How Is Love Portrayed in Japanese Literature?
When we think poetry, we think love. When we think Japanese, we think nature. How about when we think Japanese poetry, then? Both love and the four seasons are interrelated topics in Japanese poetry. One of the earliest collections of Japanese poetry is the Man’yōshū, which dates back to 758 AD. Then, in chronological order, appeared several other types: Kokinshū, Haikai, Hokku and modern Tanka. The emphasis on the topic of love has varied in degree in Japanese poetry since Man’yōshū reaching to modern thirty-one syllable Tanka.
In Japanese poetry, the four seasons were used as metaphors of expressing love, making love and the four seasons two unified themes. This correlation is greatly manifested in Man’yōshū. The following is an excerpt of a poem written by Empress Iwa no Hime (347) where the death of love is metaphorically manifested as winter, which is the season of death.
Just as I am
I shall wait for my Lord
Till on my black hair,
The frost shall fall.
Later, in the dawn of the tenth century, the prominence of the theme of the four seasons rises up to the level of that of love making both topics even more dependent upon each other. Love becomes of intense importance on the formation of the seasonal poetry in Kokinshū. Later on, during the seventeenth century, we witness shrinkage in the impact of the theme of love in comparison to that of the four seasons in Haikai, until it completely disappears in Hokku. Finally, in modern thirty-one syllable Tanka, the theme of love comes back to becoming the major independent theme which is not associated with seasons.
Japanese poetry is a very broad sea through which you would experience a great wave of beauty. The art of metaphorical resemblance of love in seasons and vice versa makes our minds marvel about what we read. Even though the nature and love are perceived as two different themes, they are beautifully interdependent in most of Japanese poetry, leaving us unable to disregard one of them when talking about the other.
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