The Pheasant’s Call and the Sound of Sympathy




This article examines how literati poet-painter Yosa Buson (1716-1783) composed an elegy that transforms the conventional trope of the pheasant as a figure for representing grief and grieving and Confucian moral and social values.  I argue that Buson forges a new poetic form, representing feelings of grief and the process of grieving, mourning, and longing through the conventional trope of the pheasant.  At the same time, Buson makes the pheasant an object of empirical representation, allowing the sound of the pheasant’s call to reverberate through the rhythm and repetition of poetic form. This reverberation sets into motion multiple lyric events where the poet simultaneously expresses his grief, mourns the deceased, and summons the dead by performing an incantation that enlists the reader to sympathize with the bird and the poet.  I show how Buson’s representation of the pheasant is conventional by exploring its allusions to Chinese and Japanese poems that represent the pheasant.  I also show how Buson’s poem and representation of the pheasant are products of his present moment in the late eighteenth century, examining how his elegy is informed by late imperial Chinese lyricism, scientific empiricism, philology and the theory of mono no aware (“to sympathize or empathize with the feelings of others”) in kokugaku (Native Studies).  The article contends that Buson’s conventional and innovative representation of the pheasant’s call affords the ancient verb toyomu (to reverberate) a new form, mediating sympathy through the reverberation of sound in poetic form.


Author Biography

Matthew Mewhinney, Florida State University

Matthew Mewhinney is Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics at Florida State University.


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