Japanese Poetry

Japan has a long and rich poetic tradition.  Going back to ancient times, waka (literally Japanese song) were written by people from all classes, from commoners to emperors.  Poetry was a part of the lifeblood of the people.  Courtiers wrote poems to mark important events and special occasions, and writing love poems on paper fans and having them serendipitously delivered was a common form of courtship. 

Poetry is interwoven is classical Japanese literature. Works such as The Tale of Genji, opens a new window are full of traditional poetry, the characters employing poems to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings to each other.  While the 11th century The Tale of Genji is sometimes recognized as the world's first novel, it is just as much a vehicle to express individual poems and give them narrative context.

Haiku is the best-known form of Japanese poetry in the West.  Haiku developed from a form of link verse called haikai no renga, wherein the first stanza was often a 5-7-5 syllable poem. These short verses have attracted admirers from all around the world for the short but vivid impressions that they would impart to the reader.

The following translations of Japanese poems are available through St. Tammany Parish Library:

The Kokinshū

The Essential Haiku

Silent Flowers

In the Eyes of the Cat

We have two versions of The Tale of Genji currently in our collection, Count Kenchō Suematsu's 1882 English translation and a contemporary graphic novel version by Sean Michael Wilson:

The Tale of Genji

Lady Murasaki's Tale of Genji