One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets

Poem 21

   ima komu to

iishi bakari ni

   Nagatsuki no

ariake no tsuki o

machiidetsuru kana


   Simply because

you promised to come soon,

   I have waited

this long Ninth Month night only for

the early-morning moon to appear.

-- Priest Sosei


The source is the fourth "Love" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 691). The poet, whose lay name was Yoshimine no Harutoshi, was the son of Bishop Henjō (see Poem 12) and is counted among the Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals (Sanjūrokkasen) selected by Fujiwara no Kintō (966-1041) for inclusion in an early-11th-century collection of waka. Sosei lived from the second half of the ninth century to the beginning of the 10th century.

In this waka, a male poet is adopting the persona of a woman, resulting in a sort of verse by proxy termed daiei ( 代詠). Under the pre-Meiji lunar calendar, the ninth month was called Nagatsuki (Long Month) because of the lengthening nights. Here the effect is to compare the length of a late-autumn night to the deepening frustration and resentment of the forsaken narrator, who has continued to wait until the late-rising moon can be seen lingering in the pre-dawn sky -- a time when under better circumstances the woman's lover would instead be bidding a reluctant farewell. It is not that the moon has suddenly appeared at the moment of composition, but that the coming dawn has prompted the poet to take notice of the lingering moon's presence, making her aware of how long she has been waiting.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  immediately | will-come | (quot.)
  • Measure 2:  did-say | merely | because
  • Measure 3:  Ninth Month | 's
  • Measure 4:  early-dawn | 's | moon | (acc.)
  • Measure 5:  did-waitingly-appear | !

The compound verb machiidetsuru in the last measure is something of a portmanteau word in that the subject of the first verb (matsu) is the woman ("I waited"), while the subject of the second verb (izu) is the moon ("it appeared"). To this compound verb is attached an inflected form of the auxiliary verb tsu, which refers to an intentionally completed action. The accusative particle at the end of the fourth measure is used because matsu -- the first verb in the compound -- is a transitive verb.

Poem 22

   fuku karani

aki no kusaki no


mube yamakaze o

arashi to iu ramu


   No sooner does it blow

than autumn trees and grasses

   start to droop and fade--

small wonder that a mountain gale

should be called a razing wind.

-- Fun'ya no Yasuhide


The source is the second "Autumn" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 249). Although the poet is one of the Six Poetic Immortals (Rokkasen) mentioned in the Preface of the Kokinshū, little is known of him other than he flourished in the middle of the ninth century. His son, Fun'ya no Asahisa, is also represented in the One Hundred Poets collection (Poem  37).

The meaning of the poem relies on a combination of visual and semantic wordplay that defies easy translation. The Japanese word arashi ("storm" or "tempest") derives from a verb meaning "devastate" or "lay waste to" that would be normally be written with a specific Chinese character (荒し). As a noun, however, the usual Chinese character () is a combination of the ideographs for "mountain" and "wind." By doubling the meaning in this way -- that is, making arashi function as a kakekotoba, or pivot word -- the poet is wittily making the point that the fierce autumn wind that blows down from the mountains ravages the foliage of summer. It does, however, seem to be a pretty slight verse.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  blow | as-soon-as
  • Measure 2:  autumn | 's | grass-trees | as-for
  • Measure 3:  because-wither
  • Measure 4:  understandably | mountain-wind | (acc.)
  • Measure 5:  tempest | (quot.) | to-call | would-seem-why

Mube, at the beginning of the fourth measure, is an adverb that is paired with the auxiliary verb ramu at the end of the fifth -- a good example of how suspension of meaning can serve as a unifying principle in classical waka. Other adverbs function in the same way (see, for instance, Poem 39 or Poem 44), as does the bound-particle/bound-ending construction commonly used for questions and exclamations.

Poem 23

   tsuki mireba

chiji ni mono koso


wa ga mi hitotsu no

aki ni wa aranedo


   When I see the moon,

a thousand thoughts conspire

   to sadden my heart,

even though it is true that

autumn is not mine alone.

-- Ōe no Chisato


The source is the first "Autumn" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 193). The poet, who was active from the second half of the ninth century, was a nephew of Ariwara no Yukihira (Poem 16) and Ariwara no Narihira (Poem 17).

The sadness of autumn, now taken for granted as a typically Japanese sentiment, appears to have emerged as a poetic topic in the early Heian period under the influence of Chinese poetry. Here there is a witty (though not overly so) contrast made between the "thousands" of thoughts that beset the poet upon gazing at the autumn moon and the poet's realization that although he experiences these thoughts at the individual level, he is not the only one who has them. It is an evocative way of dealing with the universality of deeply personal feelings. The last two measures, which grammatically should precede the first three, represent an example of the tōchi-hō technique of inversion, a reversal that creates the ironic distance necessary for the poet's realization. Structurally, the result is to create a grammatical break after the third measure, which means that the sankugire technique has also been employed.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  moon | when-see
  • Measure 2:  thousands | by | things | indeed
  • Measure 3:  sad!
  • Measure 4:  I | 's | self | one-thing | 's
  • Measure 5:  autumn | so-as-to-be | as-for | though-not-be

The literal rendition of the last measure may seem somehwat confusing at first, but the sense is "although it is not the kind of autumn that... (is meant for me alone)."

