Noted Japanese literary critic and writer Kenkichi Yamamoto’s “The Singing Heart” provides a satisfying introduction to modern Japanese poetry. Grouped into thematic sections ranging from “The World of Love” and “Human Existence” to “Nature,” Yamamoto hoped to provide readers with a window into the “chaotically swirling” world of Japanese poetry.”

The Singing Heart: An Anthology of Japanese Poems (1900-1960), Compiled by Kenkichi Yamamoto, Translated by William I. Elliott and Katsumasa Nishihara.
208 pages

Yamamoto introduces each poem and poet with chatty biographical details mixed with astute literary observations and connections, culminating in a lively, entertaining read that is not just for poetry fans. The themes, concerns, issues and daily lives of Japanese during the Meiji (1868-1912), Taisho (1912-26) and Showa (1926-89) eras come alive with Yamamoto’s explanations.

The section “Death and Life,” for example, thoroughly explores modern Japanese poems about death while illuminating cultural traditions such as rural burial rites or the grief for soldiers who never returned. The last section, “Hometown Memories,” captures the bittersweet nostalgia for people and places gone or irrevocably changed by the passage of time.

Translated by William I. Elliott and Katsumasa Nishihara, “The Singing Heart” opens a window to 20th-century Japan through an insightful yet accessible analysis of its poetry.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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