restricted access Ashikawa Obune
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115 ASHIWAKE OBUNE Motoori Norinaga | 1756 [Written when Norinaga was only twenty-­ six, he sets forth his feelings on poetry, which remain rather constant throughout his life. Framed in a common question and answer format, Norinaga articulates that poetry is written from feelings found in the heart of all creatures. When people put on airs, they begin to stifle the heart, which leads to poetic composition losing its emotional effect. Flueckiger (2010:185) notes that this essay centers on “the complexity of the notion of genuiness” in one’s emotions expressed through poetry.] Question: Waka is something that aids in governing the state, not something that should recklessly be used as entertainment. And that is why the preface to Kokinshū says much the same. What do you think of this reasoning? Answer: Your reasoning is mistaken. The essence of waka is not to aid the government, nor govern the individual, but is nothing more than expressions of thoughts in the heart. There are some poems that may aid the government, and others that may become precepts for an individual’s life. There are also some that harm the government, and others that are perilous to the individual. That is because all poetry is produced according to the emotions of the poet. Poetry can be used whenever one wants: for evil, for good, for pleasure, for anxiety, when inspired, when overjoyed, or when angered. If the poem expresses well the feelings of the poet, and uses profoundly rich words, then it moves the spirits and kami to emotion. If one twists the interpretation of the meaning of the preface of Kokinshū, then you can reach the conclusion noted [in the question], but the preface should not be interpreted to mean such. The phrase in the preface, “Anciently the hearts of the people were unsophisticated, and they only used poetry to govern the individual”1 does not explain the original essence of song. It merely describes the hearts and minds of the ancient people. The author thought that people [in that day] used poetry only for love, so he phrased it that way, lamenting the decline of Japanese song, it having become a tool for people to use only for amour. 1. McCullough (1985:256). 116 Views on Poetry Song originally was used for both good and evil. Regardless, the reason there are few songs written to instruct people, but numerous poems written about love, is because this is the intrinsic nature of song. There is nothing that stirs the feelings of the heart as strongly as the feelings of love experienced between a man and a woman. All people without exception desire the realization of this experience, so it is only natural that there should be many love poems. There are few wise people in this world, however, who seek only for the good, strictly governing themselves , putting rules above all else, so there are few poems on the subject. Also, there are few people seeking only evil, meaning there are few poems on that subject. It is common sense that there are many poems composed about the emotions felt at a certain moment, irrespective of good and evil, doctrine or precepts, because poetry is composed according to the natural feelings of the average person. The feelings of the average person in society are such that they seek pleasure, loathe distress, while everyone enjoys pleasure, and is saddened by sorrow. People simply compose poetry like this according to their natural feelings. If one composes a poem with a wicked heart, he will create a wicked poem. If one composes a poem with the feelings of romantic love, she will compose a romantic poem. If one composes a poem with the feelings of virtue, then he will compose a virtuous poem. Therefore , there is no other reason for saying that song cannot be placed in one limited definition. If one wishes to express true feelings, then that person should compose poetry with true feelings. If one wishes to express falsehood, then compose a poem with pretended feelings. If one wishes to compose a poem with flowery words, then compose the poem as one pleases, with flowery words. Let each poet do as he pleases. Thus, this is how one obtains the true feelings of a person. Question: If poetry is something broadly composed as one feels, then why set up so many poetic restrictions, and add so many bothersome rules? If things are as you have just stated, then one should not...


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