Natsume Sōseki Poems

Natsume Sōseki Poems

Description

This multimedia digital database compiles the traditional poetry and visual media of modern Japanese novelist, critic, philosopher and poet Natsume Sōseki 夏目漱石 (1867-1916).

Background:

Eminent translator of Japanese literature John Nathan (2018) has described Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) as “modern Japan’s greatest novelist.” But Sōseki was also a prolific poet in multiple genres, producing over three thousand poems in his lifetime. This project presents Sōseki as one of modern Japan’s greatest poets by arguing that, like his novels, Sōseki’s poetry displays his creativity as an artist and reveals larger trends in literary thought and expression in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Japan. While many of these poems have been annotated in various collections and monographs in Japanese, no complete translation exists in English. The database makes a wide selection of his poems accessible in a multimedia format that combines text, image, and calligraphy.

In his lifetime, Sōseki composed 2,500 haiku and 208 kanshi 漢詩. Haiku 俳句 is the seventeen syllable Japanese verse form that emerged as an independent genre in the late nineteenth century. Kanshi, or Sinitic verse, comes in different forms, and has a longer history in Japanese literature. The word kanshi is a Japanese term that emerged in the Meiji period (1867-1916) to refer to both traditional Chinese poetry from China and traditional Japanese poetry written in Chinese from antiquity. Before the Meiji period, kanshi were called shi 詩, or “poetry.” Once English and European poetry were imported in the nineteenth century, shi came to refer to “poetry” in general. Recently, scholars in English refer to kanshi as “Sinitic poetry” or “Sinitic verse.” Kanshi was the lingua franca used in poetic exchanges among intellectuals in East Asia; in this way, if a literary work was “Sinitic” that meant that it could be read and understood by all readers of classical Chinese. This mutual intelligibility is possible because the form of kanshi is Chinese and retains the rules of syntax and prosody found in traditional Chinese poetry. By composing kanshi, Sōseki participated in a transcultural and transhistorical poetic tradition.

Although he left only 208 kanshi, Sōseki has earned recognition from renowned literary scholars in Japan, including Sinologist Yoshikawa Kōjirō (1904-1980): “Though kanshi to Sōseki was likely an avocation, his poems are truly outstanding” (Yoshikawa 1976). In 1967, Yoshikawa produced the first comprehensive annotated volume of Sōseki’s kanshi, inspiring other scholars to follow suit (Iida 1967, Wada 1974, Nakamura 1983, Furui 2009). Burton Watson (1976) also translated a small selection of Sōseki’s kanshi into English.

This database offers the first complete translation of Sōseki’s kanshi, and the first multimedia digital database to include Sōseki’s kanshi, a selection of haiku and related images.

For Japanese database of Sōseki’s haiku see: https://sosekihaikushu.at.webry.info/200912/article_61.html

Objectives

The purpose of creating a multimedia digital database is twofold: to enable quick word searches through the corpus of poems in the original languages and in translation, and to enable access to other visual media (paintings, calligraphy, letters, etc.) that relate to the specific poems.

The search function of the database identifies keywords in the corpus, such as shū 愁, or “sorrow,” and locates all the poems in which the word shū appears. Since each poem has its own relationship with literary history (through allegory and allusion), material history (how and when it was composed), and social history (to whom the poem is addressed), the multimedia digital database will enable users to produce new philological research on the word’s poetic meanings, syntactic relationships, and literary, historical, and social contexts.

The digital interface will also enable users to visualize and examine the contexts of words within Sōseki’s oeuvre. Sōseki often featured the same poem in different contexts: a poem that he wrote in a letter to a friend was also the same poem he inscribed in calligraphy on a painting. The letter and the painting are two different contexts that affect the meaning of the poem, and the words that constitute it. The examination of the various contexts that determine the meaning of words in a poem is an approach that evokes the monumental work of Raymond Williams, whose book Keywords (1976) has shown how the meaning of words is dependent on their social, cultural, and historical contexts. In a similar way this multimedia database of Sōseki’s poetry examines how such contexts inform the meaning of keywords in his poetry.