Poem 24

   kono tabi wa

nusa mo toriaezu


momiji no nishiki

kami no manimani


   Plain hemp will not do

on an excursion such as this.

   Surely an offering

of a brocade of autumn leaves

will better please the mountain gods.

-- Kanke


The source is the "Travel" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 420). "Kanke" is a conventional reference to Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), the famous Minister of the Right who died in exile in Kyushu and was later deified as the god of learning (Tenjin-sama). The headnote in the source states that the waka was composed at the beginning of an excursion to Nara by Retired Emperor Uda (867-931; r. 887-897) -- a large-scale affair that led to the composition of numerous poems.

The splendor of both the undertaking and the scenery are enhanced by the conceit of offering the autumn foliage instead of the usual strips of plain hemp to the gods who safeguard travelers on their journeys (here the offerings are being made at a mountain pass). Three poetic techniques are involved: a kakekotoba play on the meaning of tabi as both "(this) trip" and "(this) time"; a nikugire grammatical break after the second measure; and the affected confusion, or mitate, of the colorful autumn leaves with rich brocade.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  this | time + trip | as-for
  • Measure 2:  hemp | even | not-be-worth-offering
  • Measure 3:  mountain-for-offerings
  • Measure 4:  autumn-leaves | 's | brocade
  • Measure 5:  gods | (subj.) | according-to-desire

The verb toru in the inflected compound verb toriaezu (at the end of the second measure) has been intepreted here in the sense of "to offer," but if toru is taken more literally to mean "take," the compound means "not-having-had-time-to-take," and the implication is that the poet has neglected to bring the usual hemp and will instead make an offering of the autumn leaves. Both interpretations (as well as others) have historical justification. The adverb manimani ("according-to-desire") at the end of the fifth measure implies the omission of a request like uketamae ("please receive") immediately afterward, the sense being "may the god(s) be pleased to accept."

Poem 25

   na ni shi owaba

Ōsakayama no


hito ni shirarede

kuru yoshi mogana


   If the bedsharing vine

found on Mount Ōsaka were

   only true to its name,

I would have the perfect means

to draw you unseen to my side.

-- Minister of the Right Sanjō


The source is the third "Love" book of the Gosenshū (SKT 700). The Minister of the Right Sanjō is a reference to Fujiwara no Sadakata (873-932), who owned a residence in Sanjō.

Apparently there is a need for the poet to keep secret his relationship with the woman he addresses. Thus, he wishes there were a means of meeting the woman without others being aware, and the aptly named vine -- concealed in the undergrowth on the aptly named mountain -- would seem to offer the best hope of doing so. Three kakekotaba are used to establish figurative connections between external description and internal desire: the "Ō" of "Ōsaka" conventionally corresponds to the verb au (pronounced "ō" and meaning "to meet"); the sane embedded in the plant name plays on a homonym meaning "sleep together"; and kuru can be taken either as "come" or as "reel toward" (that is, the poet's being able to draw the woman toward him). In addition, sanekazura is an engo, or associated word, linked to au, and kuru is an engo linked in turn to sanekazura. The almost excessive wittiness of the central conceit is at least partly offset by the desperation of the poet, so powerful as to inspire an imagined reversal of the usual state of affairs in which the man goes to visit the woman.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  name | proper-to | ! | if-bear
  • Measure 2:  Mount-Ōsaka | 's
  • Measure 3:  sleep-together-vine
  • Measure 4:  people | to | imperceptibly
  • Measure 5:  come + draw-toward | means | if-only

Even this literal translation is somewhat free as far as the first measure goes. The case particle ni has a wide range of connotations, including the specification of time, place, rank, reason, or something concerning which an action is performed (like the word "subject" in the phrase "subject of research"). It is the last of these connotations that comes closest to the meaning here, and expressions like "appropriate to" or "fitting" seem to coordinate best with the verb ou, meaning "to bear" (as in "to bear responsibility"). The conjunctive particle ba at the end of the first measure is attached to owa, which is the imperfective form of ou, so the first measure as a whole constitutes a hypothetical condition. Mogana, at the end of the fifth measure, is a final particle that indicates a wish or desire. When it follows a nominative, as here, the sense is "if only there were...."

Poem 26


mine no momijiba

   kokoro araba

mata hitotabi no

miyuki matanamu


   O autumn leaves

on Mount Ogura’s peak--

   if you have a heart,

you might wait until a second

royal excursion can occur.

