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Compiled in the early tenth century, the Kokinshū is an anthology of some eleven hundred poems that aimed to elevate the prestige of vernacular Japanese poetry at the imperial court. From shortly after its completion to the end of the nineteenth century, it was celebrated as the cornerstone of the Japanese vernacular poetic tradition. The composition of classical poetry, other later poetic forms such as linked verse and haikai, and vernacular Japanese literary writing in its entirety (including classic works such as Murasaki Shikibu's Tale of Genji and Sei Shōnagon's Pillow Book) all draw from the Kokinshū.

This book offers an inviting and immersive selection of roughly one-third of the anthology in English translation. Torquil Duthie focuses on rendering the poetic language of the Kokinshū as a whole, in such a way that readers can understand and experience how its poems work together to create a literary world. He emphasizes that classical Japanese poems do not stand alone as self-contained artifacts but take part in an ongoing intertextual conversation. Duthie provides translations and interpretations of the two prefaces to the Kokinshū, which deeply influenced Japanese literary aesthetics. The book also includes critical essays on various aspects of the anthology and its history. This translation helps specialist and nonspecialist readers alike appreciate the beauty and richness of the Kokinshū, as well as its significance for the Japanese literary tradition.

Publication Date: 
April 18, 2023