One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets


Poem 31

   asaborake

ariake no tsuki to

   miru made ni

Yoshino no sato ni

fureru shirayuki

 

   In the gathering dawn,

one might take it for the moon

   lingering in the sky --

the white snow now falling

on the dwellings of Yoshino.

-- Sakanoue no Korenori

Comments

The source is the "Winter" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 332). The poet, who flourished in the early Heian period, was one of the "thirty-six immortals" of Japanese poetry, designated as such on the basis of their inclusion in a collection of their waka compiled by the mid-Heian courtier Fujiwara no Kintō (966-1041).

Yoshino was a mountainous district in Yamato, present-day Nara Prefecture. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- its distance from Kyoto, it was famous for its snow in winter and its cherry blossoms in spring. The poet reverses the more typical comparison of the moon to snow, making the snow the source of radiance. Since the snow is still falling, the suffused light resembles that cast by a lingering moon, a conceit that saves the poem from seeming perhaps merely witty. Ending the poem with a noun ("white-snow" rather than "Yoshino" in Japanese) is a technique known as taigendome (providing that a technique like inversion [tōchi-hō]) is not the cause).

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  approaching-morn
  • Line 2:  early-dawn | 's | moon
  • Line 3:  regard | so-far | as-to-be
  • Line 4:  Yoshino | 's | dwellings | on
  • Line 5:  falling | white-snow

Poem 32

   yamagawa ni

kaze no kaketaru

   shigarami wa

nagare mo aenu

momiji narikeri

 

   A wattle dam

laid seemingly by the wind

   across the mountain stream

prevents the tinted leaves from

breaking free to join the current.

-- Harumichi no Tsuraki

Comments

The source is the second "Autumn" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 303). Nothing is known of the poet except that he died in 920, just before taking up his post as governor of Iki Province (the island of Iki off the northern coast of Kyushu).

The poem combines the techniques of personification (gijin-hō) and likening (mitate) to give the wind (or breeze) a tactile presence and to bring into clear focus the poet's realization that his initial impression was mistaken. In this way, one of the most conventional of Japanese poetic images -- autumn leaves floating in the water -- is presented with a freshness that enhances rather than trivializes it.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  mountain-stream | in
  • Line 2:  wind | (subj.) | cast-across
  • Line 3:  wattle-barrier | as-for
  • Line 4:  float-away | ! | unable-to
  • Line 5:  autumn-leaves | be!

Poem 33

   hisakata no

hikari nodokeki

   haru no hi ni

shizugokoro naku

hana no chiru ramu

 

   On a day in spring

when the gentle light reaches

   far into the distance,

the blossoms surely scatter

because of their restless hearts.

-- Ki no Tomonori

Comments

The source is the second "Spring" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 84). Ki no Tomonori (?-?905) was the cousin of Ki no Tsurayuki and one of the compilers of the Kokinshū, which contains 46 of his poems, more than any other poet except Tsurayuki himself (see Poem 35) and Ōshikōchi no Mitsune (see Poem 29).

The effect of the poem derives from the paradoxical contrast between the calm of a sunny spring day and the falling cherry blossoms: since there is no physical reason for the blossoms to be scattering from the trees, it must be because of their own restless feelings. Some readers may not find this contrast to be very convincing, but it might be taken to imply a sensitive awareness to the disjunction that can arise between inner feelings and outward surroundings, thus modifying or enhancing the conventional association of cherry blossoms with transience. In the past, the particle ramu (which is used to draw a conclusion based on observable phenomena) was often said in this poem to indicate a questioning as to the reason for the phenomenon (thus "Why is it that the blossoms fall with restless hearts?"). This interpretation, however, would require bridging a grammatical gap in a way (through the use of a question word, for example) that is not readily apparent, so the interpretation seems to have fallen out of favor. The two poetic techniques involved are personification (gijin-hō, attributing unsettled feelings to cherry blossoms) and makurakotoba (hisakata being a "pillow word" conventionally used, for example, with atmospheric phenomena and heavenly objects). To actually translate a makurakotoba, as has been done here, does entail the risk of making the description too explicit.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  far-extending | 's
  • Line 2:  light | gentle
  • Line 3:  spring | 's | day | on
  • Line 4:  calm-heart | not-having
  • Line 5:  blossom | be | scatter | do-surmise

Poem 34

   tare o ka mo

shiru hito ni semu

   Takasago no

matsu mo mukashi no

tomo naranaku ni

 

   Who is there to claim

as someone I truly know?

   Even the pines here

at Takasago are not

my friends of times gone by.

