The History of Japanese Literature :Book 2
William George Aston
C.M.G., D. Lit., Late Japanese Secretary to H.M. Legation, Tokio
Kelly & Walsh, LD., Yokohama, 1899.
※ 引用歌・文章の原文は、川村ハツエ氏訳『日本文学史』（〈かりん百番〉4 七月書房 1985.4.30）を参照。
※ 文字参照 Ō (O macron, O の長音) は、ブラウザの表示の関係で ＆Otilde; (Õ) で表した。
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BOOK THE SECOND
NARA PERIOD ¹ (EIGHTH CENTURY)
¹ I have followed the convenient Japanese practice of calling the periods of history by the names of the places which were the seat of government at the time.
I. PROSE OF THE NARA PERIOD
II. JAPANESE POETRY GENERALLY — THE “MANYÕSHIU”
（＊ NARA POETRY）
PROSE OF THE NARA PERIOD — THE “KOJIKI”
Strictly speaking, this period begins A.D. 710, when Nara was made the seat of the Mikado's government, and ends A.D. 794, when the capital was removed to Nagaoka, in the province of Yamashiro, a site which was abandoned a few years later for that of the existing city of Kiõto. For the present purpose it is sufficiently accurate to make the Nara period coincide with the eighth century.
With the establishment of the capital at Nara, the old system by which every Mikado built himself a new palace in a fresh locality was discontinued. This was not only in itself an important progressive measure, but it was an evidence of the advance in civilisation which had been made during the previous two centuries. Under the influence of Chinese political ideas, the authority of the crown had become greatly extended, the power of the hereditary local chieftains broken, and a system of government instituted under prefects who held office subject to the control of the central authority. Learning, by which in Japan is, or rather was, meant the study of the masterpieces of Chinese antiquity, had made great progress. The Mikado Tenchi (662-671) established schools, and we hear later of a university under government auspices which comprised four faculties, viz., history, the Chinese classics, law, and arithmetic.
This, it should be observed, was for the benefit of the official classes only. It was not until many centuries later that education reached the common people. There were also teachers (mostly Coreans) of painting, medicine, and the glyptic arts. The colossal bronze statue of Buddha and some remarkable sculptures in wood which are still to be seen at Nara, testify to the skill which the Japanese had then acquired in the last-named arts.
Of even greater importance was the advance in the art of architecture. This was intimately associated with Buddhism, a cult which demanded stately temples and pagodas for its due exercise. The increased authority of the court also required edifices more befitting its dignity and more in consonance with the gorgeous costumes and ceremonial adopted from China than the old one-reign palaces.
The first written book which has come down to us in the Japanese, or indeed in any Turanian tongue, is the Kojiki¹ or “Records of Ancient Matters,” which was completed A.D. 712. It contains the early traditions of the Japanese race, beginning with the myths which form the basis of the Shinto religion, and acquiring more and more of a historical character as it proceeds, until it comes to a close in A.D.628.
¹ Tranlated by B. H. Chamberlain in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 1882; vol. x., Supplement.
The Kojiki, however valuable it may be for research into the mythology, the manners, the language, and the legends of early Japan, is a very poor production, whether we consider it as literature or as a record of facts. As history it cannot compare with the Nihongi, a contemporary work in Chinese; while the language is a strange mixture of Chinese and Japanese, which there has been little attempt to endue with artistic quality. The circumstances under which it was composed are a partial explanation of the very curious style in which it is written. We are told that a man named Yasumaro, learned in Chinese, took it down from the lips of a certain Hiyeda no Are, who had such a wonderful memory that he “could repeat with his mouth whatever was placed before his eyes, and record in his heart whatever struck his ears.” Yasumaro's task was not an easy one. He himself in his preface describes his embarrassment. The phonetic syllabaries, known as the Katagana and Hirakana, which correspond to our alphabet, had not then been invented. The only choice open to him was to use the Chinese ideographic symbols, giving them their proper meaning and construction — in other words, to write pure Chinese — or to make each Chinese character represent merely the sound associated with it regardless of its meaning. The result of this latter course would be a Japanese text.
By the former method it was impossible to write down Japanese poetry, proper names, and a quantity of phrases and expressions for which there existed no adequate Chinese equivalent; while if a separate Chinese character had to be used for every syllable of the polysyllabic Japanese words, a prolixity intolerable to a mind formed by Chinese study would be the result. In this dilemma Yasumaro resorted to a compromise, and mixed up the two systems in a way which is fatal to style. Even in the same sentence we often find a purely Japanese construction interrupted by a phrase which it is impossible to consider as anything but clumsy Chinese; while, vice versâ, his Chinese contains expressions not to be understood without a knowledge of Japanese.
