One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets

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Poem 11

   wata no hara

yasojima kakete

   kogiidenu to

hito ni wa tsugeyo

ama no tsuribune


   O fishing boat,

tell the one I leave behind

   that I have rowed out

toward the countless islands

in the broad expanse of the sea.

-- Counselor Takamura


This poem appears in the "Travel" section of the Kokinshū. The poet, Ono no Takamura (802-852), was a scholar of the first rank skilled in composing Chinese poetry. He was exiled to the island of Oki when (after two previously unsuccessful attempts) he refused to board an unsound ship that was supposed to carry him to China as a court envoy. This waka was supposedly composed at the time of his exile.

The poem is meant to convey the loneliness and uncertainty of the exile first by reference to the contrast between the many islands of the Inland Sea and the solitary boat carrying the poet to Oki, and second by implying emotional intensity through the device of gijin-ka or gijin-hō (personification), charging a nearby fishing boat with delivering the poet's message to his loved one (or, in an alternate interpretation, to all of his acquaintances back in the capital).

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: sea | 's | plain
  • Line 2: eighty-islands (the numbers eight and eighty are frequently used in classical Japanese to connote manifoldness) | setting-out-for
  • Line 3: have-rowed-out | so (quotation particle connected with the verb in the next line; the "that" of "communicate that")
  • Line 4: person | to | as-for | communicate (imperative form of the verb associated with the quotation particle in Line 3; thus, "communicate to the person that")
  • Line 5: fisherman | 's | fishing-boat

Poem 12

   ama tsu kaze

kumo no kayoiji


otome no sugata

shibashi todomemu


   Let the wind in the sky

blow closed the cloudy passage

   so that I may keep

these heavenly dancing maidens

before me for yet a spell.

-- Bishop Henjō


This waka comes from the first "Miscellaneous" section of the Kokinshū. The poet, a grandson of Emperor Kanmu whose lay name was Yoshimine no Munesada (816-890), took the tonsure after the death of Emperor Ninmyō in 850. Along with Ono no Komachi (see Poem 9), Henjō later became known as one of the "six immortals " (rokkasen) of classical Japanese poetry.

In the Kokinshū, the waka is preceded by the heading "Composed when watching the Gosechi dancers." The Gosechi dances were held in the Eleventh Month (of the lunar calendar) and were one of the highlights of the court's year (the dances figure prominently in The Tale of Genji, and the social tensions surrounding their selection are described by Murasaki Shikibu in her diary). The poet is so taken by the beauty of the dancers that he uses the conceit of their being celestial maidens to express the wish that the moment could be extended indefinitely. (For a representation of a Gosechi dancer, click here.) In Japanese, the major semantic break comes after the third line (a technique known as san-kugire), and the comparison of the Gosechi dancers to celestial maidens or angels illustrates the technique of mitate ("likening" or "comparison"). The translation alters the direct address of the Japanese to a somewhat more general command.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  heaven | 's | wind
  • Line 2:  cloud | 's | passageway
  • Line 3:  blow-and-close (a compound verb in imperative form)
  • Line 4:  maidens | 's | figure
  • Line 5:  for-a-while | will-stop (i.e., "will keep me from losing sight of")

Poem 13

   Tsukuba-ne no

mine yori otsuru


koi zo tsumorite

fuchi to narinuru


   Like the Minano,

which starts its fall at the peak

   of Mount Tsukuba,

my love has swollen until

it fills a deep, still channel.

-- Retired Emperor Yōzei


This poem was taken from the third "Love" section of the Gosen wakashū, where a preface states that it was sent by Yōzei (868-949; r. 876-884) to Princess Suishi, whom he later married. Yōzei, the son of Emperor Seiwa (850-880; r. 858-876), abdicated at the age of 17 due to illness.

The name "Minano" is composed of the Chinese characters for "man" and "woman," a combination intentionally echoing the image of the twin peaks of Mount Tsukuba, which serves as the river's source. While it is unlikely that the poet ever actually saw Mount Tsukuba, which is located in Ibaraki Prefecture, the mountain was a popular topic in waka poetry, and the first three lines of this poem are considered to function as an introductory jokotoba (see Poem 3 for a more detailed explanation). Although in translation the semantic connection is weakened, the comparison of the poet's ever deepening (and even somewhat melancholic) love to the course of the Minano River -- accomplished in the original by juxtaposing the single word "love" (koi) to the name of the river -- remains quite effective.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  Mount Tsukuba | 's
  • Line 2:  peak | from | falls
  • Line 3:  Minano River
  • Line 4:  love | ! | builds
  • Line 5:  deep-pool | to | has-become

Poem 14

   Michinoku no


   tare yue ni


ware naranaku ni


   Who is to blame

for this secret disarray,

   so like the patterns dyed

in northern Shinobu cloth?