-- Lord Teishin


The source is the "Miscellaneous Autumn" book of the Shūishū (SKT 1128). Lord Teishin (Teishin-kō) was the posthumous appellation given to Fujiwara no Tadahira (880-949), who served as regent and chancellor during the reigns of Emperor Suzaku (923-952; r. 930-946) and Emperor Murakami (926-967; r. 947-967), setting the stage for the peak of Fujiwara-family influence.

The headnote to the poem in the Shūishu says that it was composed by Tadahira in response to an imperial excursion to Mount Ogura by Retired Emperor Uda (867-931; r. 887-897), who expressed a wish that his son, Emperor Daigo (885-930; r. 897-930), might also enjoy the famous autumn foliage. By way of encouraging the emperor to undertake such an excursion, the poet addresses the foliage directly, the personification technique of gijin-hō. The obvious connection of Mount Ogura with the Hyakunin isshu was no doubt a factor in Teika's selection of this poem, and of course the auspiciousness is heightened by mention of royal visits.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Mount-Ogura
  • Measure 2:  peak | 's | autumn-leaves
  • Measure 3:  heart | if-exist
  • Measure 4:  again | once-more | 's
  • Measure 5:  royal-excursion | best-await

Technically speaking, the reading miyuki (at the start of the fifth measure) applies to two different combinations of Chinese characters. When written as 行幸, the reference is to an excursion by the reigning emperor; written as 御幸, the reference is to an excursion by an abdicated or cloistered emperor or by one of the reigning emperor's close female relatives or consorts. The headnote in the source makes it clear that the hoped-for excursion would be one by Emperor Daigo. This is a good example of the way contextual mediation of some sort is almost always involved in the interpretation of classical waka, problematizing the impulse to read them as discrete poems.

Poem 27


wakite nagaruru


itsu miki tote ka

koishikaru ramu


   After it rises,

the Izumi River flows across

   the Mikano Plain--

when might I have seen it that

this love should run so strong?

-- Middle Counselor Kanesuke


The source is the first "Love" book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 996). It was composed by Fujiwara no Kanesuke (877-933), the great-grandfather of Murasaki Shikibu and an important 10th-century poet.

The poem shifts from descriptive to subjective, with the first three measures about the Izumi River (now called the Kizu River) functioning as a prefatory jokotoba for the theme of human love implicit in the last two measures. The river rises from a spring and then divides the plain as it flows toward the sea (the word wakite can be taken in either sense, meaning that it is a kakekotoba, or pivot word). The description then takes on a figurative aspect, suggesting that the poet is separated from a woman he would very much like to meet and is experiencing the welling up of his own feelings of romantic love ("see" is a conventional euphemism for "sleep with"). Waki ("welling up") and izumi ("spring") are engo, or associated words, adding further texture, while the repetition of the sounds i-zu-mi and i-tsu-mi (orthographically identical in classical Japanese) establishes a phonetic link between the two structural units of the waka. The sophisticated wordplay lends the poem considerable subtlety, at least in the original.

Disagreement exists between those who think that the poet has already "met" the intended recipient at least once -- and is therefore lamenting their subsequent separation -- and those who think he is a prospective lover longing for a first meeting. The latter interpretation seems to be the one currently in favor.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Mikano-Plain
  • Measure 2:  rise + divide | flow
  • Measure 3:  Izumi-River
  • Measure 4:  when | did-see | so-saying | ?
  • Measure 5:  beloved | would-seem-why

The case particle tote in the fourth measure functions much like the quotational case particle to, although it is somewhat less direct in import. The interrogative ka at the end of the same measure is a bound particle that is paired with the bound ending ramu -- an auxially verb signifying surmise as to origin -- at the end of the fifth measure. The sense of the last two measures is something like "When would you say I saw it that it should seem so dear to me?"

Since English requires an object for the verb "see," the last two lines of the translation seem to be continuing the description of the river (which on one level they are); but the Japanese omits mention of any direct object, meaning that the reader is free to mentally substitute "you" for "it" -- as was surely the poet's intention.

Poem 28

   yamasato wa

fuyu zo sabishisa


hitome mo kusa mo

karenu to omoeba


   In a mountain village,

winter is when loneliness

   truly grows deep--

so it seems when visits grow sparse

and the grass has withered away.

-- Minamoto no Muneyuki


The source is the "Winter" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 315). Minamoto no Muneyuki (?-939), a grandson of Emperor Kōkō (see Poem 15), seems to have met with frustration in his attempts to advance within the Heian court hierarchy.

