One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets

Poem 51

   kaku to dani

e yawa ibuki no


sa shi mo shiraji na

moyuru omoi o


   I have wondered how

to declare them when, like moxa

   from Mount Ibuki,

these thoughts smoldering inside

draw no attention from you.

-- Fujiwara no Sanekata


The source is the first “Love” book of Goshūishū (SKT 612). Fujiwara no Sanekata (? – 998) was a court luminary on close terms with Sei Shōnagon (see Poem 62) who died while serving as Governor of Michinoku in northern Honshū.

As a love poem, it is something of a mystery as to why this waka should follow the previous one, since not only does it come earlier in the collection from which both were taken, but the natural progression of love has been reversed -- we are back to when the man is confessing his feelings for the first time (the headnote in the source makes the situation explicit). Perhaps this poem was thought by Teika to be a later composition and he accorded that aspect more weight in his placement.

A remarkable array of poetic devices is packed into these five measures: a descriptive jokotoba preface (Ibuki no sashimogusa); a pair of doubled-meaning kakekotoba (iu/Ibuki and omoi/hi -- no distinction exists in classical orthography between iu and ibu or between the inflected i of omoi and the noun hi); three associated engo (sashimogusa ["moxa"], moyuru ["burn"], and hi ["flame"]); tōchi-hō (inversion of the fourth and fifth measures); and a concomitant kugire measure break at the end of the fourth measure. And all this in addition to the phonetic repetition of sashimo. In English, something has to give, and here it is the inversion, along with the accompanying shikugire fourth-measure break. Japanese critics apparently regard the technical virtuosity as evidence of expressive sincerity rather than rhetorical overkill.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  this-way | -ly | at-least
  • Measure 2:  not | how-possibly | say + Ibuki | 's
  • Measure 3:  mugwort
  • Measure 4:  thusly | ! | ! | not-know | !
  • Measure 5:  burning | thought | (acc.)

For an explanation of the adverb dani ("at least"), see the notes to Poem 50. The adverb e in the second measure carries a negative implication and joins with other parts of speech to form broader grammatical constructions. In conjunction with the bound particle yawa, signifying doubt, the effect is to create a rhetorical question, so in the literal rendition, e + yawa has been treated as a single unit. When the (implied) verb iu ("say") is added, the sense becomes"How could I possibly say that when I cannot?"

Poem 52


kururu mono to wa


nao urameshiki

asaborake kana


   Although I know that

as surely as morning comes

   another night must fall,

I cannot help but resent

the gathering light of dawn.

-- Fujiwara no Michinobu


The source is the second “Love” book of Goshūishū (SKT 672). Fujiwara no Michinobu (972-994), son of Fujiwara no Tamemitsu, was an admired poet who died in his 23rd year.

The resentment arises because dawn is when the man must leave the woman with whom he has spent the night (in other words, this is a kinuginu no uta, or “morning-after poem”). There is some consolation to be taken in the fact that night will inevitably arrive again, providing the man with another opportunity to call, but that does not keep him from wishing he did not have to leave in the first place. The sentiment is straightforwardly expressed; the sincerity can be said to elevate the waka above the merely trite.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  when-did-dawn
  • Measure 2:  evening-falls| thing | (quot.) | as-for
  • Measure 3:  even-though-know
  • Measure 4:  still | resentment-inspiring
  • Measure 5:  coming-dawn | !

The auxiliary verb nu in the opening measure -- signifying completion and inflected here as nure -- has been rendered as "did" for the sake of consistency (and logically, morning must have arrived before evening can fall), but the context clearly requires something other than simple past tense in translation. As noted in conjunction with Poem 31, the word asaborake in the fifth measure refers to the gathering light of dawn, before the actual sunrise.

Poem 53


hitori nuru yo no

   akuru ma wa

ikani hisashiki

mono to kawa shiru


   How could you know

just how slowly time passes

   for one who sleeps alone,

lamenting through the night

until at last dawn arrives?

-- The Mother of Major Captain of the Right Michitsuna


The source is the fourth “Love” book of Shūishū (SKT 912). The Mother of Michitsuna was famous as the author of Kagerō nikki (The Gossamer Diary), a work that contributed to the creation of The Tale of Genji by adding an element of psychological introspection to the received narrative forms of tsukuri monogatari (invented tales) and uta monogatari (poem tales). She was the secondary wife of Fujiwara no Kaneie (929 – 990), the father -- by his primary wife -- of Fujiwara no Michinaga (966 – 1027) and one of the most powerful men of his time.

