One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets

Poem 31


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


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 Poetic Immortals (Sanjūrokkasen) 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" in Japanese rather than the "Yoshino" of the translation) is another example of the taigendome technique, intended to create overtones by leaving the sentence grammatically incomplete.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  coming-dawn
  • Measure 2:  dawn | 's | moon
  • Measure 3:  regard | to-the-extent | as-to-be
  • Measure 4:  Yoshino | 's | dwellings | on
  • Measure 5:  still-falling | white-snow

The words asaborake ("coming dawn") in the first measure and ariake ("dawn") in the second function differently in classical waka, although both are connected with early morning. Asaborake refers specifically to the approaching light of dawn, before actual sunrise. Ariake, one of a number of words in classical Japanese that refer to dawn, is conventionally associated with the late-rising moon (ariake no tsuki) of the second half of the lunar month, a moon that remains in the sky after morning arrives (see Poem 21 and Poem 81 for other examples). This convention is so strong that the word ariake alone can be used to refer to the moon itself during this part of the month (see Poem 30). In addition, one does not necessarily have to wait for dawn to arrive before referring to the moon as ariake no tsuki -- it is enough to know that it will linger in the morning sky to refer to it as such.

Although not directly connected with the Hyakunin isshu, one might also take note of arguments over a possible difference in nuance between the words asaborake and akebono, both of which refer to the approach of dawn, before sunrise (akebono appears in one of the most famous opening passages in Japanese literature, that of the Heian-period miscellany Makura no sōshi [The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon]). The more pedantic appear to favor a chronological sequence in which akebono precedes asaborake, but this sequence is by no means universally acknowledged. In any case, it does seem that asaborake is more commonly associated with the seasons of autumn and winter.

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


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 affected confusion (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 depicted with a freshness that enhances rather than trivializes it.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  mountain-stream | in
  • Measure 2:  wind | (subj.) | having-cast-across
  • Measure 3:  wattle-barrier | as-for
  • Measure 4:  drift-away | ! | not-completely
  • Measure 5:  autumn-leaves | be!

The reading yamagawa for the Chinese characters 山川 in the first measure signifies a river in the mountains. Pronounced yamakawa, the same word functions as a compound noun referring generically to both mountains and rivers. Because the auxiliary verb au in the fourth measure, signifying total completion of an action, augments the meaning of the verb nagareru ("flow"), the literal rendition has treated nagareru as if it were conjugated in the final form rather than in the continuative form. In fact, the auxiliary verb is inflected in the attributive form, modifying momiji ("autumn leaves") in the fifth measure. The syntax, in other words, is a little smoother than may appear from the literal rendition.

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


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. The two poetic techniques involved are personification (gijin-hō, attributing unsettled feelings to cherry blossoms) and the conventional use of the epithet hisakata as a pillow word (makurakotoba) in front of 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. This waka is often adduced as an example of the characteristic subjectivity of poetry of the Kokinshū era.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  far-extending | 's
  • Measure 2:  light | gentle
  • Measure 3:  spring | 's | day | on
  • Measure 4:  calm-heart | not-having
  • Measure 5:  flower | (subj.) | scatter | would-seem-why

The auxiliary verb ramu (signifying a conclusion or surmise based on an observed phenomenon) at the end of the fifth measure was traditionally held to refer to speculation as to the reason for the blossoms' scattering: thus, "Why is it that the blossoms scatter restlessly?" This interpretation, however, requires bridging a syntactic gap in a way that is not self-evident -- by assuming the omission of an interrogative particle earlier in the fifth measure, for example, to set up a bound-particle/bound ending relationship with ramu. Some awkwardness is involved in doing so, and the currently favored interpretation simply takes shizugokoro naku ("not having calm hearts") as the surmised reason for the blossoms' "behavior."

Poem 34

   tare o ka mo

shiru hito ni semu

   Takasago no

matsu mo mukashi no

tomo naranaku ni


   Who can I claim

as one who truly knows me?

   Even the pines

here at Takasago are not

my friends of times gone by.

-- Fujiwara no Okikaze


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). Okikaze was also apparently 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 measures and the last three measures 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 full syntactic break after the second measure in this way illustrates the nikugire (second-measure break) technique.

