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This report is taken from PN Review 190, Volume 36 Number 2, November - December 2009.

Passing Through Pasing Frank Kuppner

Rummaging through yet another pile of sundry materials long overdue for a thinning-out, I unexpectedly unearth Arthur Waley’s Japanese Poetry: The ‘Uta’. So that’s where the little darling has been hiding for the last couple of years! Then, as part of my serious continuing life-time commitment to never quite getting a proper grasp of Japanese, I immediately settle down to (at the very least) another light, civilised flick-through of this peculiar volume.

It’s pretty early for Professor Waley (1919 - though mine’s a mere paperback reprint) and while it gives some 150-plus examples of the classical uta/tanka form (five lines: 5,7,5,7,7 syllables) it’s to a considerable extent set out like a language manual, with a grammar-introduction, a vocabulary list (kinu-ginu, mutual dressing: nakari, not to be), technical notes, and cribs which are closely wedded to transliterations of the original texts. Not ten years earlier, Waley had known nothing of Japanese, and the book still gives off a strong sense of discovery and a pioneer’s enthusiasm. A wonderful new alternative literary universe (we note a providential reference to ‘the sea of Ago’) has just hove into sight.

And after the briefest of scrutinies, something else heaves into sight too. I notice - which I had completely forgotten - (what else might I have forgotten? - have I more or less forgotten even my own life? - but then, as an enduring project, what else is there for one to forget?) - I observe to my surprise ...


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