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This review is taken from PN Review 45, Volume 12 Number 1, September - October 1985.

APPROACHING JAPANESE POETRY Donald Keene, Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era: Fiction ($60.00), Poetry, Drama, Criticism ($40.00), (Holt, Rinehart & Winston) 1984

Two-thirds of these two thousand pages are devoted to fiction, while only a fifth is about poetry, for the novel has become the dominant literary form in Japan as it has elsewhere. I shall concentrate on the poetry, however, since it is the main interest of PNR readers, and also provides extreme examples of the difficulty of approaching Japanese literature and the culture as a whole.

Before doing so some introductory words about Donald Keene's history may be required. When completed it will consist of four volumes, these two being the third and fourth. The second volume, World within Walls, covering the period from 1600 to 1867, appeared a few years ago. He is now writing the first volume which will deal with the literature up to 1600. Work on the history was begun in 1966, at which time he assumed it would be completed in a couple of years, although it is now clear it will take over twenty. It has, in fact, become the 'life-work' (an English word beloved of Japanese critics) of the greatest scholar of Japanese literature the English speaking world has seen, or is likely to see. Japanese studies are now so specialized it is impossible one man should again have this depth of understanding of the whole of Japanese literature.

The history has been written with the interests of the lay reader as well as the specialist in mind and, unlike the majority of books which make a similar ...


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