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Murmured ConversationsA Treatise on Poetry and Buddhism by the Poet-Monk Shinkei$

Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780804748636

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804748636.001.0001

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On Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū as the Structure of the Renga Link

On Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū as the Structure of the Renga Link

(p.102) Thirty-Four On Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū as the Structure of the Renga Link
Murmured Conversations
Stanford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the sequential pattern in waka called hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū, which, according to a former master, is of utmost importance in renga. For example, if a short verse contains kyoku (that is, intends to make a Statement), then the long verse should assume the hen-jo-dai posture and leave something unsaid. On the other hand, if a long verse intends to make a Statement and is emphatically saying so, then the short verse should adopt the hen-jo-dai stance and let it flow through. Shinkei views the verse pair, renga's basic structural unit, as an oscillation between a Statement and its Context. Hence, if one aspect is taken by the maeku, then the other should be taken by the tsukeku. In waka, since one does not wish to express a Statement in two places in the same poem, he/she tends to use prefatory words (jo no kotoba) or pause words (yasumetaru kotoba) called hampi no ku. There are many examples of both waka and renga that employ prefatory words, including the ancient poems.

Keywords:   waka, renga, hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū, Shinkei, Japanese poetry, verses, Statement, prefatory words

It is said that one composes waka according to the sequential pattern of hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū. Does the same hold for renga?

According to a former master, this pattern is of utmost importance in renga. For example, if the short verse contains kyoku—that is to say, intends to make a Statement, then the long verse should adopt the hen-jo-dai posture and leave something unsaid. Or again, if the long verse intends a Statement and is emphatically saying so, then the short verse should take the hen-jo-dai stance and let it flow through.

tsumi mo mukui mo sa mo araba are

As for sin and retribution, if it be so, so be it!

    tsuki nokoru kariba no yuki no asaborake


    The moon lingers over snowy hunting fields in a glimmering dawn.1


kaeshitaru ta o mata kaesu nari

The field already plowed lies plowed again.

    ashihiki no yama ni fusu i no yoru wa kite


    The wild boar that lurks in the foot-dragging mountain comes in the night to call.2


kōri tokete mo yuki wa te ni ari

Though the ice has melted snow alights on the palm.

    chirikakaru nozawa no hana no shita warabi


    Fronds of fern under scattering flowers on the meadow marsh.3


(p.103) In each of the three verse pairs above, since the preceding short verse intends a Statement and is straining hard to do so, the following long verse consequently takes the hen-jo-dai stance, leaving something unsaid and giving it over to the maeku.

    omokage no tōku naru koso kanashikere

    The image of a face growing distant in the memory brings sadness.

hana mishi yama no yūgure no kumo


Over hills where I saw flowers, the dimming clouds of twilight.4


    mae ushiro to wa futatsu aru shiba no io

    In front, in back, two doors does it have the brushwood hut.

idete iru made tsuki o koso mire


From its rising till its falling, he gazes at the moon!5


In the two pairs above, since the preceding long verse intends a Statement and is openly saying so, the lower verse falls into the hen-jo-dai stance, merely acknowledging the maeku and allowing it to flow through. In renga, therefore, it is the rule that the upper verse leaves something unsaid, entrusting it to the lower verse, while the lower verse expresses itself incompletely, so that it may be completed by the upper verse. This means that excellence, that quality of moving the heart and mind, is not to be found in a sequence wherein each successive verse is wholly complete in itself.

In waka, since one does not wish to express a Statement in two places in the same poem, one frequently resorts to the use of prefatory words [jo no kotoba]6 or pause words [yasumetaru kotoba] called hampi no ku.7 Without a clear awareness (p.104) of these things, I should think that you would inevitably end up with a shallow interpretation of even the most excellent poems.The Buddhist sutras likewise possess a certain pattern called “Introduction–Proper Teaching–Propagation” [jo-shōruzū]. To begin with, the Introduction preaches various parables and instances of karmic connection [innen]. Thereafter the Proper Teaching section expresses the very principle of the sutra itself; and finally the Propagation section enumerates the various merits accruing to its transmission. Everyone knows about these parts without realizing that they correspond to the hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū structure of poetry. Furthermore the “Beginning-Amplification-Turn-Summation” [ki-shō-tengō] sequence of the four-line Chinese poem comes to the same thing.8 There are thus numerous examples of both waka and renga that employ prefatory words; the ancient poems in particular seem invariably to include them.

