One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets


Poem 1

   aki no ta no

kario no io no

   toma o arami

wa ga koromode wa

tsuyu ni nuretsutsu

 

   The coarsely thatched roof

of this makeshift watchman's hut

   in the autumn fields

admits the falling dew that

slowly drenches my sleeves.

-- Emperor Tenji

Comments

The source is the second "Autumn" book of the Gosenshū (SKT 302). It is based on an original found in the eighth-century Man'yōshū (Collection for Ten Thousand Generations). Since the Man'yōshū version (Book 10, SKT 2178) is by an anonymous hand, the attribution to Tenji (626-671; r. 668-671) must be considered spurious. However, one of the defining structural features of the Hyakunin isshu is the fact that Teika chose to begin and end the collection with pairs of poems by emperors who were parent and child. From this perspective, the conventionally accepted attribution to Tenji allows Teika to invoke a time when a strong moral bond joined sovereign and subject (Tenji was responsible for instituting the Taika Reforms, leading to a strong centralized government). Likewise, Poem 2 can be seen as an affirmation of cultural identity and tradition reaching back to early Japanese history. The final two poems in the collection, by contrast, were composed by contemporary rulers and are colored by a sense of decline in imperial prestige and even discord between sovereign and subject. This contrast is often held to reflect a characteristically medieval viewpoint to which Teika wanted to give expression.

The "autumn fields" mentioned in the translation are, of course, rice fields at harvest time, and a watchman is necessary to keep the ripening rice from being ravaged by scavenging birds and animals. In real life, one would hardly find such work poetic, nor would the emperor himself actually serve in such a capacity. By imputing to the emperor the empathetic willingness to place himself in such a position, however, the tone becomes as elegant as it is desolate, and it is presumably this combination that appealed to Teika. The first three measures describe a setting that gives rise to the situation described in the last two. No special rhetorical devices are employed, but the repetition of the Japanese word for "hut" lends a distinctive rhythm to the original. Dew is conventionally treated as a falling phenomenon in Japanese; the translation makes the implication explicit by referring to the hut's thatched roof.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  autumn | 's | field | 's
  • Measure 2:  temporary-hut | 's | hut | 's
  • Measure 3:  thatching | due-to-coarse
  • Measure 4:  I | 's | clothing-sleeve | as-for
  • Measure 5:  dew | from | continuously-getting-wet

With respect to grammar, the o...-mi combination in the third measure functions to indicate cause or reason. Technically, the construction consists of the interjectory particle o, the stem form of an adjective (ara, or "coarse," in this case), and the suffix mi, connoting cause; but it is more useful to regard the combination as a single construction, so the literal rendition consolidates these parts of speech.Tsutsu, at the end of the fifth measure, is a conjunctive particle that indicates continuous or repeated action.


Poem 2

   haru sugite

natsu kinikerashi

   shirotae no

koromo hosu chō

Ama-no-kaguyama

 

   Spring has passed, it seems,

and summer has now arrived--

   the time, they say, when

robes of pure white are aired

on heavenly Mount Kagu.

-- Empress Jitō

Comments

The source is the "Summer" book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 175). Like the previous poem, it is based on an original that appears in the Man'yōshū and was conventionally attributed to Empress Jitō (645-702; r. 690-697), who was Tenji's daughter and the wife of Emperor Tenmu (?-686; r. 673-686). Jitō ruled in her own right after Tenmu's death (in Japanese, her title as sovereign is the same title used by men: tennō). Mount Kagu (in Japanese sources, "heavenly" is treated as part of the name, like the contemporary "Amanohashidate") is located slightly to the southeast of the ancient Fujiwara-kyō capital in Nara (capital from 694 to 710).

The waka is a relatively simple one in which the poet, upon observing white robes laid out for airing, refers to hearsay to evoke traditional Japanese social customs and mythical associations (a Mount Kagu also supposedly existed on the High Plain of Heaven, the home of the gods). It is worth noting, however, that traditional interpretations disagree as to whether the poet is actually describing white robes being aired or whether the robes are being invoked metaphorically by the sight of a white summer mist, perhaps, or even early-summer deutzia flowers (the "they say" makes such interpretations possible). The point to keep in mind, here and elsewhere, is that many conventionally accepted interpretations of the waka in Hyakunin isshu obscure such ambiguities, which may then be further obscured by translation.

Poetic techniques include, first of all, a kugire, or measure break, after the second measure in Japanese. This nikugire ("second-measure break") divides the waka into two independent grammatical units, the juxtaposition of which helps generate poetic meaning. The third measure constitutes a makurakotoba ("pillow word"), a fixed epithet of five syllables placed before certain expressions to enhance their evocative power or to modulate the rhythm. The makurakotoba shirotae, often found in front of white objects, here appears to be used in its original sense as a white cloth woven from tree-bark fiber. Finally, the poem ends with a nominal, a technique known as taigendome, intended to create overtones by leaving a feeling of grammatical incompleteness. Both makurakotoba and kugire were devices employed from the time of the Man'yōshū; taigendome is considered especially characteristic of early 13th-century Shinkokinshū aesthetic preferences.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1: spring | has-passed
  • Measure 2: summer | appears-to-have-come
  • Measure 3: pure-white | 's
  • Measure 4: robes | to-air | be-said
  • Measure 5: Heaven's-Mount-Kagu

The grammar of the original has been altered by transposing the auxiliary verb rashi -- which indicates a surmise based on visual evidence -- to the first line of the translation and turning it into a parenthetical expression.


Poem 3

   ashibiki no

yamadori no o no

   shidari-o no

naganagashi yo o

hitori ka mo nemu

 

   On a night as long

as the long, drooping tail of

   a copper pheasant

dwelling in the steep mountains,

am I meant to sleep all alone?

-- Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

Comments

The source is the third "Love" book of the Shūishū (SKT 778), where it is attributed to Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, who flourished from the late 7th to the early 8th century and is usually considered the greatest of the Man'yōshū poets. Little is known of Hitomaro except that he was apparently a low-ranking government official. The attribution must be considered spurious, however, for in the Man'yōshū itself, where the poem first appears, it is regarded as being by an anonymous hand.

The poem neatly makes a comparison between the length of the tail on a mountain pheasant and the slow passage of time experienced by a lover who must sleep alone, and is based further on the fact that male and female copper pheasants do indeed sleep in separate locations. Poetic devices include the use of a makurakotoba (ashibiki no, here associated with the word "mountains" and translated as "steep") within the larger device of a jokotoba, a "preface" of at least seven syllables that in this case establishes a metaphorical link between the visible world (the long tail of a copper pheasant) and the subjective world of human perception (the length of the night). Although conventional enough to be considered a standard poetic device, the jokotoba differs from the makurakotoba both in terms of length (in this waka, it spans the first three measures) and in point of conception since, as an original metaphor, it is the product of the poet's own imagination rather than having been chosen from among a pre-existing stock of epithets.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  steep | 's
  • Measure 2:  mountain-bird | 's | tail | 's
  • Measure 3:  drooping-tail | (subj.)
  • Measure 4:  long-long | night | (acc.)
  • Measure 5:  alone | ? | ! | will-sleep

One distinctive feature of classical Japanese grammar involves a class of interrogative and emphatic particles called kakari joshi, or "bound particles." Instead of being placed at the end of a clause or sentence, as might be expected in modern Japanese, they appear mid-clause, requiring certain specific inflections at the end of the relevant clause or sentence (these inflections, in turn, are called kakari musubi, or "bound endings"). The full force of the question or exclamation is suspended until the bound ending is reached. Such is the case here with the bound particles ka (interrogative) and mo (emphatic) in the fifth measure, which precede the appropriately inflected form of the auxiliary verb mu ("will likely"), itself attached to the appropriately inflected form of verb nu ("to sleep"). Dealing with the various inflections is one of the more challenging aspects of coming to grips with classical Japanese grammar.


Poem 4

   Tago-no-ura ni

uchidete mireba

   shirotae no

Fuji no takane ni

yuki wa furitsutsu

 

   As I venture out

onto the shore at Tago Bay,

   I see snow, pure white,

falling ever deeper now

on Mount Fuji's lofty peak.

--Yamabe no Akahito

Comments

The source is the "Winter" book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 675). The waka is based on an original by Yamabe found in the Man'yōshū. Yamabe, an eighth-century courtier whose dates are uncertain, was ranked by Ki no Tsurayuki -- in the preface to the Kokinshū -- with Kakinomoto no Hitomaro as one of the two best Man'yōshū poets. He is represented in that collection by 13 chōka (long poems) and 37 tanka (short poems).

Much of the appeal of the poem lies in the contrast between the sharp image of Fuji's snowy peak in the distance and the only vaguely described Tago Bay (in present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) in the foreground. The contrast creates an impression of spatial depth thought to be in keeping with Yamabe's reputation as a descriptive poet. However, since it would presumably be impossible to see snow falling at such a distance, an element of fantasy is also involved. The expression shirotae is the same makurakotoba (pillow word) found in Poem 2, above.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Tago Bay | at
  • Measure 2:  go-out | when-look
  • Measure 3:  pure-white | 's
  • Measure 4:  Fuji | 's | lofty-peak | on
  • Measure 5:  snow | as-for | continuously-falling

Remembering a number of key differences between classical and modern grammar helps greatly when parsing Japanese poetry, including modern waka and even the lyrics of popular songs (especially in the prewar period). One such difference involves the usage of the conjunctive particle ba, which appears here at the end of the second measure. When ba follows the perfective form (izenkei) of an action verb in classical Japanese, the sense is typically "having done" or "after doing" or "upon doing" something: the action is predicated as actually having taken place and a chronological sequence is involved. For stative parts of speech (such as adjectives) and verbs in the appropriate context, "because" becomes another possible translation for this use of ba, as in Poem 20 or Poem 54. In contrast, when ba follows the imperfective form (mizenkei) of an inflected part of speech, a hypothetical condition is formed (that is, "if something happened"). Given that the perfective and imperfective forms of the verb miru ("see") are mire- and mira-, respectively, it is clear that the first two measures of this waka describe an action that, having actually been taken, leads to the sight described in the final three measures.


Poem 5

   okuyama ni

momiji fumiwake

   naku shika no

koe kiku toki zo

aki wa kanashiki

 

   Deep in the mountains,

striding through tinted leaves,

   a stag calls out--

and oh, when I hear its cry,

I know the sadness of autumn.

-- Sarumaru Dayū

Comments

The source is the first "Autumn" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 215). Nothing is known of the supposed author -- also referred to to Sarumaru no Taifu -- who has legendary status as a waka poet. The Kokinshū actually lists this as an anonymous poem, prefaced by a headnote stating that it was submitted as an entry in a poetry contest that can be dated to the end of the ninth century.

The mention of the poetry contest suggests that by that time, the association of autumn with a feeling of plaintive sadness had become conventional in court circles, in marked contrast to the festivities of the harvest in rural areas. It is, in fact, impossible to overstate the importance of spring and autumn as the most evocative seasons for Japanese poets. The Kokinshū itself, for example, contains 134 poems devoted to the topic of spring and 145 poems devoted to autumn, but only 34 devoted to summer and 29 devoted to winter. The Hyakunin isshu contains 16 poems taken from anthologies that classify them as autumn poems, which equals the total number of poems categorized as belonging to other seasons. Not all autumn poems are connected with sadness (autumn foliage is greatly admired for its beauty), but that feeling often seems to predominate. With respect to this particular poem, the central interpretive problem is whether the stag or the poet should be taken as the (omitted) subject of the verb "stride." This translation assumes that an actual walk in the mountains is less characteristic of aristocratic life than listening to the call of the stag from a (more comfortable and insulating) distance.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  deep-mountains | in
  • Measure 2:  red-leaves | walking-through
  • Measure 3:  to-call | stag | 's
  • Measure 4:  voice | hear | time | !
  • Measure 5:  autumn | as-for | sad

"Stag" is used to translate shika because it is the male that calls out for a mate. As with Poem 3, the kakari-joshi/kakari-musubi combination of zo/kanashiki in the fourth and fifth measures creates a subjectively lyrical structural unit that is superimposed upon the more purely descriptive content of the first three measures.


