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Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

(fl ca 685-705). Most important poet of the Man’yōshū, the earliest anthology of Japanese verse. He was a low-ranking member of the courts of Emperor Temmu (r 672-686), Empress Jitō, and Emperor Mommu (r 697-707). Many of the poems attributed to him in the Man’yōshū are suspect. However, of the poems that scholars agree were written by him, they are of such quality as to demonstrate why many people consider him the greatest Japanese poet. He masters numerous techniques -- complex parallelism, overture-like paeans to the divinity of the land or royal line, and irony. He infuses public events with personal emotion and universalizes the intimate. Some of his poems deal with court activities and war, whereas others deal with more personal themes such as the death of his wife and the sadness of parting. Foremost among Man’yōshū poets, Hitomaro remains, along with Saigyō and Bashō, one of the three most esteemed poets in Japanese history. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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