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Trajectories of Form in Modern Japanese Poetry

  • Author(s): Beville, Ryan
  • Advisor(s): O'Neill, Daniel
  • et al.
Abstract

Form is central to poetry, if not all artistic endeavor. The Japanese literary tradition contains an array of poetic forms since its earliest extant texts, though some, like waka and kanshi, dominated poetic production for centuries. With Japan’s increased exposure to Western literary forms after the start of the Meiji era in 1868, the variety of new forms expanded rapidly. For many of Japan’s readers and poets, exposure to European and American literature was initially mediated by translation anthologies. As this dissertation seeks to show, many of the translators grafted new poetic practice onto pre-existing techniques, resulting in new forms and styles of poetry. Vernacular poets, often working with keen awareness of the translations, further adapted and altered those forms in their own work.

Each chapter that follows documents and analyzes key aspects of form in modern Japanese poetry, including meter and rhyme. My primary tool of analysis is close reading, down to the phonemes, as rhyme and meter require, together with textual comparisons. Such close readings, often informed by linguistic research, reveal both the richness of form practiced in Japanese poetry, as well as its possibilities. They also trace the trajectory of these forms and their permutations over time. Ultimately, these analyses show that form is anything but static.

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