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

Grammatically, the verb shiru ("know") in the second measure does not refer to a person -- or people -- known by the poet ("someone whom I know") but to a person who knows the poet ("someone who knows me"). The agency in this case belongs to someone other than the poet. With semu ("shall make"), on the other hand, agency lies with the poet; the translation therefore attempts to reflect this bidirectional sort of relationship.

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


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 prominent 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 measure -- the nikugire technique.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  person | as-for | well-then
  • Measure 2:  heart | also | not-know
  • Measure 3:  former-home | as-for
  • Measure 4:  flower | ! | long-ago | 's
  • Measure 5:  scent | with | be-fragrant!

The adverb isa (indicating a certain level of doubt) is normally accompanied by a negative verb inflection, often, as at the end of the second measure here, the specific inflected form shirazu ("not-know"). The sense is something like "You can never really know about...."

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


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. The implication is 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), attributing agency to the moon.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  summer | ’s | night | as-for
  • Measure 2:  still | early-night | while-continuing
  • Measure 3:  did-dawn | so
  • Measure 4:  cloud | ’s  | where | among
  • Measure 5:  moon | take-lodging | might-be

The word yoi in the second measure refers to the period shortly after the sun has set. One would hardly expect dawn to arrive so early after night has fallen, but the season is summer -- when the nights are proverbially short -- so the poet is remarking hyperbolically on how fast the night seems to have passed. This impression is then reinforced by mention of the expected presence of the moon in the early-morning sky. Because the moon cannot actually be seen, however, the auxilary verb ramu at the end of the fifth measure signifies speculation about its present (unknown) location: "Might the moon be somewhere behind the clouds?" When an observed phenomenon is involved, ramu signifies speculation concerning the reason for the observed phenomenon, as in Poem 18 or Poem 22.

Poem 37

   shiratsuyu ni

kaze no fukishiku

   aki no no wa


tama zo chirikeru


   The wind gusts fiercely

over the glistening dew

   in the autumn field,

the drops made to scatter

like pearls come unstrung.

-- Fun'ya no Asayasu


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 string or cord was a common one in Heian waka. The cord was often used as a metaphor for life, so that if the string should break and the beads scatter, the implication was that life had come to an end. Here, the technique of mitate, or elegant confusion, is employed more descriptively to compare the dewdrops scattered by the wind to pearls that have broken loose from the strings (in this case, the grassy leaves) on which they were fastened. The visual scope and the implied recurrence constitute a refreshingly original treatment of this potentially stale image.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  white-dew | on
  • Measure 2:  wind | (subj.) | constantly-blow
  • Measure 3:  autumn | ’s | field | as-for
  • Measure 4:  not-being-strung-together
  • Measure 5:  jewel | ! | scatter!

The attributive forms of the inflected verbs in the second and fourth measures focus grammatical attention on both the topic (aki no no, in the third measure) and the subject (tama) of the main verb (chiru) in the fifth measure. This is a sight that could only be observed in autumn, and the scattering of the pearl-like dew in the wind makes a striking impression that sets this waka apart from many others that use the same, rather commonplace comparison of dew to pearls.

Poem 38


mi o ba omowazu


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


The source is the fourth “Love” book of the Gosenshū (SKT 870). The same waka also appears in Section 84 of the mid-10-century Yamato monogatari (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 measure signals the use of the nikugire technique. The translation 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 explicit use of "you" would also be justified.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  being-forgotten
  • Measure 2:  oneself | (acc.) | ! | not-think
  • Measure 3:  having-vowed
  • Measure 4:  person | 's | life | (subj.)
  • Measure 5:  be-regretful | even | exist | !

The treatment of the verb that constitutes the opening measure -- wasuru ("forget") -- offers a convenient, if somewhat technically involved, example of how inflection works in classical Japanese.

