Shizen-ei (poems about nature) is a term for a type of tanka (thirty-one syllable poem) (also used in reference to haiku). The term refers to tanka which describe nature, such as natural scenery and the beauties of nature that are the traditional themes of natural beauty in Japanese aesthetics. Shizen-ei is a concept for classifying different subjects of tanka, considered to be the category in contraposition to what has been referred to as Shakai-ei (poems about society) which describes various matters, including the society in which people live and the perception toward the society.
History of Shizen-ei
The field of Shizen-ei emerged when Shakai-ei started to become popular after World War II. The fundamentals of Shakai-ei were originally based in literary sketch as a tool of means and a method of composing poems advocated by Shiki MASAOKA. The 'literary sketch' which Shiki advocated subsequently caused various divisions, including the difference of opinions based on the objective and subjective perspectives, in addition to the conflicts resulting from the different viewpoints within an association. Not surprisingly however, the conclusion was that it was impossible for a poem to have nature as its theme and be just a poem depicting nature with no subjective standpoint.
Examples of Shizen-ei
Standing on the hill overlooking the lake, I hear the sound of the ice breaking offshore.
This poem was composed by Akahiko SHIMAKI who argued, 'What is referred to as literary sketch is a complement of the sole truth of internal being and not a portrayal of external events,' whereby preaching the 'Way of Portrayal' and the 'Way of Discipline.'
A Shizen-ei sounds as though it is a simple description of nature, but this is not the case. Looking at Lake Suwa from Akahiko's home at the top of a small hill, the heaving of melting ice offshore began to expand. One could almost hear the sound of breaking ice. The sound could be heard even inside the residence of long winters, the spring has come this far. There is a great stirring of nature which brings hopeful anticipation for the spring. This is an inspirational poem.
I wonder if there are white caps on Mogami-gawa River made by blowing snow in my home town. It seems that this poem by Mokichi SAITO depicts the violent snowstorm by creating a new word 'sakashiranami' (white caps), but the poem also truly conveys Mokichi's genuine love of Mogami-gawa River and his home town. Mokichi says as follows.
'In regard to tanka, the literary sketch is to accurately recognize the subject in its true form and to portray life, whereby nature and the self originate from the same source; this is the drawing of nature that is tanka.'