Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

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Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (柿本 人麻呂; c. 662 – 710) was a Japanese poet and aristocrat of the late Asuka period. He was the most prominent of the poets included in the Man'yōshū, and was particularly represented in volumes 1 and 2. In Japan, he is considered one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals. After the Heian period he was often called "Hito-maru" (人丸).


Works and Style

Hitomaro is famed for his long poems, such as "In the sea of ivy clothed Iwami"[1], "The Bay of Tsunu"[2], and "I loved her like the leaves." 19 of his chōka (or nagauta, "long poems") were included in the Man'yōshū and 75 or so tanka (or mijikauta, "short poems") were likewise selected. Many of his poems were written on the topics of public occasions; such as his "Lament for Prince Takechi", written as part of the mourning ceremonies for Takechi. Other poems were written on occasions in his life when he was particularly moved: parting from his wife, mourning for his wife, or on seeing a corpse.

His style makes use of figures of speech such as makurakotoba, jokotoba, and ouin (押韻) or rhyme. Among his chōka, he makes use of complex and variant taiku (対句) or antithesis. In his tanka, Hitomaro makes use of nearly 140 makurakotoba, among which half are not seen in previous works, which attests to his originality.In addition, his poetry includes kotodama such as:

In his hymns and elegies, he uses expressions such "Should his highness be a god" (大君は 神にしませば), "Being a god, becoming to a god" (神ながら 神さびせすと), and "Prince of the sun, shining on high" (高照らす 日の皇子) to highly glorify the emperor as an ascendant divinity and express his deeds. While examples of such expressions of the emperor as an ascendant divinity do appear in ancient historical works and folk songs, they are featured so prominently in Hitomaro's works as to make him stand out among all other contemporary poets. Further, such expressions quickly declined in use after Hitomaro, as the national enforcement of ritsuryō regulations between Emperor Temmu's reign and Jitō's court had encouraged him. In effect, such expressions can be seen as a product of the regulations of the time.

In regards to his love poetry, there are a number of extant chōka to women, and it was used to be thought by some, such as Mokichi Saitō, that he held numerous wives and mistresses. It is a more widely accepted interpretation today that Hitomaro is composing love stories rather than putting to verse his own experiences. Regardless if the contents are fact or fiction, Hitomaro placed emphasis on married life together, and the love poems capture his expressive nature.[3]

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