One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets


Poem 61

   inishie no

Nara no miyako no

   yaezakura

kyō kokonoe ni

nioinuru kana

 

   The eight-layered

cherry blossoms of the ancient

   capital at Nara

bloom vividly today inside

the Nine Gates of the palace.

-- Ise no Taifu

Comments

The source is the “Spring” book of the Shikashū (SKT 29). Ise no Taifu, who lived in the first half of the 11th century, was the granddaughter of Fujiwara no Yoshinonu (see Poem 49) and another of the talented women in attendance on Empress Shōshi.

According to headnotes found in the Shikashū and in the Ise no Taifu shū private collection, which both contain the waka, the occasion of the poem's composition was the reception of a gift to the emperor of Nara cherry blossoms (perhaps a blossoming tree). Ise no Taifu was accorded the honor of officially receiving the gift and instructed to compose a suitable poem. The Japanese includes a conventional reference to the palace as a structure accessed through nine gates, on the Chinese model. The increase in number from eight to nine is a witty piece of wordplay that superimposes the image of the Nara cherry blossoms upon the image of the current imperial palace, enhancing the splendor of the latter.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  distant-past | 's
  • Measure 2:  Nara | 's | capital | 's
  • Measure 3:  eightfold-cherry-blossoms
  • Measure 4:  today | ninefold | to
  • Measure 5:  did-become-vivid | !

Lost in translation is the grammatical parallelism of the original, which starts with inishie ("ancient times") in the first measure and uses kyō ("today") in the fourth to structurally demarcate past and present. The verb niou -- conjugated in the continuative form in the fifth measure -- refers overwhelmingly in the eighth-century Manyōshū to vibrancy of color rather than to scent, although the latter connotation can be found in some of the later poems in that collection. In the Heian period, this distinction between sight and smell was not as clearly maintained, but the emphasis on visual appeal was often intended, as it is here.


Poem 62

   yo o komete

tori no sorane wa

   hakaru tomo

yoni Ōsaka-no-

seki wa yurusaji

 

   Scheme though you may

to mimic the crow of the cock

   under cover of night,

the Meeting Barrier is one

you shall never pass through.

-- Sei Shōnagon

Comments

The source is the second “Miscellaneous” book of Goshūishū (SKT 939). Sei Shōnagon (966? – 1027?) is the author of Makura no sōshi (The Pillow Book), the primary Heian-period example of the zuihitsu (essay or miscellany) genre.

As a headnote in the source makes clear, this waka is based on an allusion to an anecdote in the Shiki (Chinese Shiji; Records of the Grand Historian) in which an aide to Mèngchángjūn (Lord Mengchang; 3rd century BCE) enables his lord's party to escape enemy territory by imitating a cock's call, prompting guards to open the gate at Hangu Pass early. Sei is making a playful response to a poem sent by Fujiwara no Yukinari (972-1028), who the previous night had abruptly left the palace because he realized that otherwise an abstinence (monoimi) would prevent his departure. Yukinari writes the folllowing morning -- in the manner of a kiniginu no uta, or "morning-after poem" -- to excuse his conduct by claiming that he had been deceived by the sound of a cock's call, initiating the reference to the Chinese anecdote. Sei continues in the same spirit by shifting the scene to Japan and saying, in effect, "You might have gained passage through the barrier at Hangu, but I will never allow you past Ōsaka Barrier to meet me." (The verb au, "meet," is embedded in the noun "Ōsaka," causing the word to function in two senses as a kakekotoba, as first seen in Poem 10.) The waka is too witty by half, but it is the sort of cleverness for which Sei Shōnagon had a reputation.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  night | (acc.) | enclosingly
  • Measure 2:  bird | 's | false-sound | as-for
  • Measure 3:  conspire | even-though
  • Measure 4:  absolutely | Ōsaka + Meeting-Hill | 's
  • Measure 5:  Barrier | as-for | will-not-permit

The conjunctive particle te -- which grammatically often functions simply as "and" -- follows the continuative form of inflected items, here the continuative conjugation of verb tsutsumu ("surround"). Depending on the context, the particle can also signify cause or contrast. The "literal" renditions on this site consistently translate the particle adverbially as "-ly," representing a compromise -- one of many -- made in the interest of preserving the meaning of the stem while suggesting the grammatical function of the particle.


Poem 63

   ima wa tada

omoitaenamu

to bakari o

   hitozute narade

iu yoshi mogana

 

   I only wish that

even now there were some way

   with my own lips

to tell you that I must

give up every thought of you.