Poem 6

   kasasagi no

wataseru hashi ni

   oku shimo no

shiroki o mireba

yo zo fukenikeru

 

   Seeing the white frost

that lies upon the bridge

   formed as the magpies

stretch their wings from tip to tip,

I know the lateness of the night.

-- Middle Counselor Yakamochi

Comments

The source is the "Winter" book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 620). Ōtomo no Yakamochi (718?-785) was one of the compilers of the Man'yōshū. That anthology contains more poems by him than by any other poet.

The direct reference is to the originally Chinese myth of the Weaver (represented by the star Vega) and the Herder (Altair), who are allowed to meet once each year when magpies use their wings to form a bridge spanning the heavenly river that separates them (in Japan, this myth is called "Tanabata"). According to the most commonly accepted interpretation, the poet -- on night duty in the palace -- superimposes this image upon the directly observed scene of a palace staircase, a form of elegant confusion referred to as mitate (a shared loftiness being the quality that inspires the conflation). A somewhat more evocative interpretation has it that the poet looks up at the white stars in the wintry sky and imagines the magpie bridge of early autumn encrusted with frost, thus merging the seasonal imagery (Tanabata occurs in the Seventh Month, the first month of autumn under the lunar calendar). Of course, it may not be necessary to decisively reject either of these interpretations, although strictly speaking, the second would not involve the use of mitate as a rhetorical device.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  magpies | (subj.)
  • Measure 2:  stretch-out | bridge | on
  • Measure 3:  lie-upon | frost | 's
  • Measure 4:  whiteness | (acc.) | when-see
  • Measure 5:  night | ! | has-grown-late!

In classical waka, the auxiliary verb keri -- which appears at the end of the fifth measure -- is typically a mildly exclamatory part of speech used to convey the idea of coming to a realization about something previously unnoticed or overlooked. This usage is to be distinguished from the function of keri in classical Japanese prose to refer to indirect or related knowledge of past events (that is, storytelling). Using an exclamation point in translation to convey this heightened sense of awareness risks injecting a little too much emotional intensity into the poem -- the feeling is normally one of discovery or wonder rather than excitement -- so for most of the poems on this site, the use of an exclamation point is limited to the literal rendition. The attributive form keru is a bound ending necessitated here by the preceding interjectory bound particle zo.


Poem 7

   ama-no-hara

furisakemireba

   Kasuga naru

Mikasa-no-yama ni

ideshi tsuki kamo

 

   Lifting my gaze to

the broad expanse of the sky,

   I see the same moon

that once rose in Kasuga

over Mount Mikasa!

-- Abe no Nakamaro

Comments

The source is the "Travel" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 406). As a youth, Abe (698 or 701-770) was sent by the Nara court to study in China, where he spent 54 years (including a stint as the Chinese governor-general of Vietnam) before dying in Chang'an.

Said by a supplementary note in the source to have been composed before Abe made an abortive attempt to return to Japan, this relatively straightforward waka is held to reveal both the strength of Abe's affection for his homeland (Abe was a native of Kasuga) and a poignant awareness of the intervening years he spent in China. Two place names are mentioned: Kasuga and Mount Mikasa. The former refers to an area in present-day Nara between Nara Park and Kasuga Shrine; the latter is a mountain located to the rear of Kasuga Shrine, between Mount Wakakusa and Mount Takamado.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  heavenly-plain
  • Measure 2:  when-look-afar
  • Measure 3:  Kasuga | in
  • Measure 4:  Mount-Mikasa | over
  • Measure 5:  appeared | moon | !

As in Poem 4, above, the conjunctive particle ba is attached to the perfective form of the verb furisakemiru, so the sense is that the action must necessarily be completed before the next action can take place. The emphatic final particle kamo seems to warrant the use of an exclamation point in this case.


