Karen Loh 5064787

J136-236 Paper #1

Two poems by Archbishop Jien (Carter, p. 171, poem 327; p. 172, poem 330) and two by Shunzei’s Daughter (Carter, p. 175, poem 341; p.176, poem 342) “plumb the depths of your intent without laying it [the situation] bare” (Kamo no Chomei, p.3, No. 6) to depict mankind’s paradoxical approach to the moon: seeking reassurance and companionship in its permanence and predictability, despite it being an uncertain mystery, inaccessible directly and impossible to control nor fully understand.  The poets merely provide a stark glimpse of the situations in which the speakers find themselves, so that the reader must fill in with his or her resonance to complete the poetic experience.  The speakers’ attempts to escape their predicament by seeking fulfillment in the deceptive permanence of the moon are left hanging incomplete, creating in turn for the reader an atmosphere embroiled with lack of fulfillment and the mystery of the moon, which probes the reader’s depths of intent to understand as best he can.  

The sense of lack of fulfillment upon which the poems end creates a vacuum into which any careful reader fills to restore the equilibrium.  The lingering sense of incompletion creates an atmosphere that “hovers over the poem” (Fujiwara no Shunzei, p.3, No. 7), “plumb[s] the depths of [their] intent”, thereby extending the reader’s frame of mind into a realm “distinct from its words” (Shunzei, p.3, No. 7).  All four poems possess this quality.

In Jien’s poem 327 (Carter, p. 171), the moon sets before a lone traveler has had enough of the moon’s company and beauty manifested in its reflection in the mountain spring water he was drinking, as his cupped hands suggest.  As honkadori from Ki no Tsurayaki’s poem 171 (Carter, p.105) on “Parting, composed upon bidding farewell to someone with whom he had talked near a spring on a mountain road”, it reaffirms the instinctive human desire for any type of company, human or not—Monk Saigyo even makes a companion of solitude: “If not for solitude,/how dismal my life would be!” (Carter, p.167, poem 318).  In this case, the floating, unanswered to last line “leaving me still wanting more” conveys the speaker’s loneliness and desire for his trustworthy but only temporarily graspable (through reflection) companion the moon.  The consciousness of such emotional attachments and desires indicates the timelessness of the emotions, perceptions, and aesthetic sensibilities of past poets, to which humanity has been responding even till now.  Furthermore, the experience is not restricted to one specific context; Tsurayaki’s speaker was not satisfied with the brief human contact, but Jien’s speaker made do with the inanimate moon.  That the experience transcends not only minds but also contexts reinforces it.  All this was not laid out bare.

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The speaker in Jien’s other poem (Carter, p. 172, poem 330) calls out for someone to understand his sorrow and looks to the moon for an answer.  His exposure to the indiscriminate, sharp and harsh “bright gleam” of the moon suggests through a heightened monochromatic contrast and the fact that no one responds to the speaker’s resounding question spoken out loud in this darkness delineates the individual alone in the stark, empty world, on a clear, dark night.  Whether or not he answers his question remains ambiguous until one recalls that the moon shining in the darkness has long since ...

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