--Michimasa, Master of the Left Capital

Comments

The source is the third “Love” book of Goshūishū (SKT 750). Fujiwara no Michimasa (993 – 1054) had the reputation of being a loose cannon, and his affair with the imperial princess Tōshi (1001 – 1022) earned him the enmity of her father, Retired Emperor Sanjō (976 – 1017, r. 1011 – 1017), who put a watch on his daughter and essentially banned Michimasa from the palace. Although Michimasa eventually regained his aristocratic standing, Tōshi took religious orders and died some six years after the affair.

This waka was composed by Michimasa after being forbidden to meet Tōshi. The headnote in the source does not mention him by name, but the incident is prominently featured in the historical Eiga monogatari (A Tale of Flowering Fortunes).

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  now | as-for | only
  • Measure 2:  will-surely-discontinue-thinking
  • Measure 3:  (quot.) | only | (acc.)
  • Measure 4:  through-other-people | not-being
  • Measure 5:  say | method | if-only

The auxiliary verb nu in the second measure, inflected as na and signifying completion, takes on the sense of certainty when followed by parts of speech signifying surmise or intention, such the auxiliary verb mu here. Clearly, "did" or "have done" would be inappropriate as a literal rendition of nu in this waka. Completion, that is, does not necessarily refer to something that has happened in the past. Perhaps "finality" better suggests the function in cases like this.


Poem 64

   asaborake

Uji no kawagiri

   taedaeni

arawarewataru

seze no ajirogi

 

   In gaps where the mist

over Uji River dissolves

   in the gathering dawn,

fishing weirs begin to appear

across the rapid shallows.

--Provisional Middle Counselor Sadayori

Comments

The source is the “Winter” book of the Senzaishū (SKT 420). Fujiwara no Sadayori (995 – 1045) was the oldest son of Fujiwara no Kintō (see Poem 55) who enjoyed a high reputation for his calligraphy and musical talent as well as for his poetry (he is credited with a total of 46 waka in imperial anthologies).

Uji, with its famous river, was a location much favored by aristocrats seeking a respite from the “dust” of city life. It lay to the south of Kyoto, on the way to Hase Temple and the Yamato region. The poem is evocative in its description of an early-morning river scene: fishing weirs -- stakes interlaced with twigs or bamboo, meant to force fish to swim toward a spot where a fisherman would be waiting, usually perched on a sloped platform -- were used to catch hio (immature sweetfish) in winter. The waka concludes by focusing on the weirs, illustrating the taigendome technique (in other words, the reader is expected to supply an omitted predicate). The literary influence of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), the last 10 chapters of which take Uji as their setting, can also be assumed.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  coming-dawn
  • Measure 2:  Uji | 's | river-mist
  • Measure 3:  brokenly
  • Measure 4:  widely-appearing
  • Measure 5:  rapids | 's | fishing-weirs

As noted in conjunction with Poem 31, the word asaborake refers to the gathering light of dawn, before the actual sunrise. The word also appears in Poem 52.


Poem 65

   uramiwabi

hosanu sode dani

   aru monoo

koi ni kuchinamu

na koso oshikere

 

   Resentment spent,

concerned even for these poor sleeves

    that remain undried,

I know I need fear more the harm

that will now befall my name.

-- Sagami

Comments

The source is the fourth “Love” book of the Goshūishū (SKT 815). The poet, whose dates are unknown, is called Sagami because her husband, Ōe no Kin'yori (? - 1040), held the position of Governor of Sagami (a province coinciding with most of present-day Kanagawa Prefecture). She later separated from her husband and served in attendance upon an imperial princess, taking part in a large number of poetry contests.

Composed for a poetry contest -- and therefore on a conventionally assigned topic -- the waka nonetheless effectively suggests the psychological stages that follow in the wake of failed romance: overwhelming resentment, followed by worry about what is to come next. That concern, moreover, encompasses aspects both personal and social: not only have the sleeves of the poet's kimono likely been ruined by her endless tears, but her reputation, too, will be left in tatters -- and it is the latter prospect that gives her greater cause for concern.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  resentment-drainingly
  • Measure 2:  undrying | sleeve | even
  • Measure 3:  exist | even-though
  • Measure 4:  love | in | will-surely-decay
  • Measure 5:  name | indeed | regrettable

The relative importance of social over personal ramifications is suggested by the adverbial particle dani ("even") after sode ("sleeve") in the second measure: the sense is "not only...but also..." (for more about dani, see the notes to Poem 50). Grammatically, some adjective corresponding to the oshi ("regrettable") of measure five can be assumed to have been omitted between dani and the verb ari, which is the reason for the interpolation in the second line of the translation.


