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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A presentation of the poet Ikkyu with translations from the Kyounshu "Mad Cloud Anthology". Arntzen, Sonja


This thesis presents a resumé of the traditional biography of the Japanese Zen poet, Ikkū Sōjun and translations with commentaries of a selected number of poems from the Kyōunshū, "Mad Cloud Anthology,", a collection of Ikkyū's Chinese poems. The Kyōunshū consists of one thousand and sixty Chinese poems, some with prose introductions and diary-like descriptions of the circumstances surrounding their composition. Thus, the Kyōunshū,aside from its wealth of poetry, philosophy, and historical interest, is also a valuable source of biographical information about the poet himself. There are some difficulties inherent in this study. To begin with, it involved research in two languages, Japanese and classical Chinese. Secondly, the subject range of Ikkyū's poetry is very large; it includes the whole of Zen literature, the Mahāyāna Sūtras, the classics of Chinese poetry and Chinese history as well. Although biographical information about Ikkyū in Japanese is fairly substantial, textual criticism and commentary for his poetry is extremely limited, thus, one is sent often without a chart to the maze of first sources seeking allusions. This, coupled with the very subjective nature of the poetry itself - with Ikkyū, originality tends to make for obscurity -makes the unraveling of sources a thorny problem sometimes. Thus, it is no wonder that few attempts have been made by scholars, even in Japan, to write commentaries for these poems. To my knowledge, this is the first attempt to translate into English and give commentaries for this large number of poems from the Kyōunshū, although, compared to the total number of poems, this is still few indeed. This thesis then, is really preparatory work for a more complete translation of the Kyōnnshū which could well, and will, I hope, constitute the subject of a Ph.D. thesis. Having outlined the difficulties inherent in the subject of this thesis, it would be well to point out in what ways this study is of particular interest. To begin with, the field of kanbun, literature in Chinese written by Japanese writers, has been relatively untouched in so far as translations into English are concerned; thus, to some extent these translations are an opening up of new territory in Japanese Literature. Secondly, Ikkyū's voice is an unusual one in Japanese poetry. Japanese poetry has been so closely associated with a contemplative appreciation of nature, delicate and restrained emotions, suggestion rather then statement, and a subtle sense of nuance, qualities rather constant throughout the development of uta, renga and haiku. However, it is with some interest then, that one greets a poet such as Ikkyū in whose poetry these qualities are quite absent. Ikkyū's poetry seldom seems to be the product of quiet reflection; rather his poems have the quality of being written in the heat of the moment; strong and sometimes violent emotions,, defiance, anger, passion, remorse, love, are boldly expressed. Ikkyū's poetry also tends, because of his own eruditeness, to be quite intellectual poetry which would lean toward the extremely abstract were it not for his strong personal voice which is ever-present. In short, Ikkyū's poetry is very individualistic in a culture which has never put a high store on individuality. Thus it is, that Ikkyū adds a new dimension to our conception of Japanese poetry.

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