One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets

Poem 11

   wata no hara

yasoshima kakete

   kogiidenu to

hito ni wa tsugeyo

ama no tsuribune


   You fishing boat --

tell the ones I leave behind

   that I have rowed out

among the countless islands

in the broad expanse of the sea.

-- Consultant Takamura


The source is the "Travel" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 407). 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 an envoy. According to the headnote in the Kokinshū, the waka was 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 amplifying the emotional intensity through personifcation, or gijin-hō, charging a nearby fishing boat with delivering the poet's message to those he has left behind in the capital (it is also possible to interpret hito as referring to a specific person, namely the woman he loves). The Japanese original inserts a semantic break at the end of the fourth measure: the shikugire technique. The translation has transposed the break to the opening line.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1: sea | 's | plain
  • Measure 2: eighty-islands | traversingly ("eighty" conventionally connotes an indefinitely large number)
  • Measure 3: did-row-out | (quot.) (quotation particles refer not only to direct speech, as here, but also to what one thinks or knows)
  • Measure 4: other-person | to | as-for | inform ("inform" is a command in this case)
  • Measure 5: fisher | 's | fishing-boat

Poem 12

   ama tsu kaze

kumo no kayoiji


otome no sugata

shibashi todomemu


   Let the wind in the sky

blow shut the cloudy passage,

   that I might keep

the figures of these maidens

before me yet a while.

-- Bishop Henjō


The source is the first "Miscellaneous" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 872). Henjō (816-890), whose lay name was Yoshimine no Munesada, was the grandson of Emperor Kanmu (737-804; r. 781-806). Along with Kisen (see Poem 8) and Ono no Komachi (see Poem 9), Henjō was one of the Six Poetic Immortals (Rokkasen) mentioned in the preface of the Kokinshū.

In the Kokinshū, the waka carries the headnote "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 calendar of activities (the dances figure prominently in The Tale of Genji, and the social tensions surrounding the selection of dancers are described by Murasaki Shikibu in her diary). The poet is so taken by the beauty of the dancers that he employs the conceit of their being celestial maidens to express the wish that the moment could be extended indefinitely. Without the headnote, however, the meaning would become rather obscure, a fact that highlights the problematic role of context when interpreting Japanese poetry. In Japanese, a full syntactic break comes after the third measure (sankugire), and the comparison of the Gosechi dancers to celestial maidens or angels illustrates the technique of mitate. The translation somewhat softens the direct command found in the original.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  heaven | 's | wind
  • Measure 2:  cloud | 's | passageway
  • Measure 3:  blow-closed (this is a verb in the imperative form)
  • Measure 4:  maidens | 's | figure
  • Measure 5:  temporarily | will-stop (the sense of the fifth measure is "I would delay them for a while")

Poem 13

   Tsukuba-ne no

mine yori otsuru


koi zo tsumorite

fuchi to narinuru


   Like the Minano,

which starts its descent at the peak

   of Mount Tsukuba,

my love has swollen until

it fills a deep, still channel.

-- Retired Emperor Yōzei


The source is the third "Love" book of the Gosenshū (SKT 776). The headnote there 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, the river's source. While it is unlikely that the poet ever actually saw Mount Tsukuba, which is located in present-day Ibaraki Prefecture, the mountain was a popular topic in waka poetry, and the first three measures of the poem are considered to function as a jokotoba. 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) against the name of the river -- remains quite effective.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Mount Tsukuba | 's
  • Measure 2:  peak | from | falls
  • Measure 3:  Minano River
  • Measure 4:  love | ! | growingly
  • Measure 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


The source is the fourth "Love" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 724); it 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 the 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 shinobumojizuri 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 with a distinctive scattered pattern that was created 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 favorite topic of waka poetry, connoting a love prohibited by social taboos such as rank or marriage. The first two measures of the Japanese original, then, are to be taken as an prefatory jokotoba; in measures 3 and 4, the frustrated poet rhetorically asks who is to be blamed for his emotional distress; and the final measure fixes the blame on the woman by adopting a form of tōchi-hō (the measure, that is, comes grammatically before the third measure: "Although it is not I, who is it?," with the implication that it must be the other person).

Other poetic techniques include shikugire (a grammatical and syntactic break after the fourth measure) and engo, "related words" that expand the imagery of the poem through a process of association, here referring specifically to midare ("being in disarray") and -some ("to begin to do," with the additional sense of "to dye") as engo associated with mojisuri ("cloth with a scattered pattern"). Given all the textual complexity, it is interesting that the English translation ends up sounding so unproblematic.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Michinoku | 's
  • Measure 2:  Shinobu-cloth-with-scattered-pattern + shinobu-fern + concealment
  • Measure 3:  who? | reason | for
  • Measure 4:  has-started-to-scatter + has-become-disoriented + has-been-scatteringly-dyed
  • Measure 5:   I | not-be | although

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 sleeves.

-- Emperor Kōkō


The source is the first "Spring" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 21). Kōkō (830-887; r. 884-887) was the third son of Emperor Ninmyō (810-850; r. 833-850) and succeeded Yōzei (see Poem 13) to the throne. The headnote in the Kokinshū states that the poem 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 measure 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
  • Measure 1:  you | 's | purpose
  • Measure 2:  spring | 's | field | to | going-out
  • Measure 3:  herbs | pluck
  • Measure 4:  I | 's | sleeve | on
  • Measure 5:  snow | as-for | keeps-falling

Poem 16


Inaba no yama no

   mine ni ouru

matsu to shi kikaba

ima kaerikomu


   Though I leave

for Inaba and the pines

   that grow upon its peak,

should I hear that you are pining,

I will soon be back again.

-- Middle Counselor Yukihira


The source is the "Parting" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 365). The poet, Ariwara no Yukihira (818-893), was the half-brother of Narihira (see Poem 17, below). The poem is assumed to have been composed as Yukihira was about to take up his post as governor of the province of Inaba (currently eastern Tottori Prefecture) in 855.

Two kakekotoba are used to deepen the verbal texture of the poem. Inaba first of all is a subjunctive verb form meaning "if I go" (here the sense is more like "even though I may go"). As a noun, Inaba is also the name of the province that is Yukihira's destination, so the word incorporates both active and static aspects. Similarly, matsu refers both to the pines of Mount Inaba and to the "pining" of those whom the poet is leaving behind. In this way, action and image complement each other on both sides of a physical separation, so there is more than simple wordplay at work.

Still, the trope is a well-worn one, and arguments by Japanese critics about how loneliness is effectively evoked by the image of distant pines finally do not seem very compelling to me. But it is true that Teika selected this waka for inclusion in several different collections of poetry, so it may be that I am simply somehow unequipped to appreciate its finer points. In any case, it is clear that Teika wanted this waka and the next one to be considered as a set, and it is worth remembering that Teika's criteria for selection were not always strictly literary.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1: partingly ("tachi" is an emphatic prefix, sort of like "up and leave")
  • Measure 2: Inaba + even-if-depart | 's | mountain | 's |
  • Measure 3: peak | on | grow
  • Measure 4: pines + to-pine | (quot.) | ! | if-hear
  • Measure 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--

   the Tatsuta

ties off and dyes her waters

to produce cloth crimson red.

-- Ariwara no Narihira


The source is the second "Autumn" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 294). Ariwara no Narihira (825-88), the grandson of Emperor Heizei (774-824; r. 806-809) and half-brother to Yukihira (see Poem 16, above), was one of the Six Poetic Immortals (Rokkasen) mentioned in the preface of the Kokinshū. He is traditionally regarded to be the model for the episodes related in The Tales of Ise.

According to the headnote in the Kokinshū, the poem is a byōbu uta; that is, a waka based on (and inscribed onto) a scene painted 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 foliage, and the poem's conceit is to anthropomorphize the river: the gijin-hō technique. The opening measure constitutes a makurakotoba that is used with the word kami ("god"). Grammatically, the first two measures would normally come after the last three; thus the poem thus also demonstrates the technique of tōchi-hō. Since the end of the second measure marks a full syntactic break, we also observe the use of nikugire. Finally, comparing the leaves floating on the river to dyed cloth illustrates the technique of mitate. The result, however, is not at all overelaborate, nor does it seem precious. Rather, it has an appeal that grows over time.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  august
  • Measure 2:  age-of-gods | even | not-hear
  • Measure 3:  Tatsuta River
  • Measure 4:  lovely-crimson | into
  • Measure 5:  water | to-dye-shibori-style | (quot.) | !  (the "to" is the quotation particle corresponding to "kikazu" in the second measure)

Poem 18

   Sumi-no-e no

kishi ni yoru nami

   yoru sae ya

yume no kayoiji

hitome yoku ramu


   The waves, at least,

find their way at night to the shore

   of Sumi Inlet.