Poem 66

   morotomoni

aware to omoe

   yamazakura

hana yori hoka ni

shiru hito mo nashi

 

   Let us each

take pity on the other,

   mountain cherry:

other than your blossoms,

no one can know these thoughts.

-- Former Major Archbishop Gyōson

Comments

The source is the first “Miscellaneous” book of the Kin’yōshū (SKT 521). Gyōson (1055 – 1135) was the son of Minamoto no Motohira (1026 – 1064) and renowned for the efficacy of his spells and incantations (kaji kitō).

The situation, according to the headnote in the source, is that the poet, while undertaking rigorous ascetic training in the mountains, unexpectedly comes upon a mountain cherry whose blossoms are being ravaged by the wind. The poet’s sympathies are awakened by projecting his own sense of being bereft of companionship on the cherry tree, which he then personifies (the gijin-hō technique) as a means of obtaining some measure of consolation. A sankugire third-measure break divides the poem into two units, the second of which provides the context for understanding the first.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  mutually
  • Measure 2:  ah | (quot.) | think
  • Measure 3:  mountain-cherry-blossoms
  • Measure 4:  flower | than | other-thing | besides
  • Measure 5:  know | person | even | nonexisting

As in Poem 34, the subject of the verb shiru ("know") in the fifth measure is not the poet but the blossoms of the mountain cherry: that is, agency is being attributed to a non-human object.


Poem 67

   haru no yo no

yume bakari naru

   tamakura ni

kainaku tatamu

na koso oshikere

 

   If on this spring night,

insubstantial as a dream,

   I took as my pillow

your arm, surely I would regret

the harm that would befall my name.

-- Suō no Naishi

Comments

The source is the first “Miscellaneous” book of the Senzaishū (SKT 964). Suō no Naishi lived in the second half of the 11th century; her name comes from the post held by her father, Taira no Munenaka (dates unknown), as governor of the province of Suō (currently eastern Yamaguchi Prefecture).

Said in the source’s headnote to have been composed when Major Counselor Fujiwara no Tadaie teasingly thrust his arm under a reed blind when he overheard a sleepy Sūo no Naishi mutter that she could use a pillow. Her response wittily parries the tease with a kakekotoba play on the word for kaina, “arm,” which is embedded in the continuative form of the adjective kainashi, "purposeless," to suggest the unwelcome scandal that would result should she take him up on his offer. The similarity to Poem 65 -- the final Japanese measure is exactly the same, and the sleeve-covered arm of Tadaie repeats the image of kimono sleeves -- is unlikely to be a coincidence, either in terms of composition (by the poet) or selection (by the compiler).

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  spring | 's | night | 's
  • Measure 2:  dream | only | surely-be
  • Measure 3:  hand-pillow | for
  • Measure 4:  arm + futilely | will-arise
  • Measure 5:  name | indeed | regrettable

The emphasis in the fifth measure comes from the bound-particle/bound-ending combination of koso ("indeed") with the perfective inflection of the adjective oshi ("regrettable"). Although this measure is linguistically identical to the fifth measure of Poem 65, above, the translations differ slightly, perhaps demonstrating the elusiveness of complete consistency in translation.


Poem 68

   kokoro ni mo

arade ukiyo ni

   nagaraeba

koishikaru beki

yowa no tsuki kana

 

   If against my wishes

I live on in a world so

   sorrowful and fleeting,

this late-night moon will be

a sight for me to cherish.

-- Retired Emperor Sanjō

Comments

The source is the first “Miscellaneous” book of the Goshūishū (SKT 860). Sanjō (976 – 1017; r. 1011 – 1016), the second son of Emperor Reizei (950-1011; r. 967-969), had the misfortune of having as an uncle the powerful Fujiwara no Michinaga (966 – 1027), who pushed Sanjō -- who had failing eyesight -- to abdicate in favor of Michinaga’s own grandson.

The headnote in the source notes that the waka was composed when Sanjō was contemplating abdication because of his illness (this was about a year before he actually abdicated, and only two years before he died). Later readers would of course be familiar with the politics involved, and with Sanjō's relatively early death following his abdication. A stark contrast is drawn between the melancholy of the everyday world and the perfect brightness of the moon, itself fated to become a memory of an earlier, better time.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  heart | in | even
  • Measure 2:  not-existingly | sorrowful-world | in
  • Measure 3:  if-continue-long
  • Measure 4:  beloved | should-be
  • Measure 5:  late-night | 's | moon | !

