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Songs in the Garden

Poetry and Gardens in Ancient Japan

2012, MPK Books



   The garden as a poem. Not simply a beautiful design to be appreciated by looking, but a living poem that can actually be read. That is the way gardens were thought of in Japan during the Heian period (794-1185). In that ancient society, a detailed understanding of poetry was an essential part of life for people in the literate classes. Poetic anthologies were learned by heart and all manner of communications either included poems or were interwoven with references to poetry. A central aspect of Heian-period poetry was that it employed images of nature as symbols of human emotions. A lonely pine tree on a windswept, rocky seashore evoked the bitter sadness of someone waiting for their lover. A scene of cut reeds, fallen and scattered this way and that, was a standard epithet to express unsettled, scattered emotions.



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