Reading and Composition on Topics in East Asian Humanities: "It Blooms but Briefly: memory, mortality, and flowers in premodern Chinese and Japanese poetry" R1B.1

From court officials to monks, from lovers to warriors, poets in the Chinese and Japanese traditions have sung of flowers. Blossoms in poetry are ephemeral, yet faithfully returning—both that which briefly flourishes and rapidly fades, and that which comes year after year to mark the season. References to flowers accompany poetic laments on grief and impermanence, and decorate poems exchanged between lovers and friends in the Tale of Genji and the Story of the Stone. Spring’s flowering cherries may be the poetic occasion, but does the sight of the blossoming branches also draw forth feelings already stirring within the poet’s breast? This is a course in carefully reading literature created in times and places very different from our own. As we spend time with our primary texts, we will consider what a poem was to premodern readers and writers, many of whom lived over a millennia ago: Why might this poem have been written? What purposes could it have served? How well can we guess what meanings the poet may have had in mind, or what meanings contemporary readers may have understood? What assumptions could we, as modern readers, have about poetic meaning that might not always apply to the words in front of us?