Do you avoid my dreams at night

out of fears of prying eyes?

-- Fujiwara no Toshiyuki


The source is the second "Love" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 559). Fujiwara no Toshiyuki (?-901 or 907) served as governor of Inaba (see Poem 16, above), 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 even at night, under cover of darkness. Sumi Inlet, now in the Sumiyoshi district of Osaka, was famous for its pines, and thus (because of the conventional doubling of meaning with "wait"; see Poem 16) an appropriate image for fruitless waiting. The poem relies for its effect on the repetition of the word yoru, with different meanings (note, however, that the repetition does not make it a kakekotoba). The first two descriptive measures constitute a preface, or jokotoba, that allows a natural scene to be superimposed upon a distinctly human situation.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Sumi-no-e | 's
  • Measure 2:  shore | to | approach | waves
  • Measure 3:  night | even | ? (the question itself is suspended until the last measure)
  • Measure 4:  dream | 's | meeting-path
  • Measure 5:  peoples'-eyes | shun | perhaps-for-the-reason 

Poem 19


mijikaki ashi no

   fushi no ma mo

awade kono yo o

sugushiteyo to ya


   Do you mean to tell me

I must pass through life without

   a meeting as short as

the space between two nodes of

a reed at Naniwa Bay?

-- Ise


The source is the first "Love" book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 1049). The poet (c. 877-c. 938) was the daughter of Fujiwara no Tsugukage, governor of Ise Province. Ise is often considered a "representative" woman poet of her time, with the expression of consuming passion taken to typify a particularly feminine point of view.

The reeds at Naniwa Bay, near present-day Osaka, were a popular image in classical Japanese poetry because although they grow to a height of two to four meters, the nodes are closely spaced. Here, the first two measures of the Japanese version function as a jokotoba, and the word ma is a kakekotoba that can be taken to refer to one short segment between the nodes of a reed, on the one hand, or to a brief period of time, on the other. The wordplay then goes even deeper because the Chinese character for fushi ("node") can also be read as yo, referring again to a segment between reed nodes but also echoing the homonymic word for "world" (which appears as "life" in the translation). The reverberations among these three engo create a pleasing textural subtlety that is hard to capture in another language.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 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)
  • Measure 2:  short | reed | 's
  • Measure 3:  segment | 's | space + period-of-time | even
  • Measure 4:  not-meet | this | life | (acc.) ("life" is the object of "must-go-through" in the next measure)
  • Measure 5:  must-go-through | (quot.)  | ? 

Poem 20


ima hata onaji

   Naniwa naru

miotsukushite mo

awamu to zo omou


   With no recourse left,

it is now all one and the same.

   I simply must see you,

though I be exposed to ruin

like the markers in Naniwa Bay.

-- Prince Motoyoshi


The source is the fifth "Love" book of the Gosenshū (SKT 960). Prince Motoyoshi (890-943) 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), after 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 Motoyoshi tells his partner 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 measures express the poet's awareness of having been placed in an untenable position, along with a grim what-have I-got-to-lose sort of attitude (a full syntactic break at the end of the second measure signals the nikugire technique). The last three measures complete the overall logic with the poet's assertion that he will meet the woman despite the heavy price he knows he will have to pay. Miotsukushi is a kakekotoba (pivot word) suggesting the poet's willingness to sacrifice his reputation for the woman. If it is to be taken as more than just clever wordplay, channel markers must also be seen as somehow sacrificing themselves, so an interpolation has been ventured.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1: having-languished
  • Measure 2: now | again | same-thing  
  • Measure 3: Naniwa | in ("Bay" is interpolated because of the mention of channel markers)
  • Measure 4: oneself | (acc.) | exhaustingly + channel marker | even (grammatically, the noun is subsumed under the three-part verbal phrase)
  • Measure 5:  will-meet | (quot.) | ! | think