-- Fujiwara no Okikaze

Comments

The source is the first "Miscellaneous" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 909). Fujiwara no Okikaze (dates unknown) was an early-Heian-period poet counted among the so-called Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals (Sanjūrokkasen) because of his inclusion by Fujiwara no Kintō (966-1041) in an early-11th-century collection of waka titled Sanjūrokuninsen (Selections from Thirty-Six Poets). Apparently Okikaze was also a skilled musician.

The pines at Takasago (in present-day Hyogo Prefecture) were a conventional symbol of longevity. Here, however, the poet -- bereft of the friends of his youth -- cannot find cause to celebrate his own long life because even these famous pines cannot take the place of his lost friends. The reversal of the conventional felicitous association carries a powerful impact. Grammatically, the first two lines and the last three lines are reversed (the tōchi-hō technique), with the latter serving to give the reason for the former (the same pattern is found in Poem 14). Placing a syntactic break after the second line in this way illustrates the nikugire technique.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  who | (acc.) | ? | !
  • Line 2:  know | other-person | into | shall-make
  • Line 3:  Takasago | 's
  • Line 4:  pine | even | long-ago | 's
  • Line 5:  friend | not-be | because

Poem 35

   hito wa isa

kokoro mo shirazu

   furusato wa

hana zo mukashi no

ka ni nioikeru

 

   One can never know

a person's innermost thoughts.

   The blossoms, though,

of a place one once called home

retain the fragrance of the past.

-- Ki no Tsurayuki

Comments

The source is the first "Spring" book of the Kokinshū (SKT 41). Ki no Tsurayuki (866?-945), chief compiler of this first imperial collection of waka poetry, is one of the most representative poets of the period.

In the Kokinshū, the poem carries a headnote stating that it was composed when Tsurayuki paid a visit to a lodging house at Hase Temple that he had frequented in the past and the proprietor chided him for his extended absence. The implication is that Tsurayuki meant to rebuke his host by observing that one can rely more on the constancy of the natural world than on the constancy of human feelings (in other words, people do not always reveal their true feelings, so Tsurayuki does not put much faith in the proprietor's sincerity). The blossoms, as usual in the Heian period, are plum blossoms; furusato here does not refer to the place of one's birth but rather a place in which one has previously lived (Tsurayuki was born in Kyoto). As in the preceding poem, there is a full syntactic break at the end of the second line -- the nikugire technique.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  other-person | as-for | well-then ("isa" used in conjunction with a negative verb, here "not-know" in the next line)
  • Line 2:  heart | also | not-know
  • Line 3:  former-home | as-for
  • Line 4:  blossoms | ! | old-times | 's
  • Line 5:  scent | with | be-fragrant

Poem 36

   natsu no yo wa

mada yoi nagara

   akenuru o

kumo no izuko ni

tsuki yadoru ramu

 

   Since the summer night

no sooner arrived than

   it gave way to dawn,

where among the clouds has

the moon found a place to stay?

-- Kiyohara no Fukayabu

Comments

The source is the “Summer” book of the Kokinshū (SKT 166). The poet, who flourished from the end of the ninth century to the middle of the tenth, was the grandfather of Fujiwara no Motosuke (see Poem 42) and the great-grandfather of Lesser Counselor Shōnagon (see Poem 62).

After a conventionally short summer night, one would expect to see the moon lingering in the early-morning sky (this would be the case in the second half of the lunar month). The poet, unable to distinguish the form of the moon in the brightening sky, adopts the conceit that the moon must have slipped behind the clouds. Note also the implication that the poet and his lover have been admiring the moon throughout the night, and that the time for parting has arrived much too soon. The technique being employed is gijin-hō (personification).

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  summer | ’s | night | as-for
  • Line 2:  still | early-night | while-continuing
  • Line 3:  has-dawned | so
  • Line 4:  cloud | ’s  | where | among
  • Line 5:  moon | take-lodging | ?

Poem 37

   shiratsuyu ni

kaze no fukishiku

   aki no no wa

tsuranukitomenu

tama zo chirikeru

 

   The wind gusts fiercely

over the glistening dew

   in the autumn field,

and the drops scatter like pearls

not yet threaded on a string.

-- Fun'ya no Asayasu

Comments

The source is the second “Autumn” book of the Gosenshū (SKT 308). Little is known of the poet -- who was active from the late ninth century to the early 10th century -- other than that he was the son of Fun’ya no Yasuhide (see Poem 22).

