Ancient and Middle-Period Renga
Ancient and Middle-Period Renga
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter constitutes Shinkei's most important statement in Sasamegoto I on linking (tsukeai) in renga. Here, he argues that the link between verses has priority over the words of each verse. For example, while the single verse might be beautiful and impressive in itself, it is utterly lifeless unless it relates to the meaning (kokoro) of the previous verse (maeku). On the other hand, a plain and seemingly trivial verse will suddenly acquire a new life when viewed from the perspective of its link with the maeku. In other words, the transaction or engagement (toriyori) between the verse units, not in the verse units, is key to the essence and vitality of renga as a poetic genre, and linking is a process of animating words through the act of understanding.
When one compares the expressive diction of those first two or three renga masters with works of the middle period, they seem as different as the crow in the mountain depths and the heron by the river bank.1 Was there really such a complete change from one period to the next?
As our predecessors have said, no matter how biased one may be, one must admit that there was a very great change.2 When one examines the works of the early masters, one sees that they took infinite care with the maeku, attentive to even such technical points as consonantal and vocalic rhyming in order to relate to it.3 But from the middle period on, it seems that poets were concerned only with weaving flowers and crimson leaves into their own words, while wholly discarding the mind-heart of the preceding verse. They merely strung together images of the moon, flowers, and snow even in the most unsuitable places, and so their verses, lacking the vital link to the mind-heart of the maeku, merely sat there like a row of lifeless cadavers in impeccable garb. On the contrary, it is precisely in engaging the previous verse that even the most trivial words come to life with an appeal they have never had before.
This and the following chapter constitute Shinkei's most important statement in Sasamegoto I on the central question of tsukeai (linking) in renga. Here, he is in effect saying that the link between verses has priority over the words of each verse as such. Thus the single verse might be beautiful and impressive in itself, but it is utterly lifeless (the metaphor of the cadavers is quite revealing here) if it does not relate to the meaning (kokoro) of the previous verse, or maeku. On the other hand, it might be quite plain and (p.22) seemingly trivial as such but will suddenly acquire a new life when viewed from the perspective of its link with the maeku. In short, the essence and vitality of renga as a poetic genre lies in the transaction or engagement (toriyori) between the verse units, not in the verse units as such; and linking is as it were a process of animating words through the act of understanding.
(1.) The heron-crow metaphor derives from the saying sagi to karasu ([as different as] the heron and the crow) or sagi o karasu ([like making] a crow of a heron), which is to paint vice (p.214) as virtue, or pass off wrong as right. Not only is the quality of the poetry written by Gusai, Junkaku, and Shinshō as distinct from the compositions of the middle period as black is from white, but the implication is that the latter works are counterfeits of the genuine article. The crow is also a symbol for a professional, as opposed to the amateur.
(2.) That is to say, no matter how much one would like to believe that the poetry of the middle period is as good as that of the old masters, it isn't.
(3.) Japanese consonantal and vocalic rhyming are similar to alliteration and rhyme in Western poetry, and like them seem to have been adopted to reinforce the aural quality of the verse, as well as to effect a smooth transition from one line to the next. Consonantal rhyming (goin sōtsū) is the use of the same consonant, and vocalic rhyming (goin renjō), of the same vowel, in the last syllable of one line and the first syllable of the next. The first is alliterative in effect, and the second resembles rhyme. They are first mentioned in connection with linked verse in the Chirenshō, a handbook Yoshimoto wrote for his son Moronaga in 1374, containing his explanations of the different renga styles, as well as critical appraisals of the poetry of Gusai, Shūa, and more recent poets. The poet Bontō (see Chapter 25, n. 3) gives the following examples in his Chōtanshō (1390), a renga handbook in which he recorded the teachings of Yoshimoto.
yama tōki kasumi ni ukabu hi no sashite
Far mountains set afloat in the haze, touched by sunlight.
sora ni naki hikage no yama ya ame no uchi
Not from the sky—sunlight striking the mountain in the falling rain.
Bontō discusses rhyming (hibiki, echoing) as devices to effect a smooth transition (utsuri) from one line to the next in what is called the “closely linked verse” (shinku) in both renga and waka (Chōtanshō, pp. 153–55). Note, however, that whereas Bontō sees rhyming only within the single verse, Shinkei observes its application across two verses, that is, within the context of the issue of linking maeku and tsukeku in renga.