Monday, April 12, 2021

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 44 (Fujiwara no Asatada)


 Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 44

au koto no
taete shi nakuwa
nakanaka ni
hito wo mo mi o mo
urami zaramashi


if we would never
have met at all
then on the contrary
I would not resent
both her and myself

Fujiwara no Asatada (910-966)

[Fujiwara no Asatada by Kano Yasunobu]

"If would never have met her, I would not have to resent her coldness or my own distress."

Two interpretations are possible:
(1) "love unable to meet again" - the poet complains about a cold lady who will not see him again (due to the dangers and complications this would entail); this is the way Teika reads it, and also how I have translated it.
(2) "love before the first meeting" - the poet complains that the woman has not yet consented to let him come to her at night. Were there no such thing as love, he would on the contrary be happy and would not resent her nor feel sad himself. Then the translation would have to be:

if there were no such thing
as a tryst at all
then on the contrary
I would not resent her
nor feel sad myself

taete: (not) at all
nakanaka: on the contrary
hito wo mo mi mo: neither others (her, his lover) nor myself
-mashi; suffix of conjecture, used in "if...then..." constructions

The Poet
The writer of this poem was the fifth son of the Minister-of-the-Right Sadakata (poem 25) and was counted among the Thirty-six Poetic Geniuses. 21 of his poems have come down to us in various imperial collections.

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, by Peter MacMIllan (Penguin Classics); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Chishiki Zero kara no Hyakunin Isshu, by Ariyoshi Tamotsu (Gentosha); Hyakunin Isshu Kaibo Zukan, by Tani Tomoko (X-Knowledge);  Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).

Hyakunin Isshu Index


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Lyric Poetry Around the World (14): Wang Wei (China, 699-761)

Eight Poems by Wang Wei

translated by Ad Blankestijn

    (1) Deer Park
Empty hills, no one in sight -
    you only hear the echo of voices.
    Late sunlight enters the deep forest,  
    shines on the green moss again.


    (2) Bamboo Grove House
    Sitting alone among cool bamboos,
    playing the zither or long whistling,
    deep in the forest, unknown to anyone:
    the bright moon comes to shine on me.



    (3) Without title
You come from my old village
    and must know about things there -
    in front of the gauze window, yesterday,
    had the winter plum already blossomed?


    (4) Parting

etting off my horse, I offer you wine,
    and I ask where you are going.
    You say your ambitions were not fulfilled,
    and you return to the flanks of South Mountain.
    Just go - I will ask nothing more -
    the white clouds are endless there.

    下馬飲君酒、    問君何所之
    君言不得意、    歸臥南山陲
    但去莫復問、    白雲無盡時

    (5) Parting
I have sent you off in the hills,
    the sun sets - I shut my rustic door -
    the spring grass will be green again next year,
    but you, my prince, will you be back?


    (6) In farewell to Yuan Er, on his going to Anxi
he morning rain at Weicheng drenches the light dust,
    the inn is surrounded by the fresh green of the willows.
    I urge you to drink one more cup of wine -
    west of the Yanguan Pass, you don't have any old friends.


    (7) Sitting alone on an autumn night
    Sitting alone, sad at my gray temples,
    an empty room, almost the second watch at night.
    In the rain, the hill fruits fall,
    under the lamp, the crickets chirp.
    My gray hair will never change,
    the philosopher's stone is unattainable -
    the only thing that fixes old age,
    is to study Nirvana.


    (8) My Zhongnan Retreat
Since the middle of my life, I am much drawn to the Way,
    late in life I made my home at South Mountain's slope.
    When I feel like it, I go there on my own,
    I alone know aimlessly its beauty.
    When I walk to the head of the brook,
    or sit and watch the gathering clouds,
    I may meet an old man from the forest -
    our talk and laughter make me forget to go home



[After Wang Wei's "Snow Over Rivers and Mountains"
by Wang Shimin]

Wang Wei (699–759) was a Chinese poet, painter, calligrapher and musician of the Tang period. He was one of the most famous poets of his time - some 400 of his poems survive.

Wang Wei was born into one of the most important families of his day. He came to the cosmopolitan capital Changan at an early age (19), where he drew the attention of the highest circles through his gifts as a musician and poet. In 721 he obtained the prestigious jinshi degree in the Chinese exam system. In the course of his long and mostly successful civil service career, he was a few times for short periods
transferred to the provinces, but the last twenty years of his life he spent almost continuously in the capital or on his estate south of Changan. In his private life he was a devout Buddhist.