Some Poems with a Preface

Some Poems with a Preface

    hototogisu naku ya satsuki no ayamegusa ayame mo shiranu koi mo suru kana

    Is the cuckoo singing-midst the sweet flag, lissome blossoms of summer, I know not reason nor flower why yearningly turns my heart!9

    shikishima no yamato ni wa aranu karagoromo koro mo hezu shite au yoshi mogana

    Not to be had in all of Yamato's myriad isles, this robe of Cathay; Ah, for a way to meet her without a moment's delay.10

    yamashiro no yodo no wakagomo kari ni da ni konu hito tanomu ware zo hakanaki

    If only to reap the young oats of Yodo in Yamashiro, even for awhile he comes not to whom I trust, and pathetic indeed am I!11

    michinoku no asaka no numa no hanagatsumi katsu mishi hito ni koiwataru kana

    In Michinoku along the marshes of Asaka water-oats bloom; brief was the moment I saw her yet my longing goes on and on.12

    yoshinogawa iwanami takakuyukumizu no hayaku zo hito o omoisometeshi

    Yoshino River: spraying high among the rocks the current flows swiftly, a yearning for her did suffuse my heart.13

(p.105) There are also poems in which some lengthy pause words have been inserted in the middle lines.

    ta ga misogi yūtsukedori zo karagoromo tatsuta no yama ni orihaete naku

    For whom the Lustration? Tied with sacred cord, the cock rends the mountain air, trailing sheer down Tatsuta its long, bright train of sound.14

    ukaibune aware to zo omou mononofu no yaso ujigawa no yūyami no sora


    Cormorant fishing boats-it is a sight to break the heart; a myriad men of arms flickering lost on the Uji River as darkly looms the evening sky.15

Priest Jichin

    ikomayama arashi mo aki no iro ni fuku tezome no ito no yoru zo kanashiki


    Down Mount Ikoma, anon the storm winds blow with the hues of autumn, whirling skeins of dyed thread in a night edged with sadness.16

Lord Teika

Similar to the poems quoted above are those renga verses wherein the Statement is made in the maeku and completed in the tsukeku by means of a Preface. They represent a style of linking that seems to have been a dominant one in the work of the old renga poets.

kami no igaki ni hiku muma mo ari

By the holy fence of the god, a horse is being pulled along.

    misogi seshi mi no hi wa suginu mishimenawa


    The Purification Rites of the Day of the Snake are over: the sacred guard-rope.17


utsutsu ka yume ka akete koso mime

Is it reality? Dream? When the night opens, we'll see.

    tabi ni motsu nosaki no hakone utsu no yama Shūa

    Carried on a journey a box with rice tribute to Hakone, along Mount Empty.18


kokoro yori tada ukikoto ni shiojimite

My very soul has grown seasoned in the brine of unchanging sorrow.

irie no hotade karaki yo no naka


As nettles growing by the inlet the bitterness of this world.19


(p.106) Such verses are too numerous to set down here.


This chapter constitutes Shinkei's most valuable and original contribution to the analysis of the renga link, and he does it by employing a little-known concept of waka structure as well as by analogy to waka poems using a jo (preface or foretext). Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū is a term describing the structural sequence of the five lines of a waka poem. The Sangoki explains it in the following manner:

Hen [the first line] is the starting point signifying that one is about to begin, jo [the second line] is when one has actually begun, dai [the third line] is the poem's topic; one should directly manifest the topic in this line. In kyoku [the fourth line] one expresses something delicately elegant in an interesting manner, and with ryū [the fifth line], one lets the poem flow away, like a five-foot length of vine gracefully undulating on the water. (p. 350)

(p.107) As described in this passage, the movement of a waka poem may be characterized as a slow buildup to its central highest point, line 4, or kyoku, followed by a quick (though perceived as extended) fade-out. Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū may thus be loosely translated as “start, takeoff, topic, statement, fade-out.” The same progression is suggested by Shinkei's explanation in Part II, Chapter 40, SSG 173–74.