Most assuredly not I.

-- Minister of the Left at Kawara


This waka comes from the fourth "Love" section of the Kokinshū and also appears in the first section of The Tales of Ise, where it is used to describe the feelings of a young man who accidentally catches sight of two beautiful sisters. The poet, Minamoto no Tōru (822-895), was a son of Emperor Saga. He was famed for his elegant lifestyle and went so far as to design his garden at his residence Kawara-no-In to evoke a salt-making scene at Matsushima (including the installation of a functioning salt furnace).

Some rather dense wordplay surrounding the expression shinobu-mojizuri serves to give the original version a multilayered effect not easily conveyed in translation. "Shinobu" is first of all the name of a district in what is now Fukushima Prefecture; in classical times it was part of the Michinoku region occupying much of northeastern Honshu. The district produced a cloth that contained a scattered pattern produced by rubbing in a dye derived from the shinobu (hare's-foot) fern. In addition to both of these distinct meanings, shinobu is also a verb that means "to conceal" (along with connotations of "to endure" and, when written with a different Chinese character, "to think longingly of"). "Concealed love" is a major theme in waka poetry, and refers to a love nominally prohibited by social taboos such as rank or marriage. The conventional nature of this metaphor allows the first two lines of the waka to function as an introductory jokotoba (see Poem 3). In lines 3 and 4, the frustrated poet rhetorically asks who is at fault for his  emotional disarray, and the final line (a form of tōchi-hō, or grammatical inversion, which can be taken here as working in a way similar to dividing "Whose fault is it but yours that..." into two parts) fixes the blame on the woman. Other poetic techniques include yonku-dome (a grammatical and semantic break after the fourth line) and engo, "related words" that expand the imagery of the poem through a process of association, here referring in particular to midare ("falling into disarray") and -some ("to begin...," with the additional sense of "to dye") as words associated with mojisuri ("cloth with a scattered pattern").

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  Michinoku | 's
  • Line 2:  Shinobu-cloth-with-scattered-pattern (incorporating a place name, a plant name, and the idea of secrecy)
  • Line 3:  who | the reason | for
  • Line 4:  having-started/been dyed-to-scatter (combining the notion of psychological dissarray with the scattered patterns of Shinobu cloth)
  • Line 5:   I | not-be | because (the contrast is with the "who" of the third line)

Poem 15

   kimi ga tame

haru no no ni idete

   wakana tsumu

wa ga koromode ni

yuki wa furitsutsutsu


   As I gather herbs

from this field in early spring,

   intending them for you,

the snow continues falling

on my outstretched sleeve.

-- Emperor Kōkō


This waka was taken from the first "Spring" section of the Kokinshū. Kōkō (830-887; r. 884-887) was the third son of the emperor Ninmyō and succeeded Yōzei to the throne. The preface to the poem in the Kokinshū states that it was composed while Kōkō was still an imperial prince, to accompany a traditional New Year's gift of spring herbs.

The pairing of snow with spring herbs creates a pleasing contrast of green and white in this otherwise straightforward poem. The direct reference to "you" in the first line can perhaps be said to add an extra note of intimacy, although the recipient could, of course, be either male or female. The syntax is quite regular, with semantic breaks also marking the rhythmic divisions.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  you | 's | purpose (i.e., "for the purpose of you" = "for you")
  • Line 2:  spring | 's | field | to | go-out
  • Line 3:  herbs | pick (used attributively to modify "sleeve")
  • Line 4:  I | 's | sleeves | on
  • Line 5:  snow | as-for | keeps-falling

Poem 16


Inaba no yama no

   mine ni ouru

matsu to shi kikaba

ima kaerikomu


   Although I depart

for where Mount Inaba stands,

   its peak covered with pines,

should I hear that you too pine,

I am sure at once to return.

-- Middle Counselor Yukihira


This comes from the "Parting" section of the Kokinshū. The poet, Ariwara no Yukihira (818-893), was the half-brother of Narihira (see below). The poem was composed as Yukihira was about to take up his post as governor of the province of Inaba (present-day Tottori Prefecture) in 855. Yukihira's later exile to Suma under Emperor Montoku provided the basis for the No play Matsukaze.