At the time of the compilation of the Kojiki there existed at the court of Nara a hereditary corporation of Kataribe or “reciters,” whose function it was to recite “ancient words” before the Mikado on certain solemn State occasions, such as the beginning of a new reign. Even if Yasumaro's informant was not himself a member of this order, he must have been well acquainted with the matter of their recitals, and there can be little doubt that the myths, legends, and quasi-history of the Kojiki were drawn from this source. There is no reason whatever to believe that the recitations of the Kataribe were anything but prose. We are in possession of a considerable body of poetry belonging to this period, but none of it takes the form of narrative. It consists of lyrics, not ballads, and yields no material for history, whether true or otherwise. The annals of Japanese literature therefore give no countenance to Macaulay's theory that in the natural course of things history is preceded by ballad poetry. So far from its being true of Japan, a directly opposite process is observable. At a later period, history showed some tendency to develop into poetry. It began to be treated in an ornate, romantic fashion, and with some imperfect endeavour after metrical form.
The motley character of the language of the Kojiki of course disappears in a translation, but the following passage may give some idea of the sort of legends which form the staple of the earlier part of the work. The student of folk-lore will recognise in it one of the numerous variants of what in its Greek form is the story of Perseus and Andromeda.
The god Haya-Susa no wo, having been banished from heaven for his misdeeds, descends to earth and alights on the bank of a river in the province of Idzumo. He observes a chopstick floating down with the current:—
“His Augustness Haya-Susa no wo, thinking that there must be people living farther up the stream, went in quest of them, and found an old man and an old woman weeping, with a young maiden set between them. He asked of them, ‘Who are ye?’ The old man replied, ‘Thy servant is a deity of earth, and his name is Ashinadzuchi, son of the great God of the Mountain. My wife's name is Tenadzuchi, and my daughter is called Kushinada hime.’ He further inquired, ‘Why weep ye?’ He answered, saying, ‘I have had eight children, girls; but the eight-forked serpent of Koshi came year after year and devoured them. It is now the time of its coming, and therefore do we weep.’ ‘Describe to me this serpent,’ said Haya-Susa no wo. ‘Its eyes are as red as the winter cherry. It has one body with eight heads and eight tails. Moreover, its body is overgrown with moss, pines, and cedars. Its length extends over eight valleys and eight hills. Its belly is always all bloody and inflamed to look upon.’ Then his Augustness Haya-Susa no wo said to the old man, ‘If this be thy daughter, wilt thou give her unto me?’ ‘With reverence be it said,’ replied the old man,‘I know not thy honourable name.’ ‘I am elder brother of the Sun Goddess, and have now come down from heaven,’ replied Susa no wo. Then the deities Ashinadzuchi and Tenadzuchi said, ‘In that case, with reverence we offer her to thee.’ Haya-Susa no wo straightway took that young maiden and changed her into a many-toothed comb, which he stuck into his hair, and said to the deities Ashinadzuchi and Tenadzuchi,‘Do ye brew some saké of eight-fold strength. Also make a fence round about, and in that fence let there be eight doors, at each door let there be eight stands, on each stand let there be a saké-tub, and let each saké-tub be filled with the saké of eight-fold strength. Then wait.’ So having prepared everything in accordance with his august bidding, they waited. Then the eight-forked serpent came, indeed, as had been said, and bending down one head into each of the tubs, lapped up the saké. Hereupon it became drunken, and all the heads lay down to sleep, when straightway Haya-Susa no wo drew his ten-span sword from his girdle and slew the serpent, so that the river had its current changed to blood. Now, when he cut the middle part of the tail the edge of his august sword was broken. Wondering at this, he pierced it and split it open, when he found that within there was a great sharp sword. He took this sword, and thinking it a wonderful thing, reported his discovery to the Sun Goddess. This is the great sword Kusanagi(Herb-queller).”
