Senryu Ueda


. senryu, senryū 川柳 Senryu in Edo .


Light Verse from the Floating World:
An Anthology of Premodern Japanese Senryu
Makoto Ueda

- source and further reading : books.google.co.jp

- quote
Similar in form to the well-known, more serious haiku, the satirical -- and often humorous -- poems known as senryu have received little scholarly attention because most were written by anonymous amateur poets and were therefore considered popular literature unworthy of serious study. Senryu are interesting, however, precisely because they reflect the thoughts and feelings of ordinary townspeople in a way that other more orthodox types of Japanese literature do not. In his introduction on the nature and historical background of the form, Makoto Ueda explores the elements of humor and satire contained in senryu, highlighting the mores that lie behind the laughter the poems evince.

Collecting 400 eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poems -- with the romanized Japanese verse presented at the bottom of each page -- Light Verse from the Floating World is divided into thematic sections, each preceded by a short introduction:

• satirical senryu, aimed at people of the ruling warrior class and civilians of various professions;
• senryu on human relationships -- between young lovers, husband and wife, parent and child, or family members of different generations;
• poems on townspeople enjoying themselves in the "amusement" district;
• ridicule of well-known historical figures;
• and poems on the poets' general outlook on life.

Replete with keen observations on the human world rather than the natural one, this first comprehensive anthology in English translation of this major genre of Japanese literature will appeal to scholars and students of Japanese culture, as well as general readers of poetry.
- source : www.abebooks.com


- quote
The Nature and Value of Pre-modern Senryu
from the Introduction to Light Verse from the Floating World
(Excerpt from pgs. 18 - 21 for Study Purposes by Elaine Andre)

It would be difficult to claim that senryu written in pre-modern Japan is great poetry, no matter how we may propose to measure the greatness of a poem. For Edo townsmen of the eighteenth century, senryu was more entertainment than poetry. Yanagidaru had a good sale each year because the verses it contained amused a vast number of people, including those who had no special interest in literature. Those who wished to write more serious poetry could –– and did––utilize other types of verse, such as haikai and waka. Yosa Buson (1716-1784), the greatest haikai poet of he eighteenth century, proclaimed a poetic principle known as rizoku or “detachment from the mundane,” precisely because senryu and much of haikai in his time seemed too mundane for his poetic taste. Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), who had a more worldly mind than Buson and who may have written some senryu in his youth, went on to focus his creative energy on haikai and ended up becoming a major poet in that genre. As mentioned before, the waka poet Tayasu Munetake wrote senryu, yet he did so merely to amuse himself. At least three reasons can be thought of to explain why senryu was less appealing than other verse forms to the most gifted poets of the time.

First, whereas hokku, which had the same 5-7-5 syllable pattern as senryu, could create poetic tension by the technique of internal comparison, senryu, lacking such an established device, could not easily do so and too often allowed itself to be flat and prosaic. Also, it was too short to make itself as lyrically moving as waka or as tonally multifarious as linked verse.

Second, whole a haikai poet could create semantic complexity through the use of kigo (season word), a senryu writer had no such culturally loaded vocabulary at his disposal and had to devise his own method if he wanted to write a verse that would expand in meaning. He could use a word referring to the season (and there are many instances of such use, as seen In the eighth section of the anthology), but because senryu had no tradition of seasonal poetry to feed on, the word would not carry the kind of rich cultural connotations that a kigo would.

Third, senryu’s thematic focus on social life led its writers to observe people primarily in the context of the contemporary society, not in terms of a more transcendental principle. It did treat foibles of human nature, but only when those foibles manifested themselves in everyday social behavior. To over-generalize a little, very likely a poet moved by the beauty of nature would write a hokku. A poet wishing to vent out a personal emotion like love or grief would compose a waka. Someone with a novelist’s eye but without his ability (or patience) to construct a lengthy plot jotted down senryu.

The raison d’etré of senryu, then, lies in its value as popular literature, literature for mass production and consumption. If it is poetry, it is the kind of poetry specifically intended to entertain the millions. It belongs to the type of “light verse” as defined by W.H. Auden: poetry that has “for its subject matter the everyday social life of its period or the experiences of the poet as an ordinary human being.” [Auden: “Introduction.” In The Oxford Book of Light Verse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938, ix.)] Such poetry has to be “light” or humorous; otherwise the general public would show no interest in it.

No one in pre-modern Japan tried to give a scholarly definition of senryu, but as essayist named Ogawa Akimichi (1737-1815) once made a comment touching on its basic nature. In his opinion, senryu is “playful verse that comments on human behaviors, virtues and vices, noble and base emotions, thoughts of upper- and lower-class people, and all the other matters that make up this life on earth.” [Ogawa Akimichi, Chriizuhabanashi. In Iwamoto Sashichi, ed., Enseki jisshu (Tokyo: Kikusho Kandokai, 1907-1908) 1:274.] The key word here is “playful verse” (zareku). Senryu was comic verse, a type of verse that gained popularity through its humorous quality, through its ability to make the reader laugh. Edo townsmen amused themselves by reading and writing senryu, not caring whether it qualified as poetry.

In making their verse humorous and entertaining, senryu writers in pre-modern Japan often depended on the mechanisms of laughter widely observable in Western culture and variously theorized by Western philosophers. Indeed, if the humor of senryu somehow comes through in English translation, it is because senryu writers frequently used the instruments of laughter commonly employed in the Western world. Unfortunately, the subject matter to which those instruments were applied is closely related to the mores of the contemporary society, making the humor of senryu difficult to understand for those who know little about social customs of pre-modern Japan. The oldest known mechanism of laughter in the West is built around a feeling of superiority. Briefly stated, philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Hobbes thought that we laugh from our feeling of mingled superiority and triumph, the kind of feeling that comes to us when we discover incompetence, clumsiness, misfortune, or misjudgment in others. As is well known, Aristotle defined comic heroes as the “person worse than the average” because they make us feel superior by comparison. Knowing nothing about Aristotle’s theory, Karai Senryu seemed to think along the same line when he specified the kind of people he thought were most suitable for subjects of senryu. Appearing in the sequence of verses published at the end of Yanagidaru 2, these subjects include illiterates, loafers, parasites, fanatics, invalids, blind men, low-ranking samurai, destitute samurai, concubines, men with idiosyncrasies, and so forth.

Of the people listed about, senryu writers seem to have been especially fond of ridiculing people of the ruling class. Perhaps because townsmen were always looked down upon by samurai in their daily life, they made them a source of their laughter. Financially better off, they would jeer at the low-ranking samurai’s poverty:

tamashii wo / seppa zumatte / shichi ni oki

a last resort:
the samurai puts his soul
in pawn

. . . [Ueda goes on to describe the reasoning behind the verse, explaining Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, by which a samurai is taught that his sword should be treasured as if it were his very soul.]

- source : Senryu in Edo - facebook

. katana 日本刀 the Japanese sword .
The "Soul of a Samurai" 武士の魂 bushi no tamashi and haiku


- - - To join me on facebook, click the image !


. Japanese Architecture - cultural keywords used in haiku .

. - Doing Business in Edo - 商売 - Introduction .

. senryu, senryū 川柳 Senryu poems in Edo .



No comments: