One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets


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Poem 21

   ima komu to

iishi bakari ni

   Nagatsuki no

ariake no tsuki o

machiidetsuru kana

 

   Simply because

he promised to come soon,

   I have spent the long

Ninth Month waiting only for

the lingering moon to appear.

-- Priest Sosei

Comments

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 (daiei). Under the pre-Meiji lunar calendar, the ninth month was called Nagatsuki (Long Month) because of the lengthening nights. Here the effect is to juxtapose the length of a late-autumn night with the deepening frustration and resentment of the forsaken narrator, who has in effect spent the night waiting to greet the early-morning moon -- a time when under different circumstances the woman's lover would instead be bidding a reluctant farewell. The compound verb machiidetsuru in the last line is something of a portmanteau word in that the subject of the first verb is the woman ("I have waited"), while the subject of the second verb is the moon ("and it has appeared"). Ariake no tsuki refers to a moon that rises late enough to remain visible in the early morning sky (during the second half of the lunar month). It should probably be assumed that the poet has been prompted to take note of the moon's presence rather than it being that the moon has suddenly revealed itself at the time of composition. For more information about the phases of the moon, see the Reference pages.

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

Poem 22

   fuku karani

aki no kusaki no

   shiorureba

mube yamakaze o

arashi to iu ramu

 

   As soon as it blows,

the autumn trees and grasses

   start to droop and fade--

little wonder that a mountain gale

should be called a razing wind.

-- Fun'ya no Yasuhide

Comments

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 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). As a noun, however, the usual Chinese character () is a combination of the ideographs for "mountain" and "wind." The poet playfully refers to the word's etymology to make the point that the fierce autumn wind that blows down from the mountains ravages the foliage of summer. Strictly speaking, the positions of "mountain gale" and "razing wind" should be reversed in the translation; to make sense, however, the explanatory term must follow the term being explained. In any case, it is a pretty slight verse.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1:  blow | as-soon-as
  • Line 2:  autumn | 's | grass-and-trees | as-for
  • Line 3: because-fade-and-droop
  • Line 4:  understandably | mountain-wind | (acc.) ("mube" forms a semantic pair with "ramu" in the next line)
  • Line 5:  tempest | (quot.) | call | would-seem-why

Poem 23

   tsuki mireba

chiji ni mono koso

   kanashikere

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

Comments

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 alone in his feelings. It is an evocative way of dealing with the paradox of the conventionality of deeply personal feelings. The last two lines represent a grammatical inversion (tōchi-hō), a reversal that creates an ironic distance meliorating the conventional sadness of autumn.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: moon | when-see
  • Line 2: thousands | by | things | !
  • Line 3: sad
  • Line 4: I | 's | self | one-thing | 's
  • Line 5: autumn | as-to-be | as-for | though-not-be (i.e., "though it is not autumn to such an extent")

Poem 24

   kono tabi wa

nusa mo toriaezu

   tamukeyama

momiji no nishiki

kami no ma ni ma ni

 

   Plain hemp will not do

on an excursion such as this.

   Surely the offering

of a brocade of autumn leaves

will better please the mountain gods.

-- Kanke

Comments

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 of the mountain itself to the gods who safeguard travelers on their journeys. Two poetic techniques are involved: a kakekotoba play on the meaning of tabi as both "trip" and "this time," and the metaphorical "likening" (mitate) of the colorful autumn leaves to rich brocade.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: this | time + trip | as-for
  • Line 2: hemp | even | not-be-worth-offering
  • Line 3: mountain-where-offerings-made
  • Line 4: autumn-leaves | 's | brocade
  • Line 5: gods | 's | in-accordance-with-will

Poem 25

   na ni shi owaba

Ōsakayama no

   sanekazura

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 to my side unseen.

-- Minister of the Right Sanjō

Comments

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 the knowledge of others, and the aptly named vine that grows 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" (i.e., the poet's being able to draw the woman toward him). In addition, au and sane are engo, as are kuru and sanekazura. The almost excessive wittiness of the conceit is at least partly offset by the desperate strength of the man's desire.

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

Poem 26

   Ogurayama

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 linger until one more

royal excursion can occur.

-- Prince Teishin

Comments

The source is the "Miscellaneous Autumn" book of the Shūishū (SKT 1128). Teishin was the posthumous name 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), preparing the way for the peak of Fujiwara-family influence.

The headnote to the poem in the Shūishu says that it was composed by Tadahira at the time of an imperial excursion to 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. Here the poet addresses the foliage directly, the personifaction technique of gijin-hō. Technically speaking, the reading miyuki is used for two different combinations of Chinese characters. When written as 行幸, the reference is to an excursion by the reigning emperor; 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 makes it clear that the second, hoped-for excursion would be one by Emperor Daigo. This can be considered a good example of how the context provided by such headnotes problematizes the urge to read waka as "discrete" poems.

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

Poem 27

   Mikanohara

wakite nagaruru

   Izumigawa

itsu miki tote ka

koishikaru ramu

 

   After it rises,

the Izumi River flows through

   the Mikano Plain--

when might I have seen you that

my own love should course so strong?

-- Middle Counselor Kanesuke

Comments

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 the description of nature to lyrical expression, with the first three lines about the Izumi River (now called the Kizu River) functioning as a preparatory jokotoba for the central concern with human love. The jokotoba is actually more closely connected to the last two lines than might at first appear: in addition to the implied metaphor of the poet's love rising and flowing like a river ("course" is an extrapolation of that implication), there is a phonetic connection in the repetition of the syllables "i-zu/tsu-mi." Wakite is a kakekotoba that both locates the source of the river in a spring (izumi, an engo of wakite and, of course, the name of the river) and refers to the fact that the river divides the plain it passes through, thus suggesting the separation of the two would-be lovers (an implication that has been dropped from the translation to avoid overburdening it). The sophisticated wordplay lends the poem considerable subtlety, at least in the original.

Disagreement traditionally exists between those who think the poet has actually already "met" (i.e., slept with) the intended recipient -- and is thus lamenting their separation -- and those who think he should be regarded as a prospective lover who longs for such a meeting. The latter interpretation seems to be the one currently in favor.

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

Poem 28

   yamasato wa

fuyu zo sabishisa

   masarikeru

hitome mo kusa mo

karenu to omoeba

 

   In a mountain village,

winter is when loneliness

   truly grows deep--

so it seems once the visits

and grasses have died away.

-- Minamoto no Muneyuki

Comments

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 the tōchi-hō technique, incidentally also producing a sankugire syntactic break after the third line. In addition, karenu is a kakekotoba that refers (as two distinct verbs) both to the increased distance from from human company and to the withering of plants with the onset of winter. The effect is to evoke a sense of discovery about the nature of life in isolation from the capital.

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

Poem 29

   kokoroate ni

oraba ya oramu

   hatsushimo no

okimadowaseru

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

Comments

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, in this waka creating a syntactic break after the second line (nikugire). The elegant confusion in the poet's mind serves to emphasize the whiteness of the mums, which have become virtually indistinguishable from each other and from the frost that camouflages them (the first frost of the year normally falls between late autumn and early winter).

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: heart's-guidance | by
  • Line 2: if-I-break | ? | shall-I-break
  • Line 3: first-frost | 's
  • Line 4: lying-on-confusingly
  • Line 5: white-mum | 's | blossoms

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

Comments

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 grammatically, 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, and charging it with indifference adds a touch of anguish regarding the poet's inability to repeat the tryst in the days that have followed. 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.

Literal rendition and notes
  • Line 1: moon-at-dawn | 's
  • Line 2: indifferently | appeared
  • Line 3: parting | ever-since
  • Line 4: approaching-dawn | so-much
  • Line 5: distasteful | thing | as-for | not-be