In the sixth month of 736, a Japanese diplomatic mission set out for the kingdom of Silla, on the Korean peninsula. The envoys undertook the mission during a period of strained relations with the country of their destination, met with adverse winds and disease during the voyage, and returned empty-handed. The futile journey proved fruitful in one respect: its literary representation—a collection of 145 Japanese poems and their Sino-Japanese (kanbun) headnotes and footnotes—made its way into the eighth-century poetic anthology Man’yōshū, becoming the longest poetic sequence in the collection and one of the earliest Japanese literary travel narratives.
Featuring deft translations and incisive analysis, this study investigates the poetics and thematics of the Silla sequence, uncovering what is known about the actual historical event and the assumptions and concerns that guided its re-creation as a literary artifact and then helped shape its reception among contemporary readers. H. Mack Horton provides an opportunity for literary archaeology of some of the most exciting dialectics in early Japanese literary history.
The first literary study of the Man’yōshū published in a generation, Traversing the Frontier provides a smooth and faithful translation of the 145 poems in the Silla sequence. Through erudite and approachable commentaries on this miniature anthology, and valuable chapters on its literary and historical contexts, this fine study serves as an excellent introduction to the entire Man’yōshū, and to early Japanese poetry in general.
Traversing the Frontier makes a significant contribution to the scholarship on eighth-century Japan and early Japanese literary history. This extraordinarily detailed study introduces valuable lenses through which scholars and students can examine other aspects of early Japanese culture and literature.
Mack Horton’s virtuosic translation and thorough analysis of the Silla sequence demonstrate a connoisseur’s understanding of subtle literary aesthetics and a historian’s mastery of the broader social contexts in which Man’yōshū poetry was composed, performed, and preserved.
- 648 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Asia Center
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