Briefly put, Shinkei sees renga's basic structural unit, the verse pair, as an oscillation between what may be called a Statement (kyoku in kyoknryū) and its Context (my functional translation of hen-jo-dai). Thus if the maeku takes the one aspect, then the tsukeku should take the other. This is due to the fact that the Statement remains abstract until it is manifested in a concrete set of circumstances, and conversely, a Context remains silent, it does not speak, until the Statement gives it voice—a meaning and purpose. In other words, the relationship between Statement and Context is a functional, reciprocal one, even though the latter seems subordinate because it is said merely to let the Statement “flow through” (iinagasu), instead of coming up with a new one to confront it.

The riddle verse, such as the second, third, and fifth maeku in the verse pairs cited above, seems like a good representative of what Shinkei means by the Statement, or kyoku. What comprises a Statement as such is apparently the presence of intentionality or purpose in the verse, the sense that the poet is trying to get a point across. In the riddle, intentionality is especially marked by the proposition's paradoxical character which emphatically demands a solution, viz., “Though the ice has melted / snow alights on the palm.” The Context as such, on the other hand, is unemphatic and indifferent, innocent of purpose, empty: “Fronds of fern / under scattering flowers / on the meadow marsh.” In nearly all the examples in this section, the tsukeku (which happens to be the Context) consists of a purely objective image without a point as such; its significance appears only in relation to the maeku. In this case, the falling white petals come to correspond to the “snow,” and the “fern fronds” are the “palm” or hand upon which they are falling.

Except for the first tsukeku by Gusai and the fourth by Ryōa, the verses quoted in this chapter are generally dry and lacking in poetic feeling. However, it must be said of them all that each links up firmly and securely with its maeku, producing an impact, as when disparate fragments suddenly fall into place. Dating from renga's first flowering in the Kamakura-Nambokuchō period, these verses have a certain archaic flavor, but it is precisely this lack of an aesthetic aura that makes them perfect illustrations for the bare-bones (p.108) structure of the minimal verse-pair unit. Based primarily on the operation of wit and intelligence, they confirm renga's nature as primarily a craft of composition and design, and only secondarily a poetry of refined sensibilities.

“In renga, therefore, it is the rule that the upper verse leaves something unsaid, entrusting it to the lower verse, while the lower verse expresses itself incompletely, so that it may be completed by the upper verse.” This statement summarizes Shinkei's analysis of the relationship between contiguous verses. It is perhaps best described as a reciprocal dependency, similar to the relation between space and form in the visual arts. An uninterrupted series of forms (Statements) without the silent mediation of space (Contexts) would result in a turgid texture. Indeed, as he says in the SSG rev. ed. text, “if each verse is wholly complete in itself, the minds [kokoro] will not connect, and the verses will merely be standing in a lifeless row” (p. 106). That he is so emphatic about the pitfalls of making a statement at every point in the sequence reflects a pervasive tendency in his time, and perhaps at all times, for the poet to display his talent by a verse that sounds great and impressive as such, instead of “humbling” himself with an “empty” verse that properly mirrors the previous poet's statement. As in life, so in renga, the ability to listen and respond that is the basis of all genuine communication is a difficult discipline. And that is why the Way for Shinkei is equivalent to the cultivation of an impersonal identification with Beauty or Poetry as such, and a corresponding disengagement from the personal ego; the vitality of the genre simply depended on it.

Shinkei's aim in quoting the waka poems in this chapter is to draw an implicit analogy between their structure, which consists of preface and statement, and the renga verse pair. The most obvious similarity is that in both cases, there is no direct and overt syntactic and/or semantic continuity from one part to the other. Furthermore, like the Context verse in renga, the preface is empty of intention as such; it is but an objective description of scenery, or not even that—merely an undifferentiated image mentioned without motivation. Yet through the juxtaposition, it comes to function as a concrete context, and ultimately a metaphor, for the statement in a manner similar to the operation of the one verse upon the other in renga. Further analysis reveals that the link in both cases inevitably falls into a metonymical (synecdochic) cast tending strongly toward the metaphorical. In an early article, I showed the close conjunction of metonymy and metaphor in Genji monogatari's narrative progression.20 The structure of the renga link is apparently similar. At any rate, it is obviously upon the double character of the pivot word or of partially homonymic words in these waka that the whole analogy with renga so to speak “hinges.”