The image of jewels or beads strung on a cord or thread was a common one in Heian waka. The cord might be used as a metaphor for life, for example, so that if the cord breaks and the beads scatter, the implication is that someone’s life has ended. Here, the dewdrops on the plants in an autumn field are being compared to loose pearls that scatter before the gusting wind (the technique of mitate). The visual scope and implied repetition can be said to enliven what might otherwise have been a rather stale image.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  white-dew | at
  • Line 2:  wind | (nom.) | constantly-blow
  • Line 3:  autumn | ’s | field | as-for
  • Line 4:  not-having-been-strung-together
  • Line 5:  jewel | ! | scatter

Poem 38

  wasuraruru

mi o ba omowazu

   chikaiteshi

hito no inochi no

oshiku mo aru kana

 

   Forgotten as I am,

I care nothing for myself --

   yet concern runs deep

for the life of one who pledged

so devoutly to love me.

-- Ukon

Comments

The source is the fourth “Love” book of the Gosenshū (SKT 870). The same waka also appears in Section 84 of Tales of Yamato with a headnote explaining that it was composed by the poet after her lover had betrayed his pledge never to forget her. Ukon, whose dates are unknown, was the daughter of Fujiwara no Suetada (also read as "Suenawa"; d. 919) and served Onshi, the empress of Emperor Daigo (r. 897-930). She was active in the poetic circles of the court of Emperor Murakami (r. 946-967).

The poem invokes the possibility of divine retribution for having broken a vow of love. The message can be taken either as pointed sarcasm or as an expression of genuine concern that the poet’s lover has put his life at risk by breaking his sacred pledge -- or the ambivalence itself may be the point. A full syntactic break after the second line signals the use of the nikugire technique. The translation (here and elsewhere) follows the literal meaning by translating hito in the third person, but given the context (it is a message intended to be read by that person), the use of "you" would also be justified.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  being-forgotten
  • Line 2:  self | (acc.) | ! | not-think
  • Line 3:  did-vow
  • Line 4:  someone | 's | life | (nom.)
  • Line 5:  be-regretful | even | be | !

Poem 39

   asajiu no

ono no shinohara

   shinoburedo

amarite nado ka

hito no koishiki

 

   My feelings remain

concealed, bamboo grass

   in a field of reeds.

Yet how to account for the strength

of this love I feel for another?

-- Consultant Hitoshi

Comments

The source is the first “Love” book of the Gosenshū (SKT 577). Minamoto no Hitoshi (880-951) was a descendent of Emperor Saga (786-842; r. 809-823), but otherwise his life is obscure.

The opening two lines of the Japanese can be said to constitute a jokotoba introducing shinobu (conceal, endure), with the first three lines as a whole unified phonetically by the repeated no. The semantic connection between a jokotoba and the word or phrase it introduces is not always clear in classical poetry (wordplay often seems as important as meaning), but here there seems to be a suggestion that while the bamboo grass may not be easily distinguished visually from the other plants growing in a meadow, the fact that its leaves rustle in the slightest breeze might be expected to give it away. The suggested tension between concealment and revelation is explicitly related to love in the final two lines, in which a rhetorical question signals the poet's consternation at being subjected to feelings of love so powerful they threaten to betray him.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  reed-growing | ’s
  • Line 2:  small-field | ’s | bamboo-grass-field
  • Line 3:  although-conceal
  • Line 4:  too-much-being | why | ?
  • Line 5:  other-person | (nom.) | be-loved (the last two lines form the rhetorical question “Why is it that the person should be so loved by me?")

Poem 40

   shinoburedo

iro ni idenikeri

   wa ga koi wa

mono ya omou to

hito no tou made

 

   I have tried to conceal

what has become plain to see --

   my love is such that

others have taken to asking

whether my thoughts lie somewhere else.

-- Taira no Kanemori

Comments

The source is the first “Love” book of the Shūishū (SKT 622). Taira no Kanemori (? – 990) was the son of the court noble Taira no Atsuyuki (?-910). He is considered a representative Gosenshū-period (mid-10th-century) poet.

The poet thinks he has been successfully concealing his feelings, but he realizes that others have grown suspicious because his facial expression has been giving him away. The realization is highlighted by the use of inversion (tōchi-hō), with the last three lines of the Japanese version displaced from their proper grammatical position between the first two. This inversion is combined with the skillful use of a second-line syntactic break (nikugire), allowing the first two lines to function as an independent unit, in effect effacing the grammatical displacement.

This poem was matched against the next one (Poem 41) in a famous poetry competition held at the court of Emperor Murakami (926-967; r. 946-967) in 960. Both were composed on the assigned topic of concealed love (shinobu koi). The story is that the judge had difficulty awarding the victory until the emperor was overheard to intone this one, which decided the final outcome.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  although-conceal/endure
  • Line 2:  color | in | has-come-out ("color" refers to the way emotions color a person's facial expression)
  • Line 3:  I | 's | love | as-for
  • Line 4:  something | ? | think | (quot.)
  • Line 5:  other-person | ’s | asking | to-that-extent