More of the Beauty of Natsume Soseki

Natsume Soseki is often counted among the first of the "modern" Japanese novelists. Kokoro is the last novel he completed before his death in 1916, and it does have a curiously modern feel, more so than many western books of the same era.  Soseki-san was chronicling  the end of the Meiji era in Japan and the transition into the modern era.  While Kokoro is probably my favorite of his novels, there is much to be said also for the three volume I Am a Cat, Kusmakura, and Sanshiro.  He is probably best known amongst this earliest of the modern era Japan along with Junichiro Tanizaki. His works lead very naturally into the marvelous oeuvre of Yasunari Kawabata and his influence can be felt in Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, and even in Haruki Murikami.  In this he could rightly be figured the Joyce of Japan, even though his works remain solidly realistic and mostly unexperimental (in the western sense;  in Japan he was trail blazer.)

from Kokoro
Natsume Soseki

At the end of the cemetery a great ginkgo tree stood blocking the sky. "It will look lovely before long," Sensei remarked, looking up at it. "This tree turns a beautiful color in autumn. The ground is buried deep in golden leaves when they fall." Every month when he came here, I discovered, he made a point of passing under this tree.

Some distance away a man had been smoothing the rough earth of a new grave; he paused on his hoe and watched us. We turned left, and soon were back on the street.

I had nowhere in particular to go, so I continued to walk beside him. He spoke less than usual. It did not make me feel awkward, however, and I strolled along easily beside him.

What is wonderful here is that one still feels the tight connection with nature that is typical of earlier poets and of much of Japanese writing that leads up to Soseki.  With the gingko and the work of the gravedigger, one has a sense of Basho, Issa, and other poets of such succinctness and poignance that Soseki is at once a recapitulation of the literary history of Japan and the forerunner and turning point that would lead to the new highly stylized, symbolic literature of the New Japan. 


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