cover image Ten Thousand Leaves

Ten Thousand Leaves

Anonymous. Overlook Press, $14.95 (94pp) ISBN 978-0-87951-214-9

Compiled during the eighth century, the Manyoshu is a sweeping anthology of 4516 poems on a range of subjects from the bawdy to the heroic. Wright, a scholar of Oriental poetry, has drawn from it 136 lyrical love poems written by royalty and peasants, warriors and priests. As he explains in his enlightening introduction, all the love poems were originally written in tanka, a 31-syllable form divided into five units. His translations each contain five lines, with each line comprising the designated number of syllables, except where too rigid a structure would interrupt the flow of a line. The poems are arranged thematically. Many look to nature for an outward, physical expression of mood, emotion, the passing of time. We read about the anticipation of love, the memory of love, and the constancy of love into old age. But by far the most prevalent theme is the longing for lovelonging for a spouse away at war, for a lover, for a person glimpsed but still unknown. Over 30 beautiful black-and-white illustrations accompany the poems. (March 20)