(1.) TKBS 561Oi no susamiRenga jūyō

The great tension in the space between maeku and tsukeku here perfectly illustrates Shinkei's point regarding the reciprocal relationship of Statement to Context. Gusai's verse is in effect the concrete set of circumstances that anchors and justifies the maeku's sweeping declaration, and this is also Yoshimoto's point.

(2.) TKBS 1320

(3.) As in the previous pair, the maeku is a riddle, a Statement of the emphatic, insistent kind (momikudokitaru) that calls attention to itself by an apparent contradiction requiring a solution. Here, in Junkaku's tsukeku, the falling white petals come to correspond to the “snow” of the maeku and the “fern fronds” are the “palm” or hand upon which they are falling.

(4.) This pair and the next represent the same kind of Statement / Context alternation in the first group of examples, except that the Statement occurs this time in the long 5–7–5-syllable verse. Here omokage (memory, image, traces) in the maeku most probably refers to someone from whom the speaker has been estranged by death or separation, and I have translated it explicitly as such. In the tsukeku, it becomes the remembered image of hills (p.258) alight with flowering cherry trees, where now only the darkening evening clouds remain as traces of a former splendor.

(5.) As in the latter two examples in the first group, the maeku is a paradoxical statement or riddle to which the tsukeku is a solution. The close verbal correspondence between mae ushiro (front and back) in the maeku and idete iru (rising and setting) in the tsukeku seems typical of links of this kind—i.e., the kind consisting of a riddle and its solution.

(6.) The “preface” (jo) is the initial two or three lines preceding and introducing the main statement of a waka poem. It is related to the statement in an indirect, metaphorical way and usually ends in a “pivot word” (kakekotoba) or pun upon which its connection with the rest of the poem hinges. Below, Shinkei cites six poems employing this technique; his aim is to show that the Context / Statement alternation in renga is similar to waka's preface / statement structure.

(7.) Hampi no ku is a line inserted in the middle of a waka poem (usually the third line) that creates a pause or break in its syntactic and imagistic continuity; it is essentially a preface placed in medial instead of initial position. Again, Shinkei gives three examples below. Hampi as such was a short robe with sleeves reaching only halfway down the arms; it was worn between inner and outer robes and thus gave its name to the waka technique.

(8.) The “four-line Chinese poem” referred to here is the zekku (jueju), a form consisting of four lines with five or seven words to each line, which most closely approximates Japanese poetry in its brevity and concision. It was written by all the major poets of the Tang and Song dynasties, including Li Bai (699–762), Wang Wei (699–750), and Su Dongpo (1036–1101). The first line, kiku, was supposed to introduce the theme; the second line, shōku, to continue and amplify upon it; the third line, tenku, to effect a turn or contrast; and the final line, gōku, (more commonly called kekku), pulls everything into a unified whole. Like the hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū concept of waka, the formal principle described above was not always reflected in actual practice but is nonetheless useful as a general guide to the poem's structure. The third line of the jueju would seem to correspond to the fourth line of waka—that is, the “turn” is the crux of the Chinese poem, just as the “statement,” or kyoku, is the centerpiece of the Japanese; both represent the point toward which the preceding lines build up and from which they fall. Thus, like waka, the jueju may be reduced or flattened to an essentially binary structure (viz., the “turn” and the “non-turn,” the marked/unmarked, positive/negative) similar to the Statement/Context alternation in renga, and this is the point of Shinkei's analogy.

