Introduction of RENGA(連歌)

■Introduction of RENGA(連歌)■

AUDIO/VISUAL TUTORIAL of the basic knowledge of RENGA(連歌) : 5-7-5-7-7 linked verse(… or tweaked farce?) played by more than one poet

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■Introduction of RENGA(連歌) : 5-7-5-7-7 linked verse(… or tweaked farce?) played by more than one poet■

 Though similar in 5-7-5-7-7 letter/syllable format, a RENGA(連歌=linked verse) is different from a TANKA(短歌) in that it is a combination play between several poets. After the first poet makes the former 5-7-5 part of the rhyme, the second thinks about a suitable 7-7 for the latter part and thus are linked the two parts together into a whole poem of 5-7-5-7-7 letter/syllable TANKA(短歌) format.



 The combination product of RENGA(連歌), of course, is not so much an authentic piece of art as a party entertainment… but just look around you in a KARAOKE-BOX and see what they want from other participants ― beautifully artistic voice, or strident yet companionable chant? Just as KARAOKE singing party is an almost mandatory social intercourse in today’s Japan, the exchange of TANKA(短歌) poems was an established routine of noble men and women in the HEIAN era. While poetry was ubiquitous, true poets were few; the result was a long tedious stream of vapid rhymes rapidly produced as partly modified imitations of famous works by others. Now, you could imagine what a welcome relief RENGA(連歌) could have offered to largely prosaic people in a universe where verse reigned supreme.



 While it was not exactly impossible to produce an unexpectedly superb piece of poetry out of creative harmony between two excellent poets, RENGA(連歌)’s practical merit must have been its magically comical power of forging out fancifully farcical poems; as such, people in the HEIAN era Japan regarded RENGA(連歌) as something inferior to TANKA(短歌), with the result that very few actual works of RENGA(連歌) were recorded in documents to survive to this day. The first recorded RENGA(連歌) anthology in Japan with the name of “竹馬狂吟集:ちくばきゃうぎんしふ” (meaning ‘Crazy Chants of Bamboo Horses’) dates back as recently as 1499 (towards the end of the MUROMACHI era).



 In the ensuing years of SENGOKU(戦国=Warring State), AZUCHI-MOMOYAMA(安土桃山=dominated by ODA NOBUNAGA and TOYOTOMI HIDEYOSHI) and EDO(江戸=initiated by TOKUGAWA IEYASU) periods, RENGA(連歌) enjoyed its prime, not due to its artistic merit but because it offered a convenient occasion for rivaling warlords and merchants to get to know each other in a relaxed mood; in this sense, RENGA(連歌) was a poetic equivalent of CHA-NO-YU(茶の湯=a tea cenemory): it was not the excellent taste of tea or poetry that was actually sought in CHA-NO-YU(茶の湯) or RENGA(連歌) but a welcome detente fostered in the mood of cooperative creation and appreciation between otherwise strangers who were potentially hostile and therefore dangerous.



 In logical consequence, RENGA(連歌) was rarely rhymed out in a mood of artistic competition with a view to excelling the opponent by creating an overwhelmingly better 7-7 than the rival’s 5-7-5 or vice versa. In the absence of such competitive nature, RENGA(連歌) naturally flew downstream without aspiring to go upstream as all artistic pursuit should. Weary of such tepid atmosphere, a certain RENGA-master in the early EDO era turned his back on the tame intimate lines of 5-7-5-7-7 and boldly broke it down into simpler 5-7-5; this epoch-making breakthrough by MATSUO BASHOU(松尾芭蕉:1644-1694) was about the only literary merit brought about by less-than-artistic RENGA(連歌) verse-linking.



 Anyway, let’s see how RENGA(連歌) works; first, someone starts off a poem by rhyming out the first 5-7-5 part of a TANKA(短歌) as in the following example:



(in 5-7-5 Japanese syllables)

《Ame ga shita hana ni yowazaru hito wa nashi》

あめがしたはなにゑはざるひとはなし

<天が下花に酔はざる人はなし>

『およそ世の中に、春の桜の美しさに酔わない人は一人もいない』

あめがした【天が下】〔副〕<ADVERB:in the whole wide world>

はな【花】〔名〕<NOUN:flowers, blossom>

に【に】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(CAUSE):by, due to, thanks to>

ゑふ【酔ふ】〔自ハ四〕(ゑは=未然形)<VERB:get intoxicated, drunk, fascinated>

ず【ず】〔助動特殊型〕打消(ざる=連体形)<AUXILIARY VERB(NEGATIVE):not>

ひと【人】〔名〕<NOUN:a human being, person>

は【は】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(SUBJECT)>

なし【無し】〔形ク〕(なし=終止形)<VERB:do not exist>

…There is no one in the world that does not get intoxicated with flowers

(in formal but vapid 5-7-5 English words)

In the whole wide world

Could there be anyone that’s not intoxicated

By these beautiful cherry flowers

(in more rhythmical 5-7, not 5-7-5 English words)

All people under the sun

Get cherry-drunk in the spring field



 Following the former 5-7-5 part by someone else, another poet ― in this case, a rather seriously artistic one ― complements the latter 7-7 part to complete the rhyme as a piece of poetic art:



(in 7-7 Japanese syllables)

