Introductory Waka Poetry Class: “Poetic Language (Singing Words) = True Intent”

"Utago" refers to the words used in Japanese poetry, but when you look it up in a dictionary...

  • It is not a foreign word such as Chinese, but a "Yamato word"
  • It is not a slang word but a "gentleman" (for example, "frog" is pronounced "kahazu" instead of "kaeru").
  • It is "literary language" rather than prose or colloquial language (spoken language)

This is explained as follows.
However, I believe that of the words used in waka poetry, those that have a clear ``true meaning'' are the true ``poet language.''

So what is “true intention”? The first is the aesthetic nature of things (natural scenery). It refers to the most appropriate state of things, which are bound to change, and the moments and scenes in which they shine most beautifully. Human beings' earnest desire to preserve these things forever is the core of their true intentions, and the words that reveal this are called the ``poetry'' of waka.
Therefore, ``song language'' is not a simple linguistic symbol, but a condensation of images combined with various human emotions. Is it easy to understand if we say that each song word has an emotion?

Now, let's look at some actual song examples and get to know the essence of ``poet language.''
Below, we have listed the three ``Hototogisu'' poems from the Kokinshu. First, what impression did you get when you first saw them?

(a)``Before you know it, May will be here, and the mountain fireflies will be singing.'' (I don't know who to read)
(b)"If you have a heart that sings in the summer mountains, let me hear your voice when I'm thinking." (Yomi Hitojiro)
(c)“Ramu sings across the world of Unohana without me” (Mitsune Bonkochi)

In fact, these songs would not be complete without the poetic word ``Hototogisu.'' If you were to replace it with something like ``nightingale'' or ``crane,'' the song would simply fall apart.Waka is based on the premise of ``poet language.''

In the song language, ``Hototogisu'' has the meaning of ``knowing that summer is coming,'' and it also includes the feeling of ``wanting to hear the first sounds.'' Therefore, as shown in (a), we can learn about May by listening to the song.
Furthermore, ``Hototogisu'' has the meaning of ``encouraging love,'' so as in (b), ``Don't let me listen to your voice when I'm lost in thought!'' ”. In addition, Hototogisu also has the aspect of being a ``guide on the mountain path of death,'' so taking that into account, (c) can even be associated with a sad world.

Now, with these ``Hototogisu'' in mind, please enjoy the following songs. It is sure to create a complex scene that combines many images.

“A rainy evening in May, when the fragrant irises and the chirping of the fireflies” (Fujiwara Yoshitsune)

The image of ``iris'' has a strong odor that is strong enough to ward off evil spirits, but in other words, it gives the impression of a choking feeling dampened by May rain. And ``Hototogisu'' has a setting that ``stirs up feelings of yearning'' as mentioned earlier, so if you read it through one poem, you'll find that it's a complicated feeling of ``despite yearning that doesn't come true even though you yearn for it, but your love increases.'' I think a new world has emerged. The world of poetry can expand into so many layers depending on how the language is used.

The ability of waka to depict complex scenes and lyrics within the 31-character limit is a result of the images condensed into the ``poetry''. The ``poetry language'' was cultivated through the ancient and modern waka collection, an attitude of artistic contemplation in which human affairs and nature were always intertwined, and from then on, poetry could no longer exist without it. The form of ``taimei,'' which developed from the late Heian period, is nothing but a recitation of the ``true meaning'' of the words that became the title. A song that has real meaning is a good and correct song.

Waka has been perfected as a language art since its beginning, and because of its perfection, it has survived the great river of history and still continues to be used not only in Japanese literature such as stories, Noh songs, renga, and haikai, but also in paintings, mainly. Even the designs of arts and crafts are deeply imbued with the lyricism and aesthetic sense of Japanese culture. Poetry is, so to speak, the typical expression of the Yamato people, and is truly the cornerstone of culture, a classic among universal classics (the ``seasonal words'' of haiku are one of its remnants).

Therefore, in order to compose waka correctly, be sure to understand the ``poet language'' correctly and deeply.

(Written by: Waka DJ Ucchi)

"List of introductory waka poetry classes"

Learn the basics of waka poetry and try reciting it!

We are holding a "Utajuku" with the goal of learning from representative classical works and being able to compose traditional "Waka" on an individual basis!

季刊誌「和歌文芸」
令和六年冬号(Amazonにて販売中)

en_USEnglish