The verb/conjunctive-particle combination arade at the start of the second measure is the grammatical ending of the clause begun in the first measure, so a rather irregular semantic break is introduced at this point. The formal disruption does not seem to bother Japanese commentators, who usually parse the first three measures as a single unit. The conjunctive particle ba at the end of the third measure is attached to the imperfective form of the verb nagarau ("go on living"), so the sense is hypothetical. For more on the usage of ba, see the notes to Poem 4.


Poem 69

   arashi fuku

Mimuro no yama no

   momijiba wa

Tatsuta no kawa no

nishiki narikeri

 

   The tinted leaves

carried by the wind gusting

   from Mount Mimuro

have turned into brocade upon

the waters of the Tatsuta.

--Priest Nōin

Comments

The source is the second “Autumn” book of the Goshūishū (SKT 366). Nōin (988 – ?), whose lay name was Tachibana no Nagayasu, took a special interest in utamakura, place names with traditional poetic associations.

Both Mount Mimuro and the Tatsuta River, in Nara, were utamakura -- places with well-known poetic associations -- and famous for their colorful autumn foliage. The distinctiveness of the waka comes from the way Nōin has paired the images in a single waka. The pairing works to elevate the effect above the otherwise trite metaphorical comparison of autumn leaves to colorful brocade: an example of the mitate technique of elegant confusion. Nōin is also clearly alluding to an anonymously composed waka in the Kokinshū (SKT 284) that mentions both locations, although in that poem the autumn leaves floating on the Tatsuta are juxtaposed with a wintry shower falling on Mount Mimuro. Perhaps Teika, when selecting Nōin’s waka for inclusion, had in mind the intended setting for the Hyakunin isshu poems on Mount Ogura.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  gale | blow
  • Measure 2:  Mimuro | 's | mountain | 's
  • Measure 3:  autumn-leaves | as-for
  • Measure 4:  Tatsuta | 's | river | 's
  • Measure 5:  brocade | be!

The poem is uncomplicated grammatically, with the bound particle wa ("as for") at the end of the third measure identifying the topic of colorful autumn foliage, which is then turned to metaphorical use in the last two measures. Note that although wa is classified as a bound particle (kakari joshi) and tends to be associated with a corresponding final-form (shūshikei) inflection, in practice a variety of inflected forms follow, and the particle is an awkward fit for this grammatical category. Japanese glosses often do not bother to identify a specific bound closing (kakari musubi) for wa.


Poem 70

   sabishisa ni

yado o tachiidete

   nagamureba

izuko mo onaji

aki no yūgure

 

   When from loneliness

I step outside my hut

   and let my gaze roam,

every place looks the same--

an evening in autumn.

-- Priest Ryōzen

Comments

The source is the first “Autumn” book of the Goshūishū (SKT 333). Ryōzen, active in the first half of the 11th century, was a monk on Mount Hiei who served as chief administrative officer of Gion Shrine (present-day Yasaka Shrine). Although much about his life is obscure, he frequently took part in poetry contests, and 30 of his waka were selected for inclusion in imperial anthologies.

The use of a nominative at the end of the last measure of the original -- the taigendome technique -- is intended to create powerful overtones. This particular ending is highly conventional, but the fact that the poet’s isolation is only reinforced when he steps outside the confines of his hut casts a sort of monochromatic pall over the scene.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Measure 1:  loneliness | from
  • Measure 2:  dwelling | (acc.) | stepping-out
  • Measure 3:  when-look-afar
  • Measure 4:  wherever | even | same
  • Measure 5:  autumn | 's | evening

The adjective onaji ("same") has two basic inflectional patterns, each with two subpatterns. The inflection at the end of the fourth measure of this poem is usually held to be an irregular attributive form, which, if correct, means that no syntactic break exists between the fourth measure and the fifth. However, there is an alternate interpretation that takes the inflection to be a regular final-form inflection (which inconveniently happens to be identical to the irregular attributive form). Under this interpretation, the grammar produces a clear shikugire fourth-measure break, isolating the fifth measure and adding emphasis. The English seems to work better by nudging the language closer toward the alternate interpretation, although perhaps a different translator might be able to do something with "the same autumn evening."