In the early part of the eighth century the Japanese Government gave orders for the compilation of geographical descriptions of all the provinces. The mineral, vegetable, and animal productions wre to be noted, with the quality of the soil, the origin of the names of places, and the local traditions. Of these works only a few have reached us, the best known of which is the Idzumo Fudoki, written in 733. It contains a very few interesting legendary passages, but as a whole it consists of bald statements of fact, and must be classed with Charles Lamb's Biblia Abiblia or “Books that are No Books.” It was the forerunner of the very considerable modern topographical literature known to us as Meisho.
The only other Japanese prose compositions of this time which need be noticed are the Imperial Edicts contained in the Shoku-nihongi, a continuation (in Chinese) of the Nihongi. Their style much resembles that of the Norito. Motoöri has edited them in a separate form with a commentary.
JAPANESE POETRY GENERALLY — THE “MANYÕSHIU”
Before proceeding to an examination of the Nara poetry, it seems desirable to give an account of those characteristics of Japanese poetry generally which distinguish it in a conspicuous manner from that of Europe. Narrow in its scope and resources, it is chiefly remarkable for its limitations — for what it has not, rather than for what it hasu. In the first place there are no long poems. There is nothing which even remotely resembles an epic — no Iliad or Divina Commedia — not even a Nibelungen Lied or Chevy Chase. Indeed, narrative poems of any kind are short and very few, the only ones which I have met with being two or three ballads of a sentimental cast. Didactic, philosophical, political, and satirical poems are also conspicuously absent. The Japanese muse does not meddle with such subjects, and it is doubtful whether, if it did, the native Pegasus possesses sufficient staying power for them to be dealt with adequately. For dramatic poetry we have to wait until the fourteenth century. Even then there are no complete dramatic poems, but only dramas containing a certain poetical element.
Japanese poetry is, in short, confined to lyrics, and what, for want of a better word, may be called epigrams. It is primarily an expression of emotion. We have amatory verse, poems of longing for home and absent dear ones, praise of love and wine, elegies on the dead, laments over the uncertainty of life. A chief place is given to the beauties of external nature. The varying aspects of the seasons, the sound of purling streams, the snow on Mount Fuji, waves breaking on the beach, seaweed drifting to the shore, the song of birds, the hum of insects, even the croaking of frogs, the leaping of trout in a mountain stream, the young shoots of the fern in spring, the belling of deer in autumn, the red tints of the maple, moon, flowers, rain, wind, mist, these are among the favourite subjects which the Japanese poet delights to dwell upon. If we add some courtly and patriotic effusions, a vast number of conceits more or less pretty, and a very few poems of a religious cast, the enumeration is tolerably complete. But, as Mr. Chamberlain has observed, there are curious omissions. Sunsets and starry skies, for example, do not appear to have attracted attention. War-songs, strange to say, are almost wholly absent. Fighting and bloodshed are apparently not considered fit themes for poetry.
It is not only in its form and subject-matter that Japanese poetry is limited in its scope. The modern poet of Europe makes free use of the works of the Greek and Roman poets as models and as storehouses of poetic imagery. Much of his very language comes from the same source. But the poets of Japan have deliberately refrained from utilising in this way the only literature which was known to them. That their refinement of language and choice of subjects are in some measure due to an acquaintance with the the ancient literature of China is hardly open to question, but they allow few outward signs of it to appear. Allusions to Chinese literature and history, although not wholly absent, are unfrequent, and the use of Chinese words if strictly tabooed in all poetry of the classical type. There was a substantial reason for this prohibition. The phonetic character of the two languages is quite different. Chinese is monosyllabic; Japanese as polysyllabic as English. A Chinese syllable has far more complication and variety than those of Japanese words. It may have diphthongs, combinations of consonants and final consonants, none of which are to be found in Japanese, where every syllable consists of a single vowel or of a single consonant followed by a single vowel. It is true that the Japanese, in adopting Chinese vocables, modify them to suit their own phonetic system. But the process of assimilation is incomplete. The two elements harmonise no better than brick and stone in the same building. It was most natural, therefore, for the Japanese to refuse these half-naturalised aliens admission to the sacred precincts of their national poetry, although by so doing they sacrificed much in fulness and variety of expression, and deprived themselves of a copious store of illustration and allusion to which their prose writers resort even too freely.
The acknowledged euphony and ease of pronunciation of the Japanese language is greatly owing to that property of the syllable which has just been described. Even a reader who knows no Japanese may appreciate the euphonic quality of the following:—
Nushi naki yado to
Nokiba no ume yo
Haru wo wasuruna.”¹
¹ The initial i
“When I am gone away,
Masterless my dwelling
Though it become —
Oh! plum tree by the eaves,
Forget not thou the spring.”