In his lifetime, Wang Wei owes his fame as a poet in the first place to the occasional poetry that he wrote in large quantities as an official at court and in the capital (as is true of most other Chinese poets), but in later centuries and in the West it was his landscape poetry that was in the first place admired. This landscape poetry (
in which the poet as a subject is hardly present) has been associated on the one hand with Wang Wei's Buddhism, and on the other hand with the art of painting. In ancient China, the contemplation of the landscape was regarded as a meditation on the Way and Buddha nature, which are especially clearly present in undistorted nature. The relationship between Wang Wei's poetry and painting has been described as "in his poems there is a painting, in his paintings there is a poem." Note that Wang Wei was not a mere superficial landscape poet: he was first and for all a mystical and religious poet.

["Landscapes in the Manner of Old Masters" (Wang Wei),
by Dong Qichang]

(Poems 1 and 2) These are 2 poems from the 20 poem "Wang River Sequence", which was calligraphied on a landscape scroll, together with 20 poems by Pei Di. As with all Wang Wei's paintings, only some later copies survive and all originals have been lost. The poems describe scenes at Wang Wei's country retreat in the hill valley of the Wang River. It is a very characteristic work, and the individual poems are often anthologized.

(Poem 3) This is the middle one of three poems "without title."

(Poem 4) Partings between friends and colleagues were an important social occasion for poetry writing. Most Chinese poets were government officials who would get a new assignment in the immense empire every three or four years, so partings among colleagues were frequent. The person who was leaving would be accompanied part of the way, and then a farewell banquet would be held. The present poem was translated into German by Hans Bethge and used by Mahler for his Das Lied von der Erde (see my article Mahler's The Song of the Earth and Chinese Poetry elsewhere in this blog). Rather than a conventional parting poem, it seems that the poet is speaking to himself - not successful in his official career, he decides to start living in retirement on his estate by South Mountain. It is one of Wang Wei's most famous poems.

(Poem 5) Another parting poem.

(Poem 6) Idem. One of the items in Ezra Pound's Cathay is based on this poem. The poem became especially popular when it was set to music as a song of farewell.

(Poem 7) The term used for Nirvana is wusheng (non-birth; in Japanese musho), as Nirvana is beyond the realms of birth and death.

(Poem 8) South Mountain (Zhongnanshan) was to the south of Changan; Wang Wei had his retreat in its foothills (like many wealthy families from Changan).

Translations and studies:
Robinson, G.W. (1974), Wang Wei Poems. Penguin Classics,
Watson, Burton, CHINESE LYRICISM: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century, New York, Columbia University Press, 1971.
Yu, Pauline (1980), The Poetry of Wang Wei: New Translations and Commentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Chang, H.C. (1977), Chinese Literature 2: Nature Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press.
Wagner, Marsha (1982), Wang Wei. Boston: Twayne

Books of the Quan Tangshi that include collected poems of Wang Wei at the Chinese Text Project:

Wang Shimin: Wang Shimin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Dong Qichang:  Dong Qichang, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Lyric Poetry Around the World Index

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Lyric Poetry Around the World (16): Manyoshu (Japan, 759 CE)

Five Poems from Manyoshu

translated by Ad Blankestijn

(1) Song, by Emperor Yuryaku

Your basket,
with your pretty basket,
your trowel,
with your pretty trowel,

girl, picking herbs
here on this hillside,
speak of your house,
speak of your name.

In the sky-filling land of Yamato,
it is I who reign wide and far,
it is I who rule wide and far,
let it be me who speaks,
of my house and my name.

komo yo mikomochi
fukushimo yo mibukushimochi
kono oka ni na tsumasu ko
ie kika na norasene
soramitsu Yamato no kuni wa
oshinabete ware koso ore
shikinabete ware koso imase
ware kosaba norame
ie o mo na o mo

篭もよ み篭持ち 堀串もよ み堀串持ち この岡に 菜摘ます子 家聞かな 告らさね そらみつ 大和の国は おしなべて 我れこそ居れ しきなべて 我れこそ座せ 我れこそば 告らめ 家をも名をも

(2) Climbing Mt Kagu, by Emperor Jomei

Many are the mountains in Yamato,
but perfect is only Heavenly Mount Kagu.
When I climb it to look at the land,
from the plain of the land
smoke rises and rises,
from the plain of the sea
gulls rise and rise.
A fair land it is,
the dragonfly island,
the land of Yamato.

Yamato ni wa murayama aredo
toriyorou ame no Kaguyama
noboritachi kunimi wo sureba
kunihara wa keburi tachitatsu
unahara wa kamome tachitatsu
umashi kuni zo akizushima
Yamato no kuni wa

大和には 群山あれど とりよろふ 天の香具山 登り立ち 国見をすれば 国原は 煙立ち立つ 海原は 鴎立ち立つ うまし国ぞ 蜻蛉島 大和の国は

Yearning for Emperor Tenji, Lady Nukata

While waiting for you,
my heart is full of longing -
the bamboo blind
of my lodging sways,
as the autumn wind blows.

kimi matsu to
a ga koi oreba
waga yado no
sudare ugokashi
aki no kaze fuku


On Looking at Mount Fuji
by Yamabe no Akahito

Since the division
of heaven and earth,
it has stood godlike,
towering and noble,
rising in Suruga ,
the lofty peak of Fuji.
When I gaze afar
across the high plain of heaven,
the wandering sun -
all its beams blotted out,
the shining moon -
all its light lost to view,
the white clouds
fear to drift over it,
and in all seasons
snow falls upon it.
I shall tell about it
and pass on the word
of Fuji's lofty peak.


Going out on Tago bay,
when I look,
it is pure white:
on Fuji's lofty peak
snow is falling.

ametsuchi no wakareshi toki yu
kamusabite takaku tafu toku
Suruga naru Fuji no takane wo
ama no hara furisakemireba
wataru hi no kage mo kakurai
teru tsuki no hikari mo miezu
shira kumo mo iyuki habakari
toki jiku zo yuki wa furikeru
kataritsugi iitsugi yukamu
Fuji no takane wa

Tago no ura yu
uchi-idete mireba
mashiro ni zo
Fuji no takane ni
yuki wa furikeru

天地の 別れし時ゆ 神さびて 高く貴き 駿河なる 富士の高嶺を 天の原 振り放け見れば 渡る日の 影も隠らひ 照る月の 光も見えず 白雲も い行きはばかり 時じくぞ 雪は降りける 語り継ぎ 言ひ継ぎ行かむ 富士の高嶺は


Otomo no Yakamochi

My spring arbor
in crimson gleam -
on the path where
a young woman steps in view,
peach blossoms shine down.

haru no sono
kurenai niou
momo no hana
shitateru michi ni
idetatsu otome

[Feather-Decorated Screen Panels of Beauties Under Trees
(Torige ritsujo no byobu), 8th c., Japan (Shosoin repository) - poem 5]

Just as in the case of China with the Classic of Poetry, Japanese literature begins with an anthology of beautiful lyric poetry, and not with epic poems about men bent on war and destruction as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Aeneid, the Beowulf, the Edda, and the Mahābhārata (although that last work also contains philosophical material as the Bhagavad Gita) - to name just a few. Clearly, the rice paddy based civilizations of East and South-East Asia were more peaceful and serene than the violent cultures of, for example, Europe, where warlike tales proliferated. In contrast, China and Japan both have poems about soldiers who complain about their hardship, not narratives about warriors who are praised for their capacity to slay countless enemies. The Elegies of Chu from China contains an elegy on the soldiers who lost a battle and whose dead souls have to be pacified.

The Manyoshu (literally "Collection of a Myriad Leaves") is the oldest extant collection of Japanese poetry, compiled sometime after 759 CE, the year from which the last datable poem in the collection stems. The collection includes poems from the mid-7th c. to mid-8th c. Unlike later Japanese anthologies, the Manyoshu was not created by imperial order, but by private initiative. The court poet and government official Otomo no Yakamochi (a great number of whose own poems are included in the anthology) is generally accepted as either the compiler, or the last of a series of compilers.

Manyoshu contains 20 volumes and more than 4,500 waka poems, varying from  songs at public banquets and trips, and love songs, to funerary songs. These songs were written by people of various status, from the Emperor down to anonymous soldiers. The number of anonymous poems comprises almost half of the collection; among the 561 named poets are 70 women.

The poems are divided into four periods. The early period comprises poems dating back to legendary times, beginning from the reign of Emperor Yuryaku (r. 456-479). In the second period, the last part of the 7th c., the focus is on court poet Kakinomoto no Hitomaro. The third period brings together poems from the years 700-730, including such well-known poets as Yamabe no Akihito, Otomo no Tabito, and Yamanoue no Okura. In the last period, 730-760, the focus is on the above mentioned poet/compiler Otomo no Yakamochi.

The Manyoshu is one of the greatest monuments of Japanese literature.

Notes on the Poems Cited
The first poem cited above is also the first poem in the Manyoshu. It has been attributed to the 5th c. Emperor Yuryaku, perhaps because it is a love poem and Yuryaku was known in legend as a great lover. But the diction of the poem is too new for it to date from the 5th c. It is possibly a later adaptation of an old courtship song, containing folk elements. Note that asking the house and name of a young woman was in fact a proposal of marriage (or lovemaking). As it is the emperor who rather emphatically makes that request, while boasting of his might, one could say there is a certain amount of "power harassment" included.

The second poem, ascribed to Emperor Jomei (r. 629-641), is about a "land-looking" (kunimi) ritual, in which the lord would climb a mountain to look over the land and affirm its prosperity as well as his own power over it. Mt Kagu is a sacred mountain (at about 150 meters in fact more a hillock!), one of the famous Three Mountains of Yamato, which during the Asuka period were located close to the imperial palace. For more information, see my discussion of this topic in Poem 2, by Empress Jito, in the One Hundred Poems, One Poem Each series. Yamato is not only the Province of Yamato (present-day Nara Prefecture), but also a poetic indication for the whole of Japan - as the court was established in Yamato, it was the cultural center of ancient Japan.

The third poem is by Lady Nukata (c. 638-690s), who had a relationship with Prince Oama (the later Emperor Tenmu) - she even had a daughter by him - , but then seems to have entered the service of his elder brother Emperor Tenji - a situation to entice fantasies about a triangular relationship. It is a sensitive and lyrical poem about a woman yearning for her lover to arrive. But what arrives first is the autumn wind, as a sort of premonition of that lover - perhaps bringing as much excitement as the actual visit.

Together with Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (whom I have treated in Great Poetry Around the World 24), Yamabe no Akahito (fl 724-737) is considered as the best poet of the Manyoshu. We know almost nothing about his life, but from his poems it can be inferred that his strength was in the description of landscape. The poem cited above is the first poem in the Manyoshu dedicated to Mt Fuji. In the 8th c., Mt Fuji - although now the symbol of Japan - was located in the "eastern provinces", far from the Nara capital in Yamato. It can be read as a land-looking poem like our second poem above, written with the purpose to draw majestic Mt Fuji closer to the Nara court. The poem describes Mt Fuji in mythical terms. It ends with an envoy (a single tanka poem) which is a variant version of Poem 4 in the One Hundred Poems, One Poem Each series.

The fifth and last poem cited above is by Otomo no Yakamochi (718-785), one of the Manyoshu compilers, who served at court but also as provincial governor of Etchu (present-day Toyama Prefecture). The poem quoted, composed at Etchu, is one of Yakamochi's most famous works. It was written on the first day of the third month of the year 750, when the peach trees in his garden were blossoming. The poem reminds us of a popular genre of painting in East Asia, that of "a beautiful woman under a tree" - there is one such painting in the Shosoin repository in Nara (see above photo). That one was painted in Japan, but the genre originated in China during the Tang Dynasty as other examples show (such as a painting in the MOA Museum of Art). When the poet looks at peach trees blossoming in his garden (perhaps reminded of the Chinese poet Tao Yuanming's story about Peach Blossom Spring) a young woman suddenly stands on the garden path in the gleam of the peach blossoms, a gleam which even reaches the shade under the trees. Is she real or is she a peach nymph?

Translations of the Manyoshu:
A Waka Anthology, Volume One, the Gem-Glistening Cup, by Edwin A. Cranston (Stanford, 1993)
Traditional Japanese Literature, An Anthology Beginnings to 1600, ed. Haruo Shirane (Columbia, 2007)
The Manyoshu, the Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai Translation of 1,000 Poems (Columbia, 1965)
Love Songs from the Manyoshu, tr. Ian Hideo Levy, comment by Ooka Makoto (Kodansha International, 2000)
Online Japanese text in The Japanese Text Initiative.

Lady Under a Tree:  Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lyric Poetry Around the World Index

Monday, April 5, 2021

Lyric Poetry Around the World (15): Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (Japan, c. 660–720)

On Passing the Ruined Capital of Omi
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

translated by Ad Blankestijn

Since the glorious reign
of the Kashihara Sage-Ruler,
by Jewel-Sash Mount Unebi,
each and every of the gods,
appearing in one line like spruce trees,
has exerted power over the realm beneath the sky.

Yet the heavenly lord, divine sovereign,
(whatever his intent)
left Yamato so full of the azure,
crossed the Nara hills so rich in green,
to exert power over the realm beneath the sky
from a remote place beyond the far heaven,
in the Land of Omi of the Racing Rocks,
in the Palace of Otsu of the Lapping Waves.

Though we have heard here stood his mighty palace,
though it is said here rose his mighty halls,
now all is overgrown by spring grass,
and clouded by the haze of the vernal sun:
as we look at the site of his mighty palace,
we are filled with sorrow.


Cape Kara of Shiga of the Lapping Waves,
though you are unchanged,
in vain we wait for the courtiers’ boats.

Owada Port of Shiga of the Lapping Waves,
though your waters are still,
how could we meet the men of long ago?

tamadasuki Unebi no yama no
Kashihara no hijiri no miyo yu
aremashishi kami no kotogoto
tsuga no ki no iyatsugitsugi ni
ame no shita shirashimeshishi o
sora ni mitsu Yamato o okite
ao ni yoshi Narayama o koe
ikasama ni omohoshimese ka
amazakaru hina ni wa aredo
iwabashiru Omi no kuni ni
sasanami no Otsu no miya ni
ame no shita  shirashimeshikemu
sumeroki no kami no mikoto no
omiya wa koko to kikedomo
otono wa koko to iedomo
harukusa no shigeku oitaru
kasumi tachi haruhi no kireru
momoshiki no omiyadokoro
mireba kanashi mo


Sasanami no Shiga no Karasaki
sakiku aredo
omiyahito no fune machikanetsu

Sasanami no Shiga no owada
yodomu to mo
mukashi no hito ni mata awame ya mo

玉たすき 畝傍の山の
橿原の ひじりの御代ゆ
生れましし 神のことごと
栂の木の いや継ぎ継ぎに
天の下 知らしめししを
そらにみつ 大和を置きて
あをによし 奈良山を越え
いかさまに 思ほしめせか
天離る 鄙にはあれど
石走る 近江の国の
楽浪の 大津の宮に
天の下 知らしめしけむ
天皇の 神の命の
大宮は ここと聞けども
大殿は ここと言へども
春草の 茂く生ひたる
霞立つ 春日の霧れる
ももしきの 大宮ところ




[Memorial stone on the site of the Omi Palace]

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (660?-720?; fl ca 685-705) was a Japanese court poet serving Emperor Tenmu (r. 672-686), Empress Jito (r. 686-697) and Emperor Monmu (r 697-707). Hitomaro is by far the most representative Manyoshu poet and, with Saigyo and Basho, he has been called one of the three most esteemed poets in Japanese history. Many of his poems were of a public nature, praising the imperial house or containing solemn elegies about deceased members of the imperial family, but he also wrote work of a more personal type, such as an elegy on the death of his wife. Hitomaro incorporated elements of the national mythology in his poetry, and in his poems of praise splendidly sing about the natural scenery and divinity of the Japanese isles. Hitomaru fused refinement of expression with a feeling of majesty. For Hitomaro's poem included in the anthology "One Hundred Poems, One Poem Each" see my article on his poem on the copper pheasant.

[Fantasy portrait of Kakinomoto no Hitomaro]

The above poem, with as subject the ruined capital at Otsu, was written during the reign of Empress Jito. Contrary to the other long poems (choka) by Hitomaro, this is not a celebration of the glory of the dynasty, but a poem of grief for a vanished time. Emperor Tenji had moved the palace from Asuka (in the province of Yamato, where it had always been located until that time) to Otsu, on the shore of Lake Biwa, in what was in the past the province of Omi and now is Shiga prefecture. He and his son ruled from this Omi Palace from 667 to 672, so it was just a brief interlude, which moreover ended in war.

Emperor Tenji (r. 662-671) had named his brother Prince Oama as his successor, but just before his death, he changed his mind, and transferred the succession to his son, Prince Otomo. The ensuing Jinshin War was won by Prince Oama, who moved the capital back to Asuka and reigned as Emperor Tenmu. He was succeeded by his wife, Empress Jito, who was in fact Tenji's daughter (and his own cousin). For the court of Empress Jito, the Omi capital was a somewhat sensitive subject: her own father had moved the palace there, so the move could not really be criticized, but on the other hand the present court was the product of a war that had been waged on the Omi capital. For more about Empress Jito and also about the Three Mountains of Yamato, see Poem 2 in
my series "One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each".

Besides a lament for a bygone times and an elegy on a ruined city (as we often find in literature from all over the world), Hitomaro's poem may also well have been an attempt to ritually pacify the spirits of the dead courtiers of the Omi capital, as Haruo Shirane surmises.

[Lake Biwa seen from Uchidehama, Otsu]

  • The "Kashihara Sage-Ruler" is the mythical First Emperor Jinmu. Kashihara is where he first ascended the throne. This is celebrated in the Kashihara Jingu Shrine (presumably standing in that very spot) as well as the (purported, for mythical persons have no real graves) mausoleum of Emperor Jinmu. 
  • Mount Unebi is one of the three mountains of Yamato, which were in the vicinity of the Yamato capital. 
  • "Each and every of the gods": all emperors, descendants of Jinmu, are spoken of as gods.
  • "Jewel-Sash" is a "pillow word," a fixed epithet (the custom to use such epithets started with Hitomaro, and he coined quite a few that were still used in later poetry). "Tamatasuki" is an auspicious word, suitable for the start of a poem; it means "jewel-sash" or "cord of gems."
  • The "heavenly lord, divine sovereign" points at Emperor Tenji; "whatever may have been his intent" expresses the poet's puzzlement at the transfer of the capital.
  • "Full of the azure" is a pillow word for Yamato, and "rich in green" for the Nara hills.
  • "Beyond the far heaven" is a pillow word for a remote countryside.
  • "His mighty palace": the palace of Emperor Tenji.
  • "Of the Racing Rocks" is a pillow word for Omi, and "Of the Lapping Waves" (Sasanami) is a pillow word for Otsu (and itself also a place name). "Omi" is the old name for the area that is now Shiga Prefecture. "Omi" came from "awaumi", "fresh-water sea" and refers Lake Biwako, Japan's largest lake, which is located at the center of the province. The kanji of "Omi" (近江) means "an inlet near the capital". Otsu is the name of both the ancient capital and the modern prefectural capital.
  • "Though your waters are still" at the end of the second hanka poem: Flowing water is a metaphor for time passing, so still water has the connotation of "although time does not seem to pass" (according to Shirane).
  • The "envoys" bring out the ironic contrast between the permanence of the land and the now vanished court, as Cranston remarks. 
  • Close to the site where the palace once stood, now stands the Omi Jingu shrine, dedicated to Emperor Tenji. See Poem 1 in my "One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each" series for more on Emperor Tenji.

The above translation is my own, but borrows some ideas from both Shirane (p. 79-81) and Cranston (p. 190-192). Shirane is more literal, Cranston more gorgeous. I translate as usual as literal as possible.


A Waka Anthology, Volume One, the Gem-Glistening Cup, by Edwin A. Cranston (Stanford, 1993)
Love Songs from the Manyoshu, tr. Ian Hideo Levy, comment by Ooka Makoto (Kodansha International, 2000)
Traditional Japanese Literature, An Anthology Beginnings to 1600, ed. Haruo Shirane (Columbia, 2007)
The Manyoshu, the Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai Translation of 1,000 Poems (Columbia, 1965)
Online Japanese text in The Japanese Text Initiative.

Ian Hideo Levy, Hitomaro and the Birth of Japanese Lyricism, Princeton U.P., 1984

Omi Palace site:  Saigen Jiro, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Hiromaro: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Lake Biwa:  YOSHIFUMI OGISO, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Lyric Poetry Around the World Index

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Haiku Travels (24): Basho and Suma Temple (Kobe)


Haiku Travels

Suma Temple (Kobe)

Suma temple -

hearing the unblown flute

in the shade of the trees

Sumadera ya | fukanu fue kiku | koshita yami



[Suma temple]

Until not so long ago, Suma bay, west of Kobe, was one of the most famous scenic spots in ancient Japan, a landscape characterized by pine trees and white sandy beaches. Suma is already an important poetic subject in the 8th century Manyoshu anthology and is also the name of a chapter in the Genji Monogatari. Since the Heian-period, the beach has been poetically associated with the full moon of autumn. Apparently, it was quite a lonely place that inspired susceptible visitors to a melancholy mood. That image is reinforced in the No play Matsukaze, in which Ariwara no Yukihira, after a love affair with the fishing girls Matsukaze and Murasame, cruelly abandons them when he is allowed to return to Heiankyo. On top of that, Suma was the location of a dramatic battle of the Taira-Minamoto wars of 1180-85, later celebrated in the Heike Monogatari. Basho traveled here in 1688 in search of those poetic allusions on his Knapsack Notebook trip.

Basho gives a description of Suma in the last part of his travel diary Knapsack Notebook (Oi no kobumi). The essence of Suma Bay, its sadness and loneliness, was to be appreciated most of all in autumn. Suma was famous for the moon of that season. Basho visited Suma in early summer and although he viewed the moon, it was not the famous, full moon of autumn. Therefore, a very important aspect was lacking, as if there was no moon at all. In a humorous tribute to the locus genii of Suma, Basho wrote (the second haiku may be an earlier version of the first one):

the moon is here
yet seems absent
summer in Suma

tsuki wa aredo | rusu no yo nari | Suma no natsu

though viewing the moon
something is lacking
summer in Suma

tsuki mite mo | mono tarawazu ya | Suma no natsu

[Suma beach]

There were other things not quite right in Suma, too. The disappointment of modern travelers (Suma has long since lost its allure to highways and land reclamation) seems already foreshadowed in Basho's haiku. In ancient poetry, centuries before Basho's time, the beach of Suma had been celebrated for its salt making (by boiling sea water in pots), but this custom had apparently disappeared. He found that there was no distinctive local trade left in the villages on the coast. On the contrary, the conduct of the fishermen of Suma was rather rude, and different from the poetic reputation of the place:

is it crying from an arrow
shot by the fishers of Suma?

Suma no ama no | yasaki ni naku ka | hototogisu


The fishermen would catch small fish (kisu) in their nets and dry them on the beach, where the catch could easily become the prey of crows. The fishermen used to scare away the crows by shooting arrows at them. Basho was shocked at this rude practice: killing birds was not what fishermen were supposed to do. Perhaps, he muses, it was a remnant of the bloody battle between the Genji and Heike that had taken place here in the past. But for Basho this destroyed the elegance Suma as found in classical literature.

The hototogisu, or lesser cuckoo, has a gentle call and is one of the best loved Japanese song birds. As it arrives around May in Japan, it is considered the harbinger of early summer, and it has inspired many poets. Basho seems to imply that the fishers who are wildly shooting their arrows at the crows, may inadvertently have hit a hototogisu...

[Suma temple]

Now to the explanation of the haiku at the top of this page, for which we have to delve into the history of Suma temple and the Genji-Heike wars.

Suma temple is one of the oldest temples in the Kobe area and still very popular with worshipers. It belongs to Shingon Buddhism and is dedicated to Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy. The extensive grounds are full to the brim with monuments, from haiku stones to quaint Buddhas and Jizos, modern memorials and statues. It is veritable storehouse of historical, literary and popular religious lore.

Not far from Suma temple is Ichinotani, the site of a famous battle that took place in 1184, during the civil strife between the Genji and Heike. Coming from Suma beach, Basho has to walk over a narrow ridge, skirting fearful precipices. Ichinotani is the valley where the Heike forces had made quarter, thinking themselves safe because of its steep ridges. However, the Genji commander Yoshitsune performed the incredible feat of leading a small band of horsemen in a surprise attack down the vertical cliff walls. By this bold tactic, he annihilated the numerically superior Heike forces. In his Knapsack Notebook Basho paints a scene of great confusion: to escape the onslaught, the courtly Heike scramble to their boats on the beach.

[Statues of Atsumori and Kumagai in the grounds of Suma temple. ]

Many other, smaller battles were also fought and Basho's haiku alludes to the most famous of these. Kumagai Jiro Naozane (1141-1208), a Genji warrior, sees the fleeing Heike run to their boats. Riding on the beach, he is eager to challenge one of their generals. He then spots a fine-looking warrior who is about to urge his horse into the sea toward one of the boats. Naozane attacks and in the ensuing fight, he finally manages to wrestle his strong adversary to the ground and remove the helmet to cut off his head.

To his surprise, he sees a sixteen year old boy before him, and reminded of his own son, hesitates to deal the final blow. The young courtier refuses to give his name. Just when Naozane is about to spare him, a band of his comrades comes riding along and now he has no choice anymore. Suppressing his tears, he strikes off the young boy's head. Naozane is so unnerved at the necessary cruelty of war, that he later renounces the world and becomes a Buddhist priest.

After Naozane has wrapped the head in a cloth, he finds a flute tucked in the boy's sash. He has indeed heard the sound of a flute from the Heike camp and wondered at the gentleness of these courtiers - in contrast, he himself, like the other Genji warriors, is from rough-and-ready provincial samurai stock. Later he learns that the young warrior he has killed is Taira no Atsumori (1169-1184); the flute was a prized family possession, originally a gift from Emperor Toba.

The small museum of Suma Temple exhibits this very flute. Atsumori's flute later became the subject of a tanka poem containing the conceit that the flute, though not being played anymore, can still be heard through the ages. Basho deftly uses this conceit in his own haiku.

[Atsumori's tomb]

Basho visited Suma temple on 20 April, 1688. The stone inscribed with his haiku sits in the garden in front of the temple office.

Suma Temple is a 10 min. walk from Sumadera station on the Sanyo railway line; or 15 min. from Suma station (the next, but larger station) on the same line. Entrance free. The temple's "Genpei garden" contains the horseback statues of Atsumori and Kumagai (see photo above).

Atsumori's tomb is two stations by Sanyo railway line from the temple, at Suma-ura Koen station. The tomb is along the highway, to the right coming out of the station, only a two minute walk.