Poem 8

   wa ga io wa

miyako no tatsumi

   shika zo sumu

yo o ujiyama to

hito wa iu nari

 

   In a hut that stands

southeast of the capital,

   I live thus at peace.

Yet I hear that people call Mount Uji

a place where one retires in despair.

-- Priest Kisen

Comments

The source is the second "Miscellaneous" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 983). Kisen flourished in the second half of the ninth century; he is one of the Six Poetic Immortals (Rokkasen) of waka poetry mentioned in the preface of the Kokinshū (although they are not praised unreservedly). Other than the fact that he was a priest on Mount Uji, however, nothing is known of his life (although Mount Uji itself is now called Mount Kisen).

The poem relies for much of its effect upon the use of the word uji, which on the one hand stands for the place name Uji (a popular spot for aristocratic villas in the Heian period, and the location of the exquisite Phoenix Hall at the Byōdō-in), and on the other is used as an adjective meaning "disagreeable," "unpleasant," or "unfeeling." In other words, uji is a kakekotoba, or "pivot word," one of the central devices of waka poetry from the time of the Kokinshū down to the present day. A kakekotoba serves to give the poem a double meaning by establishing an associative link between two linguistically unrelated homonyms, allowing the objective world of nature and the subjective sensibility of the poet to inform each other within the narrow formal constraints of the waka. Here the kakekotoba allows the poet to express a bemused consternation that people think his life is suffused with the feeling that the world is a disagreeable place, when in fact it is free of such concerns. The compressed, doubled meaning of a kakekotoba can cause problems for translation, often requiring (as here) some extra explanatory space. In addition, the poem is broken structurally after the third measure, as signaled by the end of a complete sentence at that point -- a variation of the kugire technique known as sankugire, or third-measure break. As was the case with the nikugire of Poem 2, the waka is divided into two parts that are made to engage in a kind of call-and-response dynamic central to producing poetic meaning.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  I | 's | hut | as-for
  • Measure 2:  capital | 's | southeast
  • Measure 3:  thusly | ! | live
  • Measure 4:  the world | (acc.) | Mount-Uji + callous | (quot.)
  • Measure 5:  people | as-for | say | apparently

Grammatically, the particle wa -- found in both the first measure and the fifth measure -- is a bound particle that sets off a topic for further elucidation. The nuances are slightly different here, however. The first wa is relatively neutral as to affect (with emphasis being added by the bound particle zo), while the second wa can itself be considered emphatic in that it implies a contrast between the conventional image of life on Mount Uji, on the one hand, and the poet's personal experience of that life, on the other. The word nari at the end of the fifth measure is an auxiliary verb signifying hearsay.


Poem 9

   hana no iro wa

utsurinikeri na

   itazurani

wa ga mi yo ni furu

nagameseshi ma ni

 

   The cherry blossoms

have faded now in hue.

   Gazing idly

upon the long spring rains,

I too know what it is to age.

-- Ono no Komachi

Comments

The source is the second "Spring" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 113). Ono no Komachi, who flourished in the second half of the ninth century, is the only woman among the Six Poetic Immortals (Rokkasen) mentioned in the preface of the Kokinshū. She is supposed to have been an incomparable beauty, and numerous legends sprang up around her name.

Two kakekotoba (furu and nagame, both in the last two measures) provide the key to interpretation, one set of associations resulting in "while watching the long rains fall,"  the other producing "while growing old in contemplation (of life)." The central image of fading cherry blossoms is a conventional reference to the transience of human life. The conceit was already sufficiently established in Komachi's day for the reader to understand that "flower" (hana) referred specifically to cherry blossoms. It seems likely that the faded flowers are also intended as symbols of the poet's faded looks. Structurally, the poem is broken syntactically after the second measure (the nikugire technique first encountered in Poem 2) and makes use of tōchi-hō, or grammatical inversion: the first two measures would normally follow the last three, but the order has been reversed to intensify the dramatic effect.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  flower | 's | color | as-for
  • Measure 2:  has-changed! | !
  • Measure 3:  futilely
  • Measure 4:  I | 's | self | world | in | grow-old + fall
  • Measure 5:  did-gaze + long-rains | period-of-time | in

