I recently wrapped up One Hundred Leaves, which is an anthology of 100 poems written by 100 different Japanese poets, spanning from the 7th to the 13th century. I especially liked reading through this collection, as it’s presented in English, but also provides the Japanese translation, pronunciation, and calligraphy for each poem. Each poem is accompanied by artwork, and many of the poems also have additional notes on differing translations, common literary themes of the time, and info on the authors. One of the things I found most interesting is the fact that at the time, Japanese nobility were expected to convey themselves through poetry. Indeed, the authors here are mostly either former or current members of the Imperial Court at the time of the poems’ writing.
As far as the poems themselves go, One Hundred Leaves is a decent anthology, although I’m sure that traditional Japanese poetry isn’t likely to be seated on the shelf alongside my favorite reads. Still, I’m glad to have taken a glimpse at part of Japan’s literary history, and now have a better understanding of some recurring themes, traditions, and matters of importance for the culture.
I found myself enjoying the earlier poems, which seemed to flow better, were more original, and had more effective imagery; be it sad, angry, pretty, or what have you. A lot of the later poems seemed a bit repetitive in content. I’m not sure if that’s due to pressure by the Court to be writing certain things, the people going through specific events in their lives, or if it’s just me. Either way, I prefer the earlier poems.