But it is at the same time a source of weakness. It makes smooth versification almost a matter of course, but it also renders impossible much variety or force of rhythm. The Japanese poet can hardly do otherwise than obey Pope's precept:—
“Then all your Muse's softer art display,
Let Carolina smooth the tuneful lay,
Lull with Amelia's liquid name the line.”
The whole language is composed of words made up, like Carolina and Amelia, of syllables with open vowels preceded by single consonants or none. Nor is he under any temptation to
“Rend with tremendous sound your ears asunder
With gun, drum, trumpet, blunderbuss, and thunder.”
His phonetic resources simply will not admit of it. Pope further advises that
“When loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse rough verse should like a torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labours and the words move slow.”
But it is vain for the Japanese poet to strive to adopt this counsel. With a language like the old Japanese it is only within the narrowest limits that it is possible to make the sound an echo to the sense. It is probably in some measure to the want of variety of rhythm which results from this quality that the preference of the national genius for short poems is due.
The mechanism of Japanese verse is simple in the extreme. Unlike Chinese, it has no rhyme, a want which is plainly owing to the nature of the Japanese syllable described above. As every syllable ends in a vowel, and as there are only five vowels, there could only be five rhymes, the constant reiteration of which would be intolerably monotonous.
In the Japanese poetical language all the vowels are of the same length, so that quantity, such as we find in the poetry of Greece and Rome, is unknown. Nor is there any regular succession of accented and unaccented syllables as in the poetry of modern Europe, the Japanese laying hardly any greater stress on one part of a word than on another. In short, the only thing in the mechanism of Japanese poetry which distinguishes it from prose is the alternation of phrases of five and seven syllables each. It is, in fact, a species of blank verse.
Some Japanese critics seem to think that the numbers five and seven were suggested by the Chinese Book of odes, where many of the poems consist of lines of five, and others of lines of seven syllables. This does not seem very probable.
The best known metre constructed on this principle is what is known as “Tanka” or “short poems.” When poetry is spoken of in Japan it is usually this kind of verse which is meant. It consists of five phrases or lines of 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables — 31 syllables in all.¹ Each of these stanzas constitutes an entire poem. The Tanka is the most universal and characteristic of the various forms of poetry in Japan. The oldest examples date back to the seventh century, or possibly earlier. Ever since there has been a continual and copious stream of this kind of composition. Even at the present day the Mikado gives out themes at the New Year for his courtiers to show their skill upon, and the pages of the magazines give evidence that Tanka are still produced in considerable quantity.
¹ See specimen on page 27. (* See here.)
It may be thought that in the compass of 31 syllables, and with the other limitations to which the poet in Japan is subject, nothing of much value can be the result. This, however, is far from being the case. Although no great qualities can be claimed for the Tanka, it must be admitted that the Japanese poets have made the most of their slender resources. It is wonderful what felicity of phrase, melody of versification, and true sentiment can be compressed within these narrow limits. In their way nothing can be more perfect than some of these little poems. They remind us of those tiny carvings known to us as Netsuke, in which exquisite skill of workmanship is displayed in fashioning figures an inch or two in height, or of those sketches where the Japanese artist has managed to produce a truly admirable effect by a few dexterous strokes of the brush.
Next to the Tankaa, the most common kind of classical metre is the Naga-uta or “long poetry.” The Naga-uta has the same alternation of five and seven syllable phrases, with an additional line of seven syllables at the end, as the Tanka, and only differs from it in having no limit in regard to length.
Some of the best poetry which Japan has produced is in this metre. But it has never been a great favourite, and after the Nara period was almost completely neglected, the preference of the national genius being evidently for the shorter kind of verse.
Notwithstanding the name, Naga-uta are by no means long poems. Few of them are nearly so long as “Locksley Hall,” and the majority are effusions of a few dozen lines only.
A feature which strikingly distinguishes the Japanese poetic muse from that of Western nations is a certain lack of imaginative power. The Japanese are slow to endow inanimate objects with life. Shelly's “Cloud,” for example, contains enough matter of this kind for many volumes of Japanese verse. Such lines as
“From my wings are shaken
The dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest
On their mother's breast
As she dances about the sun,”
would appear to them ridiculously overcharged with metaphor, if not absolutely unintelligible. Still more foreign to their genius is the personification of abstract qualities. Abstract words are comparatively few, and it does not occur to the Japanese poet (or painter) to represent Truth, Justice, and Faith as comely damsels in flowing robes, or to make Love a chubby naked boy with wings and a bow and arrows. Muses, Graces, Virtues, Furies — in short, the host of personifications without which Western poetry would be only a shadow of itself — have little counterpart in Japanese literature.
