The Tales of Ise <Set D>

By Steve Ross
March 13, 2019
(Video)A Talk with Peter MacMillan, Part 4: Ise Monogatari

The video clip provides excerpts from a conversation with poet and translator Peter MacMillan. His insights infuse these classics with life, rendering fresh relevance for today.

The Tales of Ise (Ise Monogatari) is a classic collection of waka poetry from the Heian period. The culture and manners of life at court, love, and the beauty of nature are some of the works' themes that continue to resonate in present day Japan. 

Famed Japanologist Donald Keene praised Peter MacMillan as "the premier translator of Japanese literature of his generation," but MacMillan makes clear his humble struggles to communicate both the beauty and original sensibility of these classic texts to readers of modern English.

Peter MacMillan is a prize-winning translator, scholar, poet, and artist. He graduated first in his class from the National University of Ireland, University College Dublin, and then went on to take an M.A. in philosophy and a Ph.D. in English literature. He spent two years as a Visiting Fellow at Princeton, Columbia, and Oxford universities. MacMillan teaches at The University of Tokyo and Tokyo Women's Christian University. A citizen of both Ireland and Britain, he has lived in Japan for about thirty years and strives to be a bridge between Japan and the world. He creates prints under his artist name, Seisai. Peter's translation, One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each (Hyakunin Isshu), was published in 2008, winning prizes in both Japan and the United States. His English translation of the Tales of Ise (Ise Monogatari) was published by Penguin in 2016. He has also published a collection of poetry, Admiring Fields. MacMillan serves as a Councilor of the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan.
The Tales of Ise <Set D>

1. An inspirational reading from The Tales of Ise

Peter reads the selection "The Heart of Spring" in the traditional Japanese style, followed by an explanation in English. The importance of fragility in the work is explored.  

2. On the role of women in The Tales of Ise

While The Tales are written from a male point of view, Peter points out the strength of women portrayed in the work, and the beauty of their poetic expression.

3. On the relevance of The Tales of Ise to today

Peter outlines how The Tales of Ise can enrich modern lives, providing insights into the spirit of historical Japan that can help to refine our sensibilities in the present age.
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