《Ada ni na tsugi so harusame no sake》

あだになつぎそはるさめのさけ

<徒にな注ぎそ春雨の酒>

『せっかく美しい花に酔っている最中に、空から水っぽい酒を注いで興趣を薄めるような真似はやめておくれ春雨さん』

あだ【徒】〔形動ナリ〕(あだに=連用形)<ADVERB:in vain, to no purpose, as a wet blanket>

な【な】〔副〕<ADVERB:do not>

つぐ【注ぐ】〔他ガ四〕(つぎ=連用形)<VERB:pour, fill in>

そ【そ】〔終助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(EMPHATIC):please>

…Please don’t pour in vain

―掛詞(KAKE-KOTOBA):start―

(A)

はるさめ【春雨】〔名〕<NOUN:rain in Spring>

の【の】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(APPOSITIVE):’s, of>

さけ【酒】〔名〕<NOUN:alcoholic drink, liquor, sake>

…The liquor of Spring rain

(B)

はる【春】〔名〕<NOUN:Spring>

さむ【覚む・醒む】【冷む】(さめ=連用形)〔自マ下二〕<VERB:get sober, disillusioned>

の【の】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(APPOSITIVE):’s, of>

さけ【酒】〔名〕<NOUN:alcoholic drink, liquor, sake>

…The liquor to wet-blanket Spring

―掛詞(KAKE-KOTOBA):end―

(in formal but prosaic 7-7 English words)

Let Spring rain pour as sake and

The joyful flower-viewing party will be over

(in curt and catchy 7, not 7-7 English words)

Don’t pour Spring rain liquor in vain

(in fanciful 5-5, not 7-7 English words)

Pour not this vernal rain

More sips make everyone sober



 …Not all RENGA-poets are ardent art lovers; the preceding 5-7-5 could (indeed MUST more often than not) end up in anticlimax by the hands of partners who’ll do nothing but say something similar in 7-7 words with partly modified phrases in it… just like:



(in 7-7 Japanese syllables)

《Sake ni yowazaru hito wa are domo》

さけにゑはざるひとはあれども

<酒に酔はざる人はあれども>

『酒に酔わない人はいるけどね』

さけ【酒】〔名〕<NOUN:alcoholic drink, liquor, sake>

に【に】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(CAUSE):by, due to, thanks to>

ゑふ【酔ふ】〔自ハ四〕(ゑは=未然形)<VERB:get intoxicated, drunk, fascinated>

ず【ず】〔助動特殊型〕打消(ざる=連体形)<AUXILIARY VERB(NEGATIVE):not>

ひと【人】〔名〕<NOUN:a human being, person>

は【は】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(SUBJECT)>

あり【有り・在り】〔自ラ変〕(あれ=已然形)<VERB:exist>

ども【ども】〔接助〕<CONJUNCTION:though>

…Though there does exist someone who does not get intoxicated with alcohol

(in 5-7, not 7-7 English words)

Though some will remain sober

No matter how much sake they have.



 … Or someone might finish up the RENGA with a sarcastic ending like this:



(in 7-7 Japanese syllables)

《Hana ni awazaru otoko are domo》

はなにあはざるをとこあれども

<花に逢はざる男あれども>

『花のように美しい女性と無縁の男はいるけどね』

はな【花】〔名〕<NOUN:a woman as beautiful as a flower>

に【に】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(OBJECT)>

あふ【会ふ・逢ふ・婚ふ】〔自ハ四〕(あは=未然形)<VERB:meet as a lover, have intimate relationship with>

ず【ず】〔助動特殊型〕打消(ざる=連体形)<AUXILIARY VERB(NEGATIVE):not>

をとこ【男】〔名〕<NOUN:a man, male>

あり【有り・在り】〔自ラ変〕(あれ=已然形)<VERB:exist>

ども【ども】〔接助〕<CONJUNCTION:though>

…Though there does exist a man who does not meet and mate a beautiful woman

(in 5-7, not 7-7 English words)

Though some men remain single

Without meeting, let alone mating flowery women.



 These example RENGA(連歌) of mine would be enough proof to show you that TANKA(短歌) poems could be partly artistic and partly farcical; according to the poets in tandem, it could be initially prosaic but finally artistic… at first gleeful, in the end cynical. This case-sensitive variability of RENGA(連歌) has its own charm; still, it’s not so much a genre of art as a parlor trick. Also, you must have seen how difficult it is to complete a 5-7-5-7-7 TANKA(短歌) as a totally artistic entity whether by yourself or in combination with someone else; it would often start out great and end up flat. It is quite easy to come up with splendid phrases in 5-7-5 or 7-7 alone, but a happy combination of the pair is quite rare to find… no wonder you find yourself surrounded in Japan by no end of proudly curt HAIKU(俳句) lines in 5-7-5 letters, while rarely encountering artistically completed TANKA(短歌) rhymes in 5-7-5-7-7. HAIKU(俳句) is a sketch, TANKA(短歌) is a scheme: while there can only be scenery in the 17-word 5-7-5 world of HAIKU(俳句), there is room enough for a well-crafted scenario in the 31-word 5-7-5-7-7 TANKA(短歌)… if it fails to make the most of this roomy potential, a TANKA(短歌) just fails flat and makes you wish you had stopped short at 5-7-5 to make it sound like a HAIKU(俳句) instead… although a true HAIKU(俳句) is anything but a simply curtailed version of TANKA(短歌).