The waka depends on a fairly tricky use of multiple kakekotoba (pivot words) for its meaning. Inaba refers to Inaba as both province and mountain and also serves as a verbal suffix meaning "go," so that tachiwakare Inaba means something like "part from you and go to the province of Inaba," while Inaba no yama no mine means "the peak of Mount Inaba (where pine trees grow)," requiring the reader to join the two thoughts in a way that combines both names with the idea of travel. Then there is matsu, meaning both the pines of Mount Inaba and the "pining" of those from whom the poet is taking leave. Because of the coincidence with the English "pine," matsu is frequently used as a convenient example to illustrate how a pivot word might function in English. In this case, it might also be said to illustrate how stale the convention sometimes comes to seem.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: (emphatic prefix tachi) | separating-from
  • Line 2: Inaba (incorporating a place name and the idea of going there) | 's | mountain | 's |
  • Line 3: peak | on | grow
  • Line 4: pines / pining | of | if-hear
  • Line 5: immediately | will-return

Poem 17


kamiyo mo kikazu


karakurenai ni

mizu kukuru to wa


   A marvel unknown

even in the august age of gods--

   that Tatsuta River

should have turned its waters crimson

and become as tie-dyed cloth.

-- Ariwara no Narihira


The source is the second "Autumn" section of the Kokinshū. Ariwara no Narihira (825-88), the grandson of the Heizei Emperor and half-brother to Yukihira (see above), was one of the "six immortals" of classical Japanese poetry and is traditionally regarded to be the model for the romantic episodes related in The Tales of Ise.

The poem is a byōbu-uta; that is, a waka based on (and inscribed onto) a painting on a decorative screen. The painting would have depicted the red leaves floating in the Tatsuta River, which flowed through an area famed for its autumn splendor, and the poem's conceit (as interpreted here) is to anthropomorphize the river -- a technique known as gijin-hō. Grammatically, the first two lines would normally come after lines three to five (the final particle to is actually associated with the verb kiku used negatively in the second line). The poem thus also demonstrates the technique of tōchi-hō (grammatical inversion), a fact further reflected in the sentence-ending inflection of the negative particle zu (introducing a grammatical break like this at the end of the second line is known as ni-kugire). In addition, comparing the leaves to the shibori (tie-dyed) pattern of cloth illustrates the metaphorical/allegorical technique of mitate. For me, the personification causes the effect to seem somewhat strained, although the comparison itself is evocative.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  august (pillow word conventionally used before "god")
  • Line 2:  age-of-gods | even | not-heard
  • Line 3:  Tatsuta River
  • Line 4:  Chinese crimson | into
  • Line 5:  water | shibori-dyes (transitive form, with Tatsuta River as the subject; i.e., "the Tatsuta River dyes its water into a shibori pattern of crimson") | for | !

Poem 18

   Sumi-no-e no

kishi ni yoru nami

   yoru sae ya

yume no kayoiji

hitome yoku ramu


   The waves find their way

to the shore at Sumi-no-e

   even at night;

perhaps it is the thought of prying eyes

that keeps him from my nightly dreams.

-- Fujiwara no Toshiyuki


The source is the second "Love" section of the Kokinshū. The poet (?-901 or 907) served as governor of Inaba (currently eastern Tottori Prefecture), among other posts, and was known for his calligraphy as well as for his improvisatory waka on love and court life.

The headnote to the poem in the Kokinshū indicates that it was composed for a poetry contest, possibly on an assigned topic. The poet assumes the persona of a woman who is frustrated by the inability, or failure, of her lover to visit her. Sumi-no-e, the shoreline of what is now the Sumiyoshi district of Osaka, was famous for its pines, and thus (because of the conventional doubling of meaning with "wait" -- see Poem 16, above) an appropriate image for fruitless waiting. The poem relies for its effect on the repetition of the word yoru, which means "approach (the shore)" in the first instance and "night" in the second (the first two lines constitute an "introductory phrase," or jokotoba). The double duty performed in Japanese by the third line (which can be placed either with the first two or with the last two), together with the semantic gap between the fourth and fifth lines -- an implied but unstated equivalent to "that he does not travel (the meeting path of dreams)" -- makes concise translation surprisingly difficult. In any case, the third line adds a satisfying dose of emotional intensity to the otherwise conventional conception.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  Sumi-no-e | 's
  • Line 2:  shore | toward | approach | waves
  • Line 3:  night | even | !
  • Line 4:  dream | 's | meeting-path
  • Line 5:  peoples'-eyes | (he) shuns | perhaps-for-the-reason 

Poem 19


mijikaki ashi no

   fushi no ma mo

awade kono yo o

sugushiteyo to ya


   Do you mean to say

we must pass life not meeting

   even for a time as short

as the segments in the reeds

that grow at Naniwa Bay?

