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 personification, 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
  • Measure 3:  did-row-out | (quot.)
  • Measure 4:  person | to | as-for | inform!
  • Measure 5:  fisher | 's | fishing-boat

It should be noted that the numbers "eight" and "eighty" in classical Japanese conventionally refer to a fairly large, unspecified number rather than to an actual figure. The auxiliary verb nu -- attached to the continuitive form of the verb kogiizu ("row out") at the start of the third measure -- signifies a completed action, and in the literal versions on this site it has been rendered as "did-." In English translation, however, present perfect tense often works better than past tense to convey the immediacy of the situation. The quotation particle to found at the end of the third measure is used not only for actual speech but, as here, to refer to the content of messages or, in other cases, to what one thinks or knows.

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.

-- Archbishop 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), an effect lost in this translation. The affected confusion of the Gosechi dancers with celestial maidens or angels illustrates the technique of mitate.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  heaven | 's | wind
  • Measure 2:  cloud | 's | passageway
  • Measure 3:  blow-closed!
  • Measure 4:  maidens | 's | figure
  • Measure 5:  temporarily | will-detain

The effect of the imperative verb form in the third measure has been softened in translation as a result of the altered syntax. The case particle tsu in the first measure of the Japanese -- used to indicate possession -- was already something of an archaism in the Heian period, but even in modern Japanese it survives in the word matsuge ("eyelash"), literally "eye's hair." The auxiliary verb mu at the end of the fifth measure signifies intention, so the sense here is "I want to..." or "Let me...." This same auxiliary verb can connote likelihood or probability, as in Poem 3, but to avoid the need to keep clarifying differences in nuance, mu has simply been rendered as "will" throughout these translations.

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 prefatory phrase. Although in translation the semantic connection has been weakened, the comparison of the poet's ever deepening (and even somewhat melancholic) love to the course of the Minano River -- accomplished by forcing the word "love" (koi) to replace the name of the river -- remains quite effective.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Tsukuba-Peak | 's
  • Measure 2:  peak | from | to-fall
  • Measure 3:  Minano-River
  • Measure 4:  love | ! | growingly
  • Measure 5:  deep-pool | into | did-become

The third measure consists only of a proper noun, but as mentioned in the comments, the function of the jokotoba is to enable a kind of syntactic doubling by means of which "love" can also be taken as the subject of the verbs that follow, allowing the subjective to be superimposed upon the objective. The apparent grammatical isolation of Minanogawa, in other words, is not the result of inserting a sankugire third-measure break. For the treatment of the auxiliary verb nu at the end of the fifth measure, see the notes to Poem 11, above.

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.

-- The Riverside Minister of the Left


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 a 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 fifth 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, "associated words" that expand the imagery of the poem through a process of association, here specifically referring 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 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 + conceal
  • Measure 3:  who | reason | for
  • Measure 4:  did-start-to-scatter + did-become-disoriented + did-getscatteringly-dyed
  • Measure 5:   I | not-be | although

Standard "rules" of grammar can of course be broken in poetry if the purpose seems to call for it. In the fourth measure, for instance, the attributive inflection shi of the auxiliary verb ki (indicating direct experience in the past) signals that it is a bound ending. However, no corresponding bound particle is to be found in the preceding measures. This means that an interrogative ka appears to have been omitted, and the logical position for ka would be the end of the third measure. Presumably, the particle was dropped to maintain the standard 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern of waka, with rhythm taking precedence over grammar in this case and the poet judging the risk of semantic confusion to be small.

Poem 15

   kimi ga tame

haru no no ni idete

   wakana tsumu

wa ga koromode ni

yuki wa furitsutsu


   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.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  you | 's | purpose
  • Measure 2:  spring | 's | field | into | going-out
  • Measure 3:  herbs | pluck
  • Measure 4:  I | 's | sleeve | on
  • Measure 5:  snow | as-for | continuously-falling

The syntax of the waka is quite regular, with semantic units also marking rhythmic divisions. Even though tsutsu -- signifying continuous or repeated action -- is classified as a conjunctive particle, Japanese commentators do not regard its use at the end of a waka as an example of the inversion technique (tōchi-hō), indicating the understood omission of sentence-completing grammar (see also Poem 1 and Poem 4).

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, or pivot words, 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
  • Measure 2:  Inaba + even-if-depart | 's | mountain | 's |
  • Measure 3:  peak | on | grow
  • Measure 4:  pine-tree + to-pine | (quot.) | ! | if-hear
  • Measure 5:  immediately | will-return

Prefixes (settō-go or, more properly, settō-ji) in classical Japanese have a variety of functions, including beautification (such as mi-Yoshino, or "fair Yoshino") and -- for lack of a better word -- obfuscation (such as ura-kanashi, or "somehow sad"). The tachi- of tachiwakare in the first measure is emphatic in nuance, so the sense is something like the "up" in the English expression "up and leave."