Two different conjugations exist for wasuru in classical Japanese, one older and one more recent (that is, contemporaneous with the time of the compilation of the Hyakunin isshu). Grammatical analysis reveals that the older conjugation is the one being used in this poem, and there are potential mplications for the poem's meaning. The older conjugation is called a "four-grade conjugation" (yodan katsuyō), which means that the sound of one of four different vowels (a, i, u, e) can be distinguished at the end of each of the six possible conjugations: imperfective form (mizenkei), continuative form (ren'yōkei), final form (shūshikei), attributive form (rentaikei), perfective form (izenkei), and imperative form (meireikei). For wasuru, the six conjugated forms are wasura, wasuri, wasuru, wasuru, wasure, and wasure, respectively. Six conjugations, four vowel sounds in the conjugated part of the verb -- hence, four-grade conjugation. The same four-grade (a, i, u, e) conjugation holds for many other regular verbs.

The newer conjugation of wasuru is based on the presence of only two vowel sounds: e and u. The six conjugated forms, in the same order as before, are wasure, wasure, wasuru, wasururu, wasurure, and wasureyo (wasureyo does not count as an o sound because the determining vowel is the one that immediately follows the wasu- stem). In other words, this is a "two-grade conjugation" (nidan katsuyō) which, to distinguish it from two-grade conjugations based on the sounds i and u, is called a "lower two-grade conjugation" (shimo-nidan katsuyō), the reason being that the vowel e comes after the vowel i in the Japanese syllabary (on a syllabic chart, its position is lower). Not as common as four-grade conjugation, lower two-grade conjugation is nevertheless considered a regular form of verb conjugation.

To return to the text of the poem, the first measure concludes with ruru, which is an inflected form of the auxiliary verb ru, signaling the passive voice (ruru is the attributive form, indicating that it modifies mi ["oneself"] in the following measure). Grammatically, ru must be attached to the imperfective form of a verb, and since the given conjugation is wasura, it is evident that the verb has been conjugated according to the older, four-grade conjugational pattern. The implication for meaning comes from a slight difference in nuance between the two forms of wasuru. The older form suggests a deliberate forgetting, bordering on willful neglect; the newer form simply refers to something having slipped from memory (both are transitive verbs). Thus, it may be that the poet, even while making herself the subject by using the passive voice, wants to make it clear that her lover bears responsibility for her condition. It is by no means certain, however, that Teika himself would have attributed this intention to the poet, given that she was active more than two centuries previously and Teika would have expected her to use the original conjugation anyway.

Poem 39

   asajiu no

ono no shinohara


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


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 measures of the Japanese can be said to constitute a jokotoba introducing shinobu ("conceal"; "endure"), with the first three measures 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 measures, 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
  • Measure 1:  reed-grown-place | ’s
  • Measure 2:  small-field | ’s | bamboo-grass-field
  • Measure 3:  although-conceal
  • Measure 4:  being-too-much | why | ?
  • Measure 5:  person | (subj.) | beloved

As noted previously, questions in classical Japanese waka are typically formed using a bound-particle/bound-ending construction, essentially placing a question mark midposition in a clause or sentence and delaying completion of the meaning until the end. Ka and koishi ("beloved," inflected in the attributive form koishiki, as expected) constitute such a pair here. Some commentators argue that nado and ka should in fact be considered a single adverb (nadoka) rather than an adverb/bound-particle combination, although there is little consequence for either meaning or translation.

Poem 40


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


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 third measure displaced from its proper grammatical position after the first ("my love" is the subject of "has become plain to see"). This inversion is combined with the use of a second-measure break (nikugire), for extra emphasis, resulting in an interestingly staggered three-part structure in which the last two measures, which conclude with an adverbial particle (fuku joshi), give something of the impression of a further inversion.

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 has it that the judge had difficulty deciding the winner until the emperor was overheard to intone this one, which determined the outcome.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  although-conceal
  • Measure 2:  color | in | did-come-out!
  • Measure 3:  I | 's | love | as-for
  • Measure 4:  thing | ? | think | (quot.)
  • Measure 5:  person | (subj.) | ask | to-the-extent

The verb shinobu ("conceal") in the first measure also contains the implication of enduring a disagreeable condition. In love poems, the word iro ("color") -- which starts the second measure -- refers to the way emotions unintentionally make themselves visible in a person's facial expressions or behavior. The case particle no in the fifth measure is used to mark the subject of the verb tou ("ask"), namely, hito ("other people").