹物語 (Conversations with Shōtetsu; 1448–1450) or Zeami’s critical essays.3 Sōgi’s critical writings, and he left at least a dozen, are mostly pedagogical in nature, revealing the mind of a teacher rather than a theorist. This is even true, the standard sources say, of his most acclaimed essay, Oi no susami 老のすさみ (A Solace in Old Age; 1479). Still, in the comments on links that comprise the heart of that seminal text Sōgi comes as close as he ever does to revealing his own aesthetic priorities and situating himself in relation to his own teachers, especially Sōzei and Shinkei, and to the larger poetic tradition in which he operated. This article will present an introduction to Oi no susami as a statement of Sōgi’s poetics, followed by a complete, annotated translation.4
Prelude: The Compilation of Chikurinshō
The logical place to begin an examination of Oi no susami is with what immediately preceded it in Sōgi’s career, namely, his compilation of an anthology of linked verse honoring the poets of the previous generation. Scholars agree that Sōgi began gathering materials for the anthology in about 1466, and we know that he finished the project in the fifth month of 1476, when records tell us he traveled from his home in Kyoto to the old capital at Nara to ask his friend and patron Ichijō Kaneyoshi 一条兼良 (1402–1481) to pen a preface for the work.5 The name Sōgi chose for the anthology, a large collection of 1,549 tsukeku 付句 (two-verse “links”) and 288 hokku 発句 (initiating verses) by seven prominent commoner renga poets of Kaneyoshi’s generation, was Chikurinshō 竹林抄 (Leaves from a Bamboo Grove). Such titles often contained allusions, and the reference in this one, obviously, was to the group of Chinese recluses of the Jin dynasty (265–420) known as the “seven sages of the bamboo grove.” Sōgi’s intentions in compiling the anthology were equally obvious: he wanted to add to his already growing reputation in the literary world of Kyoto,6 honor his teachers and a few others of their generation, and create a canonical text for his own students and for ages to come...