(9.) KKS 469ayameOn Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū as the Structure of the Renga LinkOn Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū as the Structure of the Renga LinkayameayameOn Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū as the Structure of the Renga LinkOn Hen-jo-dai-kyoku-ryū as the Structure of the Renga LinkNihon kokugo daijitenayame mo shiranu / koi mo suru kanaKokinshū

(10.) KKS 697karagoromo (p.259) koromo

(11.) KKS 759kari ni

(12.) KKS 677Hanagatsumikatsu mishi

(13.) KKS 471Hayaku

(14.) KKS 995KaragoromoTatsu

Yūtsukedori is a cock tied with a cord made from the mulberry; it was used in religious purification rites that were held especially during times of disorder.

(15.) SKKSmononofu noyaso ujiujiGenjiShinkokinshūTales of the Heike

MYS 264

    mononofu no yaso ujikawa no ajiro ki ni isayou nami no yukue mo shirazu mo

    Along the weir stakes on Uji River, eighty-armed as the kingdom's clans, impeded the waves hesitate, not knowing which way to go.

(Here I take the epithet to hinge on the numerous lateral branches of the Uji River, as of the clans.) The poem appears in the Shinkokinshū (SKKS 1648, Miscellaneous) as well; Kubota Jun speculates that since the Uji flows from the sea of Ōmi (mod. Lake Biwa), from where Hitomaro began his journey, he could be lamenting Emperor Tenchi's ruined capital and followers at Ōmi, destroyed during the Jinshin War (Zenhyōshaku 7: 426). This is certainly plausible, given the existence of MYS 29–31, Hitomaro's elegy “On Passing the Ruined (p.260) Capital of Ōmi.” Jien's allusive variation on MYS 264 would be the distinctly Buddhist belief in the sin of killing any sentient creature, whether fish or human underlying the lament; the medial position of the epithet, as distinct from initial in Hitomaro, also makes for a more subtle, inwoven texture.

(16.) Gyokuyōshū 783, Autumn. Tezome no ito no / yoru (twisting hand-dyed threads) in lines 4 and 5 comprise the pause words, ending like the previous two in a pivot, yoru, which also means “night.” They constitute a metaphorical image superimposed upon the actual scenery of autumn leaves whirling down the mountainside on a night of winds and moonlight.

As shown by the three examples above, “pause words” are similar to the preface, except that they occur in the middle instead of the beginning of a poem and are shorter in length, being more like “pillow words” (makura kotoba). If one may judge from these alone, the medial position seems to have a more complex effect than the initial in enriching the poem's imagistic texture and deepening its overtones.

(17.) TKBS 616igakimishimenawa

(18.) Again, the tsukeku is conceived as a preface to the maeku's Statement, and the two may be seen as an inverted waka. The third line, utsu no yama (Mount Utsu), is partially homophonous with utsutsu (reality) in the beginning of the maeku, in a manner that recalls the homophonous juncture in a waka with a preface, thus:

    tabi ni motsu nosaki no hakone utsu no yama utsutsu ka yume ka akete koso mime

    Carried on the journey, a box with rice tribute to Hakone, along Mount Empty—Was it reality? Dream? when the night opens, we̓ll see.

akuhakoutsutsuutsu no yamaTales of IseIseIse monogatarichap. 9

(19.) irie no hotadekarakiyo no nakaGenjiGenji monogatari

    yo o umi ni kokora shiojimu mi to narite nao kono kishi e koso hanarenu

    Become a self steeped in the briny sea of the world's sorrows, yet am I from this shore still unable to depart.


Shiojimu (soaked in brine, salty) in the maeku corresponds to karaki (stinging, bitter) in the tsukeku.

There is an actual historical (diachronic) basis for Shinkei's analogy between the renga verse pair and the waka with a preface. Each pair is in effect an inverted waka, with the statement coming first and the preface last. It is significant to note that all the verses cited in this chapter are somewhat archaic in comparison with the contemporary style manifested in Shinkei's own work and those of the other seven sages. The fact is evidence of his implicit intention in this chapter, which is to engage in a structural analysis of tsukeai based on the historical practice of the Kamakura-Nambokuchō poets, on the one hand, and what he implies are its roots in the waka genre on the other.

(20.) Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, “The Operation of the Lyrical Mode in the Genji monogatari,” in Ukifune: Love in the Tale of Genji, ed. Andrew Pekarik (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), pp. 21–61.