Japanese poetry has for a long time been credited with truly miraculous powers of concision, suggestion, and philosophical insight by some of its Western admirers. Other Westerners, from Chamberlain and Aston on, have been less charmed, and have criticized the classical poetry of the Japanese court in particular, for excessive artificiality, and for a lack of breadth, grandeur, and sustained power.

The court poetry which was the supreme literary genre of the Heian and Kamakura periods is indeed restricted. In mode it is confined to lyricism; in form, to the 31-syllable tanka which becomes synonymous, in these periods, with waka, or Japanese poetry. Its vocabulary is circumscribed, generally limited to that employed in the KokinshŨ of 905, first of the twenty-one imperially sponsored anthologies of verse. There are some subsequent additions, primarily from the lexicon of the great early collection, the Man'yōshŨ (ca. 759), but the admissibility of such words was hotly contested.

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