restricted access Isonokami Sasamegoto
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180 ISONOKAMI SASAMEGOTO Motoori Norinaga | 1763 [Written several years after Ashiwake obune, Isonokami sasamegoto further delineates Norinaga’s ideas about poetry and literature. In this essay he introduces his theory that mono no aware underpins poetry and literature, and the best literature is that which depicts the true state of human emotions. He criticizes scholars who see morality or ethics as the driving force in literature, and thus censured works like Genji monogatari. The draft was completed around 1763, but was not published until after his death. I have only translated a portion of Chapter 1. He begins by defining “poetry” as a song that must have two components: true emotion and artfully arranged words. By doing this, the person unlocks emotions within his/her heart, known as mono no aware. Literature is important, because it depicts two types of people: those who understand mono no aware and those who do not.] A person once asked me, “Exactly what is poetry?” I answered that in a broad sense, it begins with verse in thirty-­one syllables, and everything like kagura,1 saibara,2 linked verse, imayō,3 fuzoku,4 narrated drama like Heike monogatari and sarugaku, contemporary songs like satirical poetry, haikai, ballads, puppet songs, and the popular songs children recite all belong to the category called poetry. Anything with expressions that are artful and beautiful can be classified as poetry. Within this broad classification, there is a difference between ancient and contemporary, elegant and base, but each one is still considered poetry. Therefore, the songs of comfort composed by the uneducated women of the provinces are also classified as poetry . In other words, this is true poetry. The so-­ called thirty-­ one-­ syllable verse is the poetry of the ancient Japanese . Ballads and popular songs are the poetry of contemporary Japanese. They are both poetry, and the reason the style varies [as much as it does] is because of changes over time. 1. The Encyclopedia of Shintō states, “Kagura is a sacred artistic rite performed when making an offering to the kami. Usually performed annually or even less frequently, the kami is invited (kanjō) to occupy the sacred area and is worshiped with performances of music, song and dance” (Inoue et al. 1999:283). 2. Saibara is a form of song performed among the nobility, which appears to have begun as folk music in the Nara period. 3. Imayō is a four-­ stanza form of poetry popular during the Heian period. 4. Like saibara, fuzoku are songs from the provinces that were eventually incorporated into songs sung by the nobility at court. NORINAGA | Isonokami sasamegoto181 Ancient poetry excelled in elegant words and refined meaning. Contemporary ballads and popular songs employ vulgar words and tasteless meaning, which destroys the beauty; this is the difference. Thus, the distinction between ancient and contemporary, and elegant and base is pronounced , and it may appear that they are not even the same thing; however , it cannot be said that any one of these forms does not belong to the classification of poetry. Therefore, songs made up by children are also considered to be poetry. Uta has continued unbroken, handed down from the divine age till the present, and naturally it has never lost its original appellation of “song.” The state of poetry, its word usage and meaning, has changed from era to era, but its nature and spirit have not changed from the poetry of the divine age down to the popular ballads of today. I will explain this in greater detail later. Not only human beings, but beasts and fowl are all endowed with emotions and lift up their voices to sing. The preface to Kokinshū says, “The song of the warbler among the blossoms, the voice of the frog dwelling in the water—these teach us that every living creature sings.”5 With their carefully arranged voices, and their natural artifact,6 birds and insects, also, produce poetry. The thirty-­ one-­ syllable song of the warbler and the frog are recorded in the preface of Kokinshū, and these were produced by poets fond of such things. Why can creatures create human poetry? A warbler produces warbler songs; a frog produces frog songs; the various songs of the living creatures become their “poetry.” Thus, every creature existing in this world possesses its own form of song. A certain tradition says, “Poetry was prepared for every creature based upon the principle of the way things should be from the creation of heaven and...


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