-- Ise


Taken from the first "Love" section of the Shinkokinshū. The poet (?877-?938) was the daughter of Fujiwara no Tsugukage, governor of Ise Province. Ise is considered a "representative woman poet" of her time, with the emphasis on a consuming passion taken to represent a particularly feminine point of view (it is still standard to classify women waka poets as joryū kajin, as opposed to the nongendered kajin, which in practice is normally taken to refer to men.

The reeds at Naniwa Bay, near present-day Osaka, were a popular image in classical Japanese poetry. Here, the first two lines of the Japanese function as a jokotoba, or "introductory phrase," that Ise uses as the basis for constructing a metaphor that associates the short segments of the reeds with the possibility of a brief meeting with a (potential) lover. Ma is a pivot word (kakekotoba) that refers to a "segment" of a reed on the one hand and a "brief period of time" on the other -- the meaning of the poem shifts from the outwardly descriptive to the personally relevant at this point. The wordplay then goes even deeper because the Chinese character for fushi can also be read as yo. In the former case, the character refers to the knots in reeds, bamboo and other plants; in the latter, the reference is to the segments between the knots, so that from one standpoint, fushi no ma and yo mean exactly the same thing. Thus, a combination of "related words" (engo) -- reed, segment, knot -- interact with the other meaning of yo ("world" or "life") to create a pleasing textural subtlety.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  Naniwa Bay (the Japanese suffix -gata actually refers to the normally submerged, marshy border of a shoreline that becomes fully exposed only when the tide recedes, so that "bay" is an exaggerated translation)
  • Line 2:  short | reed | 's
  • Line 3:  segment | 's | space / period-of-time | even
  • Line 4:  not-meeting | this | life | (accusative particle, so with the first word of the next line this means "must go through this life without meeting")
  • Line 5:  you-must-go-through | saying  | ?  (thus, "Are you saying that I must go through...?")

Poem 20


ima hata onaji

   Naniwa naru

miotsukushite mo

awamu to zo omou


   It is all the same

given this state of despair--

   I must meet you, though

exposing myself to ruin

like the markers in Naniwa Bay.

-- Prince Motoyoshi


This is the fifth "Love" poem from the Gosenshū collection (compiled in 960). Motoyoshi Shinnō (890-943; shinnō is the Japanese title given to an imperial prince) was the eldest son of Emperor Yōzei (r. 876-884; see Poem 13), and was renowned for his elegant taste and also for his philandering. The headnote to the poem in the Gosenshū states that it was sent to Lady Kyōgoku, a consort of Emperor Uda (r. 887-897), once Motoyoshi's affair with her had come to light.

Cuckolding the emperor can be a serious matter (it is one of the major themes of The Tale of Genji), yet in the poem Motoyoshi tells the woman that he is willing to sacrifice everything to continue their relationship, revealing the sort of consuming passion more commonly associated with female poets in classical Japanese literature. The first two lines express the poet's awareness of having been placed in an untenable position, along with a grim what-have I-got-to-lose point of view. The next three lines complete the logic of the poem with the poet's assertion that he will meet the woman despite the heavy price he will have to pay (dividing a waka grammatically after the second line is a technique called ni-kugire). The main question from a reader's perspective may be whether miotsukushi ("channel marker") serves as an effective kakekotoba (pivot word) to represent the poet's willingness to sacrifice his reputation for the woman. If it is taken merely as clever wordplay, it runs the risk of mitigating the emotional intensity of the poem on the one hand (how can someone who has the presence of mind to devise a clever pun be regarded as sincere?) or exaggerating it on the other (how much desperation can really be attributed to a channel marker?). Granted that the use of miotsukushi  as a pivot word is hardly original, the image nevertheless seems an apt way to suggest the future course of the couple's relationship while simultaneously acknowledging the isolation and hardship that would result.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: because-have-reached-impasse
  • Line 2: now | again | the same   (together with the first line, the sense is "It is all one and the same now that things have come to this pass.")
  • Line 3: Naniwa ("Bay" is interpolated) | in
  • Line 4: oneself | (acc.) | exhausting | even (incorporating miotsukushi, the word for "channel marker")
  • Line 5:  will-meet | (quot.) | indeed | think