The poet is, of course, leveling her words of anger and resentment at her husband, who, according to the headnote in the Shūishū, arrived home late and complained when servants were slow to open the gate. The waka also appears in Kagerō nikki (The Gossamer Diary), where it is said to have been delivered to Kaneie after he had been made to wait until dawn before being allowed to enter the compound. Because of Kagerō nikki, the Mother of Michitsuna has long been cast in the role of the resentful secondary wife, but the diary is actually much more than an account of a resentful wife. This waka, however, conforms closely to the received stereotype.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  continuously-lamenting
  • Measure 2:  one-person | sleep | night | (subj.)
  • Measure 3:  to-dawn | period-of-time | as-for
  • Measure 4:  how-much | long
  • Measure 5:  thing | (quot.) | ? | know

The sense of the third measure is "the period of time until dawn arrives." The last two measures form a rhetorical question -- "Do you know how long it is?" -- the implied answer to which is "Of course you don't." The bound-particle/bound-ending construction is frequently used to express irony of this sort.

Poem 54

   wasureji no

yukusue made wa


kyō o kagiri no

inochi to mogana


   Because your vow

never to forget may not

   endure until the end,

I would rather that today

mark the limit of my life.

--The Mother of the Honorary Grand Minister


The source is the third “Love” book of Shinkokinshū (SKT 1149). The Mother of the Honorary Grand Minister (? – 996) -- her actual name was Takashina no Kishi (or Takako) -- was the wife of Fujiwara no Michitaka (953 – 995) and the mother of Korechika (974 - 1010), Takaie (979 - 1044), and Empress Teishi (976 - 1000). Korechika, deeply implicated in the intra-family politics of the time, acquired the unofficial title of "Honorary Grand Minister" (Gidōsanshi) when he was appointed Deputy Minister (Jun-daijin) in 1008, signifying a status equivalent to that of the three highest regular court ministers.

The poet is conveying an ambivalent message of love: her pleasure at her lover’s promise not to forget her is overshadowed by her worried awareness that such promises do not last forever. Rather than hold out hope for an unrealistic future, she thinks it might be better for her life to end while the promise remains sincere. An implied shift in perspective from the romantic ardor of the man to the anticipatory despair of the woman is rather neatly balanced on the fulcrum of everyday reality, with no poetic device intervening to mitigate the direct expression of her feelings.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  not-forget | 's
  • Measure 2:  destination | until | as-for
  • Measure 3:  because-difficult
  • Measure 4:  today | (acc.) | limit | 's
  • Measure 5:  life | (quot.) | if-only

The conjunctive particle ba in the third measure is attached to the perfective form of the adjective katashi ("difficult"), and since a quality rather than an action is involved, the function is to identify the reason for the sentiments expressed in the last two measures. See the notes to Poem 4 for a more detailed explanation of ba.

Poem 55

   taki no oto wa

taete hisashiku


na koso nagarete

nao kikoekere


   Even though the sound

of the waterfall has

   long since ceased to be,

one still hears tell of fame that

has coursed down through the years.

-- Major Counselor Kintō


The source is the first “Miscellaneous” book of the Senzaishū (SKT 1035). Fujiwara no Kintō (966 – 1041), the compiler of the early-11th-century Wakan rōeishū (Collection of Japanese and Chinese Songs to Sing), was adept at composing both waka and Chinese poems, and was also a talented musician.

According to the headnote in the source, the reference is to an artificial cascade constructed at the detached palace of Emperor Saga (786 – 842; r. 809-823). The palace was converted to a Shingon temple in 876 and at some point the waterfall ran dry, but its reputation as a symbol of aristocratic elegance remained. Although the engo associations between taki ("waterfall") and nagareru ("flow") on the one hand and oto (“sound”) and kikoe (“be heard”) on the other help to unify the imagery -- and despite the skillful use of alliteration -- it is not easy to consider the poem as being much more than a conventional expression of imperial nostalgia.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  cascade | 's | sound | as-for
  • Measure 2:  discontinuingly | long-lastingly
  • Measure 3:  although-did-become
  • Measure 4:  name | indeed | flowingly
  • Measure 5:  still | be-heard!

The first three measures are set against the last two by means of a subordinate-clause/independent-clause construction. Reinforcing the contrast is the tight joining of the fourth and fifth measures by means of the the bound-particle/bound-ending combination of koso ("indeed") and kere. Grammar often contributes to such structural juxtapositioning in waka.

Poem 56


kono yo no hoka no

   omoide ni

ima hitotabi no

au koto mogana


   If only I could

meet you one last time as

   a remembrance

to take into the beyond from

this world, no longer meant for me.

-- Izumi Shikibu


The source is the third “Love” book of the Goshūishū (SKT 763). Izumi Shikibu (978 – ?) was the mother of Koshikibu (see Poem 60) and served Empress Shōshi (988 – 1074), principal consort of Emperor Ichijō (980 - 1011; r. 986 – 1011). The authorship of Izumi Shikibu nikki (The Diary of Izumi Shikibu) is traditionally attributed to her.

