How to Read a Japanese Poem

Steven D. Carter

Columbia University Press

How to Read a Japanese Poem

Pub Date: June 2019

ISBN: 9780231186834

344 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: June 2019

ISBN: 9780231186827

344 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£74.00

Pub Date: June 2019

ISBN: 9780231546850

344 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

How to Read a Japanese Poem

Steven D. Carter

Columbia University Press

How to Read a Japanese Poem offers a comprehensive approach to making sense of traditional Japanese poetry of all genres and periods. Steven D. Carter explains to Anglophone students the methods of composition and literary interpretation used by Japanese poets, scholars, and critics from ancient times to the present, and adds commentary that will assist the modern reader.

How to Read a Japanese Poem presents readings of poems by major figures such as Saigyō and Bashō as well as lesser known poets, with nearly two hundred examples that encompass all genres of Japanese poetry. The book gives attention to well-known forms such as haikai or haiku, as well as ancient songs, comic poems, and linked verse. Each chapter provides examples of a genre in chronological order, followed by notes about authorship and other contextual details, including the time of composition, physical setting, and social occasion. The commentaries focus on a central feature of Japanese poetic discourse: that poems are often occasional, written in specific situations, and are best read in light of their milieu. Carter elucidates key concepts useful in examining Japanese poetics as well as the technical vocabulary of Japanese poetic discourse, familiarizing students with critical terms and concepts. An appendix offers succinct definitions of technical terms and essays on aesthetic ideals and devices.
Carter’s book, no esoteric over-academic tome, is a lively exploration of Japanese poetic discourse, a guide to the formal delicacy and subtlety of Japanese verse, opening it up for the reader and showing, not telling, what’s inside. His book is accessible to all who enjoy Japanese poetry; he writes intelligently, sensitively and passionately about it, and the result is an indispensable book which will make Japanese poetry come alive and reveal its depth at the same time. John Butler, Asian Review of Books
In this thorough and wide-ranging book, Carter explores what to look for and what’s not obvious in each of Japan’s distinct genres of poetry. How to Read a Japanese Poem offers detailed analyses of specific poems in each era, exploring the textual and cultural context, social occasion, and the location and timing of composition. This book takes readers below the surface to understand the nuances of context. Michael Dylan Welch, founder and president, Tanka Society of America
This fresh collection of poems, most of which have never appeared in translation before, illuminates the core and continuity of Japanese poetry. Carter’s commentary, based on a vast erudition worn as lightly as a feathered robe, opens up each poem, the world and the heart together. This book will enlighten and delight general readers and specialists alike. Sonja Arntzen, University of Toronto
Carter’s colleagues and students have long waited to take this journey with him as guide to the formal subtleties and aesthetic principles that make Japanese poetry so rewarding and that he understands and explains so well. This is a most welcome volume. Edward Kamens, Yale University
From the songs of ancient Japan to haiku on World War II, through snow-flecked pines and into noisy streets, Carter guides us through more than a millennium of Japanese verse. Thanks to his contextual insights and masterful translations, the “clouds clear away” to reveal the beauty, power, wit, and utility of Japanese poetry. Christina Laffin, University of British Columbia
This book is a masterful tour of Japanese poetry from the earliest times to the late nineteenth century. The range of knowledge is astonishing, and there are very few people—perhaps no one—who could attempt this kind of book except for the author. Torquil Duthie, University of California, Los Angeles
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Ancient Song and Poetry
2. Long Poems and Short Poems
3. Popular Songs
4. Linked Verse
5. Unorthodox Poems
6. Comic Poems
7. Poems in Chinese
Appendix 1: Technical Terms
Appendix 2: Aesthetic Ideals and Devices
Notes
Sources of Japanese Texts
Selected Bibliography
Index of Japanese Names, Titles, and Terms

About the Author

Steven D. Carter is Yamato Ichihashi Chair in Japanese History and Civilization, emeritus, at Stanford University. His Columbia University Press books include Haiku Before Haiku: From the Renga Masters to Bashō (2011) and The Columbia Anthology of Japanese Essays: Zuihitsu from the Tenth to the Twenty-First Century (2014).