Poem 17


kamiyo mo kikazu


karakurenai ni

mizu kukuru to wa


   A marvel unknown

even in the age of mighty gods--

   the Tatsuta River

tie-dyeing its own waters

a bright, exotic 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 tinted leaves floating in the Tatsuta River, which flowed through an area of Nara famed for its autumn foliage, and the poem's conceit is to anthropomorphize the river: the gijin-hō technique. The opening measure constitutes a standard makurakotoba epithet joined to the word kami ("god"). Since the end of the second measure marks a full syntactic break, the nikugire technique has been employed. Grammatically, the last three measures would normally precede the first two, so the poem also demonstrates tōchi-hō, or inversion. Finally, affecting confusion over whether the layer of leaves floating on the river might actually be dyed cloth signals the metaphorical technique of mitate. The result, however, is not overelaborate, nor does it seem precious. Instead, the poem's appeal seems to grow over time.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  all-powerful
  • Measure 2:  age-of-gods | even | not-hear
  • Measure 3:  Tatsuta-River
  • Measure 4:  crimson-from-abroad | into
  • Measure 5:  water | to-tie-dye | (quot.) | !

Since classical Japanese did not use punctuation or diacritical marks, space sometimes opens up for alternate interpretations of a poem's meaning. Such is the case here with the verb kukuru. In contrast to the standard interpretation described above, some past commentators have preferred to read the verb as kuguru ("to pass under"). Following such a reading eliminates the notion of artificially produced beauty, resulting in a more purely descriptive text ("the waters of the Tatsuta flow beneath the bright red leaves"). Ariyoshi Tamotsu argues that Teika himself had this alternative reading in mind (Hyakunin isshu: zen-yakuchū, pp. 80-83), even as Ariyoshi provides a "translation" into modern Japanese based on the standard interpretation.

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, although with different meanings (two separate words are used, so this is not 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 | wave
  • Measure 3:  night | even | ?
  • Measure 4:  dream | 's | passageway
  • Measure 5:  peoples'-eyes | avoid  | would-seem-why

Grammatical subjects are often omitted in both classical and modern Japanese. Context and convention usually suffice for clarity, but not always. Here it is possible to take the subject of the verb yoku ("avoid") as either the composer of the poem ("I") or the recipient ("you"). Since in the Heian period it was the man who visited the woman, the translation given here takes the subject to be the man, meaning in turn that the male poet is assuming the persona of a woman -- not an uncommon occurrence in classical waka.

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 a 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 descriptive preface, or jokotoba, and the word ma ("space") is a pivot word, or kakekotoba, that can be taken to refer either to one of the short segments of a reed (the space between two nodes) or to a brief period of time. The wordplay then goes even deeper because the Chinese character for fushi (節; "node") can also be read as yo, bringing into play the homonymic yo of the fourth measure (世; "world," translated here as "life"). The reverberations among the three engo, or associated words, of ashi ("reed"), fushi ("node"), and yo ("segment" and "world") create a textual subtlety that is hard to capture in another language.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Naniwa-Bay
  • Measure 2:  short | reed | 's
  • Measure 3:  segment | 's | space + period-of-time | even
  • Measure 4:  not-meetingly | this | life | (acc.)
  • Measure 5:  will-have-had-to-have-passed-through | (quot.)  | ? 

The Japanese suffix -gata actually refers to a mudflat that becomes fully exposed only when the tide recedes, so that "bay" is a somewhat exaggerated translation adopted to avoid awkwardness.

The fifth measure starts with a verb/auxiliary-verb combination that may suggest one of the challenges translators face in terms of dealing with the literal meaning of inflected parts of speech. The verb sugusu is a transitive verb signifying, in this case, "pass through time." It is conjugated in the continuative form (sugushi) because it is followed by the auxiliary verb tsu (inflected in the imperative form teyo), signifying an intentionally completed action. Grammatically, a sense of completion combined with modality (obligation, in this case) is called for, so something like the expression "will have had to have passed through life" becomes necessary to match the Japanese "literally" ("will have had to" for modality and "have passed through life" for the completed action). This is much too cumbersome in English, where simple modality suffices -- especially since the relevant portion of the poet's life still lies in front of her. English, that is, sees no need to refer to a completed action. Hence the rather noticeable difference between the literal rendition and the final translation. The literal version is based on a grammatical analysis that one suspects does not unduly influence Japanese readers when reading classical poetry.

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) referring to both channel markers and the poet's willingness to sacrifice his reputation for the woman. If it is to be taken as more than just clever wordplay, the 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
  • Measure 4:  channel-marker + oneself-(acc.)-exhaustingly | even
  • Measure 5:  will-meet | (quot.) | ! | think

Here is a case where the conjunctive particle ba attached to the perfective form of the verb/auxiliary verb combination wabinu can be said to provide a reason for the situation that follows (see the notes for Poem 4 for more details). Only the word "Naniwa" is given in the original to identify the setting (present-day Osaka), but in view of the mention of channel markers, the reference can be assumed to be to the bay.