Spring 2022

The Spirit of Words: Survey of Classical Japanese Literature

Listed in: Asian Languages and Civilizations, as ASLC-221


Timothy J. Van Compernolle (Section 01)


The preface to an early-tenth-century Japanese poetry anthology makes extraordinary claims for the power of words: they can move heaven and earth, make the gods feel pity, smooth the relations between men and women, and console the hearts of warriors. To this we might add that words could also express political or religious dissent, the sorrow of exile, and the pain of a broken heart. In surveying the entire sweep of the literature written in classical Japanese, beginning with the oldest extant book in Japan, dating to the early eighth century, we will explore the many and varied uses of words. We will examine the love poetry of the court, war tales touched by many hands, Chinese verse composed by Japanese monks, theatrical forms for audiences large and small, and travel journals that overlay a literary topography on the physical landscape, among others. A postscript to the course will take us to the end of classical Japanese as the language of literature around 1900. No previous knowledge of Japan is required, and all texts are taught in English translation.

Spring semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: An emphasis on reading, literary analysis, and writing, including both analytical and creative writing. Students with documented disabilities who will require accommodations in this course should be in consultation with Accessibility Services and reach out to the faculty member as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations can be made in a timely manner.

This is preliminary information about books for this course. Please contact your instructor or the Academic Coordinator for the department, before attempting to purchase these books.

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600 Columbia University Press Haruo Shirane (ed.) Amherst Books TBD
The Tale of the Heike Stanford University Press Helen Craig McCullough (trans.) Amherst Books TBD
Chushingura Columbia University Press Donald Keene (trans.) Amherst Books TBD
Awesome Nightfall: The Life, Times, and Poetry of Saigyo Wisdom Publications William LaFleur Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022