The message is to be taken as being sent from the poet's sickbed, which she despairs of being able to leave again. She therefore wishes she could see her lover one last time before she dies. The lack of any rhetorical artifice can perhaps be regarded as a sign of the poet's sincerity. Such emotional intensity has long been considered characteristic of Izumi Shikibu's poetry, so much so that some modern critics place this waka among her less passionate ones.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  will-not-exist
  • Measure 2:  this | world | 's | other | 's
  • Measure 3:  memory | for
  • Measure 4:  now | one-more-time | 's
  • Measure 5:  meet | thing | if-only

The implied subject of the irregular verb ari ("exist") in the first measure is the poet: by attaching the negative auxiliary verb zu (inflected in the imperfective form as zara), she is anticipating her death. Koto ("thing"), in the fifth measure, refers to something intangible (a meeting, in this case), as opposed to mono, which refers to a tangible object.

Poem 57


mishi ya sore to mo

   wakanu ma ni


yoha no tsuki kana


   Almost before

I had the chance to notice

   it was there,

the late-night moon swiftly

slipped behind the clouds.

-- Murasaki Shikibu


The source is the first “Miscellaneous” book of the Shinkokinshū (SKT 1499). Murasaki Shikibu (973? – 1019?) was the mother of Fujiwara no Katako (see Poem 58) and the author of both The Tale of Genjiand Murasaki Shikibu nikki.

As with the other poems in the Hyakunin isshu, critics typically look to the headnote in the source for an interpretive context. In this case, the headnote describes the poet’s being visited by a childhood friend who could not stay long and had to hurry off. The problem for translation, of course, is that the metaphorical meaning is not explicit -- it must either be extrapolated or added elsewhere if it is to appear at all. A translation describing a friend who vanished like the moon behind the clouds might well be justified on the basis of the source, but poem's occasion is not mentioned in the Hyakunin isshu, even though Fujiwara no Teika -- as one of the compilers of the Shinkokinshū -- would surely have been aware of it. It turns out to be the reader's responsibility to recognize the reference. The two words meguru (“revolve") and tsuki (“moon”) are considered engo, or associated words, the single rhetorical device to be found in the poem.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  chancing-to-meet
  • Measure 2:  did-see | ? | that-thing | (quot.) | even
  • Measure 3:  not-know | period-of-time | in
  • Measure 4:  did-hide-in-clouds
  • Measure 5:  late-night | 's | moon | !

The second measure begins with a verb (miru) conjugated in the continuative form, to which is attached the auxiliary verb shi, signifying direct experience in the past, itself inflected in the attributive form. When an attributive form appears like this at the end of a clause or sentence without a corresponding nominative afterward (and ignoring the concluding question particle), the assumption is that the nominative has been omitted and the effect is emphatic. By sometime during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), the attributive form had largely subsumed the final form to become became the standard method of ending Japanese sentences, especially in colloquial usage. The sore ("that thing") in the second measure is a pronoun, referring on the surface level to the moon and on the metaphorical level to the poet's friend.

Poem 58


ina no sasahara

   kaze fukeba

ide so yo hito o

wasure yawa suru


   When the wind blows through

the tall grass of Ina Plain

   near Mount Arima,

the rustling is your answer --

how could I have forgotten you?

-- Daini no Sanmi


The source is the second “Love” book of Goshūishū (SKT 709). “Daini no Sanmi” is a reference to Fujiwara no Takako (c. 1000 – c. 1082), the daughter of Fujiwara no Nobutaka (1126 - 1179) and Murasaki Shikibu (see Poem 57). The appellation "Daini no Sanmi" derives from combining the Dazai daini administrative post held by Takako’s husband Takashina no Nariaki (990 – 1058) and Takako’s own court rank of Junior Third Rank, which was accorded her upon the accession of Emperor Go-Reizei (1025 - 1068; r. 1045 - 1068), whom she had nursed.

The verse is characteristic of classical Japanese poetry in the way natural scenery is used to give expression to human feelings. Mount Arima is located in present-day Hyōgo Prefecture, and it was often paired in poetry with nearby Ina Plain. The headnote in the source explains that the waka was sent in response to a man now far away who complained that he was being neglected. Very much as in the previous waka, an awareness of the headnote is central to an interpretation of the meaning because so yo (“that-thing!” in the literal rendition) must be taken to refer specifically to the resentment expressed by the man to whom the poet is replying (that is, “Now, then, with respect to what you said about worrying that I had forgotten you -- how could I have done that?). Adding the second-person pronoun in English makes the implication a little clearer than it is in Japanese.

The first three measures constitute a jokotoba, with a natural scene leading up to the mention of the rustling sound soyo, which as a kakekotoba pivots grammatically -- when interpreted as two separate parts of speech, a pronoun and an emphatic particle -- to refer to the content of the poem the woman has received. The force of the final rhetorical question is somewhat recriminatory: “You may have forgotten, but not I.”

