The poetry of every nation and age is a complex expression of the history, spirit, and individual genius of a people; and, as each successive generation evaluates a native or an alien poetic tradition from its own historical and cultural vantage-point, it discovers meanings and values as well as limitations and weaknesses in the poetry it reads. Each generation must reassess for itself the glory that was Greece or the grandeur of Japan—so that the attempt to describe the formative elements which underlie Japanese poetic expression is more than a single essay, individual, or generation can accomplish. But the undertaking nevertheless seems necessary today, when we can no longer be satisfied with the older extremes of Victorian condescension towards “Japanese epigrams”; the exclusively historical or biographical treatment which evades direct analysis of the poetry; or that simple-minded exoticism which prefers ignorant rapture to the disciplined effort of literary criticism. For the Westerner as well as for the Japanese, poetry lives only as it is understood and felt, and our experience of Japanese poetry today must reflect contemporary critical standards and techniques of analysis—the means of understanding given us by our own age and culture.

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