Poetry in Heian Times
People in the Heian period use poetry to express their thoughts and feelings because it was more aesthetically pleasing and because aesthetics and puns developed easily together. This is demonstrated in Tale of Genji by the sheer amount they use poetry in day to day life and in the double meanings hidden in most of the poetry. This is also supported by the fact that people in the Heian period placed a lot of importance in beauty and tried to make everything they did an art form.
Tale of Genji is filled to the brim with poems. To speak in poems was to speak with intelligence. Genji was portrayed as someone with the utmost skill in creating poetry and while there were many others who also spoke it, he was the main contender. Genji took every opportunity to create poetry. While waiting for a bishop, Genji recited, “My dreams were dispelled/ by voices borne on the gale/ gusting from the hills;/ my eyes overflow with tears/ at the sound of the cascade.” (Genji 93). Even while waiting for someone to arrive people composed poetry. Though most of these poems were filled with many different meanings.
The Heian language is filled with many puns that make composing poetry much easier. This poem composed by Genji can take on two different meanings. “The transient seaweed/ has served the fisherman/ as a diversion,/ but he remembers someone else,/ and salt tears fill his eyes.” (Genji 207). While there is the simple way of taking this poem as it is, looking deeper, “The transient seaweed” represents the woman Genji saw before coming to Murasaki, Genji being “the fisherman”, and he is telling her that while he was distracted by this woman “as a diversion”, he was thinking about her and became sad as he missed her “remembers someone else, and salt tears fill his eyes.” There are hidden meanings in most of the poetry in Tale of Genji. This was used so often because poetry was considered a form of beauty.
During the Heian period, people took great measures in trying to make sure that everything they did was an art form. To them, the most important thing was beauty. Artistic pursuits were the most important occupation for the aristocratic class and daily activities like courtship, love-making, and letter writing were raised to the level of art form (Lecture 2/29). With importance placed on even the most minor things, poetry, already considered something beautiful, was automatically something that was used to express themselves. Poetry is valued so much as something aesthetically pleasing that people give others gifts of poems. There are numerous occasions that Genji speaks in poetry and it brings people to tears. Beauty could be considered to be one of the main reasons that people speak in poetry in the Heian period.
Poetry is very important to people in the Heian period because it is a form of language for people. The aesthetically pleasing nature of this form of language gave people not only beauty in their thoughts but beauty in their words. People in the Heian period spoke in such a way because it was beautiful and they were able to create puns in their language which allowed for an exotic way to express their thoughts instead of blatantly telling people.