This impersonal habit of the Japanese mind is shared by them with other races of the Far East, notably China. It is not confined to poetry, or even to literature, but is profoundly characteristic of their whole mental attitude, showing itself in their grammar, which is most sparing of personal pronouns; in their art, which has no school of portrait-painting or monumental sculpture worth mentioning; in the late and imperfect development of the drama; and in their religious temper, with its strong bent towards rationalism, and its hazy recognition of a ruling personal power in the universe. To their minds things happen, rather than are done; the tides of fate are far more real to them than the strong will and the endeavour which wrestles with them. The significance of this fact in regard to the moral and psychological development of these races may be left to others to determine. It is sufficient here to note its influence on the literature, and especially on the poetry.
Some rhetorical devices which are peculiar to Japanese poetry require a brief notice. One of these is the Makura-Kotoba, or “pillow-word” as it is called, because it usually stands at the beginning of the verse, serving, as it were, as a pillow upon which it rests. The Makura-Kotoba is a stock conventional epithet prefixed to certain words something after the fashion of Homer's “swift-footed” Achilles or “many-fountained” Ida. These words are survivals from a very archaic stage of the language, and the meaning of some of them is now extremely doubtful, a circumstance which forms no obstacle whatever to their continued use. Others are still intelligible and appropriate enough, such as the “house-bird” cock, the “rain-enshrouded” Mount Mikasa, the “ever-firm” heaven, “morning-mist” thought-wandering. But even although a Makura-Kotoba may be sufficiently apt if it is rightly applied, some Japanese poets take a perverse pleasure in wresting it from its proper sense in a way which to us is nothing short of ludicrous. “Whale-catching,” for example, may pass as an epithet of the sea. But what shall we say of the poet who uses it as a prefix to the inland sea of Õmi, now called Lake Biwa, where, needless to observe, whales are an unknown phenomenon? “Creeper-clad” is well enough as an epithet of a rock, but it tries one's patience a little to find it applied to the province of Iwami, simply because Iwa means rock.
From the versifier's point of view the Makura-Kotoba is a very useful institution. It consists almost invariably of five syllables, ant therefore supplies him without any trouble with a first line ready made, no unimportant consideration when the entire poem consists of only thirty-one syllables. These epithets are several hundreds in number, and are collected into dictionaries which serve the purpose of a Gradus ad Parnassum. They are most useful in a country where the composition of Tanka has been for centuries little more than a mere mechanic art.
Another trick of the Japanese poet is what Mr. Chamberlain¹ has aptly termed “pivot-words.” In these a word or part of a word is used in two senses, one with what precedes, the other with what follows. Thackeray has something of the kind in The Newcomes, where he speaks of the tea-pot presented to Mr. Honeyman by the devotees attending his chapel as the “devotea-pot.” Here the syllable “tea” is contrived a double debt to pay. It represents at the same time the final syllable of “devotee” and the first syllable of “tea-pot.” Perhaps a better example is the following from Butler's Hudibras: —
That old Pyg — what d'ye call him — malion,
Who cut his mistress out of stone,
Had not so hard a hearted one.
“What is this but a kind of pun?” the reader will not unnaturally say. Yet it would be hardly fair to stigmatise these jeux de mots as puns. They are meant not to provoke laughter, but as ornament, and the effect is sometimes not unpleasing.
¹ In his Classical Poetry of the Japanese.
At its best, however, the “pivot” word is an ornament of doubtful taste, and poets of the classical period indulge in this figure of speech but sparingly. More remains to be said of it when we come to the dramatists of a later age, who have used it in an extravagant, and, at least to us Europeans, exasperating manner.
Parallelism, or the correspondence between each word of two successive lines or clauses, noun for noun and verb for verb, is an occasional ornament of Japanese, as it it of Chinese poetry. It is familiar to us in the Psalms of David, and is a favourite with Longfellow, whose Hiawatha contains numerous such pairs of parallel lines, as —
Filled the marshes full of wild-fowl,
Filled the river full of fishes.
Some Japanese examples of this figure will be found in the poems quoted on page 37
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