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Arimayama
  • Measure 2:  Ina | 's | grassy-field
  • Measure 3:  wind | when-blows
  • Measure 4:  well-then | that-thing + ! + rustlingly | person | (acc.)
  • Measure 5:  forgettingly | how-could | do

In the fourth measure, ide is an adverb signifying intention (in other cases, it is used to urge action). So yo, in the same measure, is a pronoun/final-particle sequence, so the transliteration separates them; but the close integration of grammar and sound (with soyo being onomatopoetic) makes it convenient to treat the combination as a single unit in the literal rendition.

Poem 59


nenamashi monoo

   sayo fukete

katabuku made no

tsuki o mishi kana


   I should have known

not to wait to go to sleep,

   yet the night wore on

and I watched the moon until

it descended in the sky.

-- Akazome Emon


The source is the second “Love” book of Goshūishū (SKT 680). Akazome Emon, who lived in the second half of the 10th century and the first half of the 11th century, left behind a private collection of poetry (Akazome Emon shū) and is frequently credited with the authorship of the historical tale Eiga monogatari (A Tale of Flowering Fortunes). Some doubt exists about the attribution, however, since the waka also appears in the private collection of Uma no Naishi, a contemporary of Akazome Emon who was not a blood relation.

The headnote in the Goshūishū has it that Akazome Emon composed the waka on behalf of one of her sisters, who waited in vain for a promised visit from her lover. Although no standard poetic device has been employed, the woman's sense of futility is effectively conveyed by the image of her continuing to wait expectantly as the moon describes its course across the night sky, culminating in a frustration so strong that it receives expression at the very outset of the poem.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  unhesitatingly
  • Measure 2:  might-better-have-gone-to-sleep | even-though
  • Measure 3:  night | deepeningly
  • Measure 4:  descend | until | 's
  • Measure 5:  moon | (acc.) | did-watch | !

As mentioned in the comments, the first two measures -- which use the auxiliary verb mashi to stipulate a counterfactual situation and end with the contrastive conjunctive particle monoo -- place the subjective qualities of impatience, expectation, and frustration squarely at the expressive forefront. The last three measures then give the woman's growing frustration an objective correlative in the form of the moon's continued passage across the night sky.

Poem 60


Ikuno no michi no


mada fumi mo mizu



   Because the road leads

far past Mount Ōe and

   through Ikuno Plain,

I have not yet set foot in or heard from


-- Koshikibu no Naishi


The source is the first “Miscellaneous” book of the Kin’yōshū (SKT 550). Koshikibu no Naishi (1000 – 1025?) was the daughter of Izumi Shikibu (see Poem 56) and, like her mother, served Empress Shōshi.

This is the fifth waka in a row by a female poet, a mini-sequence that -- quite fittingly -- is opened by a mother and closed by her daughter. Indeed, the framing effect is reinforced by the context, which is described in a lengthy headnote in the source. Izumi Shikibu had accompanied her husband to her native Tango Province (in the northern part of modern Kyoto Prefecture), so when Koshikibu no Naishi was invited to take part in a poetry contest at court, Fujiwara no Sadayori (see Poem 64) teased her by asking whether she had already received a reply to a message asking her mother for help (Koshikibu was rumoured not to compose her own poems). The waka was supposedly Koshikibu's impromptu reply.

The use of four different poetic devices gives the lie to the rumors disparaging Koshikibu's poetic skill. The first is a kakekotoba pivot word that embeds the verb iku ("go") into the place name Ikuno. A second kakekotoba plays on the phonetic correspondance between the noun fumi ("letter") and the continuative form of the verb fumu ("set foot in"). In addition, fumi is an engo, or associated word, linked to hashi ("bridge"), since a bridge is something one walks over. Finally, the shikugire fourth-measure break comes from reversing standard Japanese word order, which normally places the object before the verb: the tōchi-hō technique (the effect is to focus attention on the place name). To top it off, Koshikibu no Naishi has mentioned three place names, which is an unusually large number for a waka. That the poem reads so smoothly despite this rhetorical virtuosity suggests genuine talent, although the effect is mostly lost unless one is made aware of the context, and even then the personal motivation seems to trivialize the content to a certain extent.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  Ōeyama
  • Measure 2:  Ikuno | 's | road | (subj.)
  • Measure 3:  because-far
  • Measure 4:  yet | letter + set-foot | even | not-see
  • Measure 5:  Ama-no-hashidate

The conjunctive particle ba at the end of the third measure is attached to the perfective form of the adjective tōshi ("far"), meaning that distance is the reason for the poet's lack of contact with her mother (see Poem 4 for more details about the usage of ba). One reason the poem is not overburdened by its technical virtuosity is its structural division into two clearly demarcated grammatical units.