As with Poem 6, above, the auxiliary verb keri in the second measure has been rendered here as an exclamation point to indicate its grammatical function; English translation typically passes over this part of speech unless the sense of surprise is strong. Itazuranari, in the third measure, belongs to a grammatical category known as adjectival verbs (keiyō dōshi). When this part of speech is inflected in continuative form, as is the case here, the practical effect is to turn an adjective into an adverb, roughly analogous to the way some English adjectives become adverbs with the addition of "-ly" ("futile" --> "futilely").


Poem 10

   kore ya kono

yuku mo kaeru mo

   wakarete wa

shiru mo shiranu mo

Ōsaka-no-seki

 

   Here it is where

many come and many go,

   part to meet again,

some as friends, some as strangers--

Ōsaka Barrier.

-- Semimaru

Comments

The source is the first "Miscellaneous" book of the Gosenshū (SKT 1089). The semi-legendary Semimaru may have been a blind musician of the second half of the ninth century -- possibly of royal birth and skilled in playing the biwa (Japanese lute) -- who lived as a recluse in a small hut near Ōsaka Barrier.

The pleasing multilayeredness of the poem, which introduces a famous geographical spot with historical associations, is constructed around three sets of oppositions: one between "come" and "go"; one between "part" and "meet" (the latter contained as wordplay within the "Ōsaka" of measure 5); and one between "friends" and "strangers." The barrier thus serves as the locus of a variety of activities associated with travel, which in turn suggests (according to standard medieval interpretations, at any rate) the notion that one meets in order to part, and then parts in order to meet again. Ōsaka Barrier was located on the boundary between the provinces of Yamashiro (present-day Kyoto) and Ōmi (Shiga Prefecture), and once past it, the traveler was in the "east" of the country. The barrier enjoyed a long life as an utamakura (a place name with well-known poetic associations), and it was often used as a kakekotoba because of the phonetic overlap with the Japanese word for "meet" (au or ō). The proper noun "Ōsaka Barrier" ends the waka, meaning that it is intended to create the overtones of an incomplete sentence: the taigendome technique.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  here | ! | this
  • Measure 2:  go | also | come | also
  • Measure 3:  separatingly | as-for
  • Measure 4:  know | also | not-know | also
  • Measure 5:  Ōsaka + meet(ing) Barrier

Grammar neatly complements the poetic devices in this poem to both consolidate and add variety to the repetition. For example, the kono at the end of the first measure functions as a demonstrative pronoun ("this") that modifies the proper noun "Ōsaka Barrier" in the final measure, situating all the actions within an overall formal and geographical frame. Four of the six verbs in the poem are paired directly -- the first pair in the second measure and the second pair in the fourth -- presenting themselves grammatically as verbs but conjugated in the attributive form, implying the omission of a noun like "people" after each one. These first two pairs of verbs have then been separated formally from each other by the first of a third pair, with wakareru ("to separate") placed in the third measure and au ("meet") embedded in the place name "Ōsaka" in the fifth. Moreover, the first of these verbs is conjugated in the continuative form so that a te +wa combination of particles can be used to suggest repeated action while deferring the second action until the fifth measure. The third measure thus mitigates the pure repetition of the second and fourth measures (by literally "separating" them, no less), while creating a second frame around the last three measures. This complex yet deftly managed verbal layering contributes in no small way to the overtones produced by the taigendome device.

Although the third measure of the literal rendition -- reflecting standard practice for English transliteration -- separates the bound particle wa from the verb/conjunctive-particle compound wakarete, the te + wa combination actually forms what is known as a connected word (rengo) which, when attached to the continuative form of verb, implies repeated action: people are constantly parting (third measure) and meeting (fifth measure). Grammar and usage are not always in perfect agreement, especially when dealing with another language.