A fairly straightforward poem that makes use of a sankugire break after the third measure, which in turn requires the final two measures to be taken as having been displaced from their proper grammatical position after the first measure: the tōchi-hō technique of inversion. The kakekotoba, or pivot-word, technique is also evident in the use of two separate verbs, both pronounced karu. One verb (離る) refers to the condition of being separated from other people ; the second verb (枯る) refers to the withering of vegetation. The effect of this doubled meaning is to evoke a sense of discovery about the nature of life in isolation from the capital.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  mountain-village | as-for
  • Measure 2:  winter | ! | loneliness
  • Measure 3:  to-increase!
  • Measure 4:  people's-visits | also | grasses | also
  • Measure 5: did-become-sparse + did-wither | (quot.) | because-think

Japanese commentators take the conjunctive particle ba at the end of the fifth measure as indicating the reason for the increased loneliness of winter in a mountain village. The poet, in other words, is not describing an actually observed situation so much as reflecting on one that has been predicated to exist and is thus only fully visible to the mind's eye. This is a subtle distinction that is difficult to convey in English, especially since the use of "seems " and the simple present tense of the first verb necessariy blur reality and impression, a single instance and a statement of constant principle. See the notes to Poem 4 for more on the conjunctive particle ba. It seems doubtful that a literal rendition of omoeba as "when-think" would result in a significantly different final translation.

As before with the auxiliary verb nu, signifying completion, the literal rendering in the fifth measure is "did-," even though simple past tense does not seem appropriate in the English translation. See, for example, Poem 11 and Poem 13.

Poem 29

   kokoroate ni

oraba ya oramu

   hatsushimo no


shiragiku no hana


   Shall I simply guess

where to break them off?

   Mums of white,

impossible to tell apart

beneath the year's first frost.

-- Ōshikōchi no Mitsune


The source is the second "Autumn" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 277). The poet was a low-ranking aristocrat who lived from the second half of the ninth century into the early 10th century; he was one of the compilers of the Kokinshū.

Tōchi-hō is employed again here, with the first two measures and the last three reversed from their normal grammatical positions. As elsewhere, the inversion is accompanied by a syntactic break, coming here at the end of the second measure, the nikugire technique. The explicitly stated confusion of the poet serves to emphasize the whiteness of the mums, which have become virtually indistinguishable from each other and from the frost that camouflages them: an elegant image of white upon white (the first frost of the year normally falls between late autumn and early winter).

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  heart's-guidance | by
  • Measure 2:  if-I-break | ? | I-shall-break
  • Measure 3:  first-frost | (subj.)
  • Measure 4:  lying-on-confusingly
  • Measure 5:  white-mum | 's | flower

The second measure of this literal version may seem puzzling at first, but considering the first two measures as a single unit helps to clarify the grammar. The case particle ni at the end of the first measure signifies method or means, and it functions adverbially to modify the auxiliary verb mu (referring to intention) at the end of the second measure. The general sense therefore becomes "Let me do (something) as my heart dictates," and that "something" is breaking the mums from their stems. Because of the bound particle ya, however, the two measures as a whole constitute a question rather than a statement: "Shall I go ahead and break them off by guesswork?" Finally, the ora at the start of the second measure (the imperfective conjugation of the verb oru) is joined to the conjunctive particle ba to form a hypothetical condition inserted after the opening adverbial construction but before the main clause. This produces a repetition that adds both semantic and phonetic emphasis. Thus, rearranging to match standard English syntax, a complete sentence would read "If I am to break them off, shall I go ahead and break them off by mere guesswork?"

Poem 30

   ariake no

tsurenaku mieshi

   wakare yori

akatsuki bakari

uki mono wa nashi


   Ever since we parted

under the indifferent gaze

   of the lingering moon,

nothing brings more anguish than

the approach of each new dawn.

-- Mibu no Tadamine


The source is the third "Love" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 625). Mibu no Takamine (fl. ca. 900) was one of the compilers of that collection; his son composed Poem 41.

This is a straightforward poem both grammatically and rhetorically, although there is some question about whether the poet is lamenting the indifference of the moon or the cruelty of separation itself (or perhaps both). In any case, the lingering moon is a conventional symbol of the poet's reluctance to depart on the morning after a romantic assignation, and charging the moon with indifference adds a touch of anguish to the poet's subsequent inability to repeat the tryst.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  moon-at-dawn | (subj.)
  • Measure 2:  indifferently | did-appear
  • Measure 3:  parting | ever-since
  • Measure 4:  early-dawn | so-much-as
  • Measure 5:  distasteful | thing | as-for | not-be

Japanese commentators are in agreement that although the word tsuki ("moon") does not appear in the first measure, it can be interpolated. Rhythmic necessity would seem to be the reason for the omission; see Poem 21, above, or Poem 31 for the full seven-syllable ariake no tsuki. It should be noted that in classical Japanese, the word akatsuki does not refer to sunrise but to the period just before that, when the sky is still relatively dark and the sun has not yet appeared.