To read a diary by a court lady of the 10th century is still a moving experience, because she described with such honesty and intensity her deepest feelings that the modern-day reader forgets the chasm of history and changed social customs separating her world from today’s.The “pure” Japanese language, untainted and unfertilized by Chinese influence, contained remarkably few words of an abstract nature.A considerable body of writing by Japanese in the Japanese present an extraordinary variety of styles, which cannot be explained merely in terms of the natural evolution of the language.
But however moving a tanka (verse in 31 syllables) is, it clearly cannot fulfill some of the functions of longer poetic forms, and there are no Japanese equivalents to the great longer poems of Western literature, such as John Milton’s .
Instead, Japanese poets devoted their efforts to perfecting each syllable of their compositions, expanding the content of a tanka by suggestion and allusion, and prizing shadings of tone and diction more than originality or boldness of expression.
The surviving works comprise a literary tradition extending from the 7th century to the present; during all this time there was never a “dark age” devoid of literary production.
Not only do poetry, the novel, and the drama have long histories in Japan, but some literary genres not so highly esteemed in other countries—including diaries, travel accounts, and books of random thoughts—are also prominent.
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