Atsumori has become the subject of a famous Noh play (rights-free Arthur Waley translation). Two related plays are Ikuta Atsumori (Arthur Waley translation) and Tadanori. Atsumori and Tadanori have been translated by Royall Tyler in Japanese No Dramas (Penguin Classics).

Website (English) of Sumadera.
Sumadera on the website of the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau.

When visiting Sumadera, also drop in at nearby Suma Rikyu Park.

Translations and Studies of Basho
Basho's Haiku
, 2 vols,  by Toshiharu Oseko (1990 & 1996, Maruzen): Basho and his Interpreters, Selected Hokku with Commentary, by Makoto Ueda (1992, Stanford U.P.); Traces of Dreams, Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, by Haruo Shirane (1998, Stanford U.P.); Basho's Narrow Road, by Hiroaki Sato (1996, Stone Bridge Press); Basho's Journey, The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho, by David Landis Bamhill (2005, State University of New York); Basho Yamatoji by Daiyasu Takashi considers Basho's travels in the Nara area and the haiku he wrote there (Izumi Shobo, 1994)

The Tale of the Heike has been expertly translated by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford Univ Press, 1994). Another good translation (as poetry) is by Royall Tyler (Penguin Classics, 2014)

The photos in this post are my own.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Reading The Tale of Genji (11): The Green Branch (Sakaki)

"The Green Branch" continues the story of "Heart-to-Heart," the previous chapter, in an unbroken sequence. It starts in the 9th month of the year when Genji is 23, and continues to the summer a year and a half later, when he is 25. 

[Nonomiya Shrine, Saga, Kyoto]

 "Sakaki" is a broadleaf evergreen tree (Cleyera japonica) which is frequently used as a ritual offering at both household Shinto altars and Shinto shrines. The thick, oval-shaped leaves have a smooth, leather-like surface. In ritual offerings to the gods, branches of sakaki are decorated with paper streamers (shide) to make tamagushi. Sakaki branches began to be used in Shinto rituals because people believed that gods sometimes dwelt in plants or trees, especially when these had pointed leaves like sakaki - such plants were considered as yorishiro (objects that represent the gods). The sakaki is not rare in Japan: it is commonly found in household gardens in rural areas, and is a popular choice for home gardening because it is an evergreen.

When in the best known scene of this chapter, Genji visits Rokujo in the Nonomiya Shrine, during their poetic exchange, Rokujo slips a branch of sakaki under her blinds, and that gave the chapter its title.

[Sakaki branch]

Despairing of her relationship with Genji, and horrified at her soul's wandering, Rokujo decides to leave Heiankyo and accompany her 14-year old daughter Akikonomu, the new Ise Virgin, to the Ise Shrine. Before setting out, mother and daughter are confined at the Nonomiya Shrine ("Shrine of the Fields") in Saga to purify themselves - in Heian times a lonely place on the western outskirts of the capital. In the late autumn, Rokujo is visited here by Genji and they exchange farewell poems to mark their coming separation. Genji is reluctant to leave, although he knows Rokujo is responsible for the death of his wife, Aoi. The meeting of both lovers is tender and, according to Donald Keene, contains some of the most beautiful writing of the entire Genji. They spend the night together. When Genji has to leave at dawn, he warmly holds her hand and it is difficult to consider Rokujo as the fierce incarnation of jealousy who killed Genji's wife. We sense her grief and love for Genji which is made all the more poignant because she is so much older than he. She knows that before long she must loose him. All in all, Rokujo is one of the most interesting of the many women who figure in The Tale of Genji, and the most complex character in early Japanese literature.

[Bamboo forest near the Nonomiya Shrine]

The story continues with developments at the palace. The Kiritsubo Emperor, Genji's father, who had long been in poor health, dies, leaving instructions for his successor, Emperor Suzaku, to give his support to the Heir-Apparent and to Genji. Asagao (Morning Glory), the daughter of his younger brother, Prince Momozono, is selected as the new Kamo Priestess (we will meet her again later).

After the death of the old emperor, the power of the Kokiden Consort and the Minister of the Right, is in the ascendance. Genji and Fujitsubo (now "Her Cloistered Eminence") find themselves increasingly oppressed. Now that her husband is dead, Fujitsubo has no one but Genji to rely on, who is in addition the guardian of her son the Heir Apparent. But Genji's increasingly ardent advances form a threat and drive her in a corner. On the first anniversary of the old emperor's death, therefore, she suddenly takes religious vows, the strongest way to rebuff Genji.

The next year Genji's father-in-law, the Minister of the Left, retires, which means Genji's position at court becomes even weaker. That is also true for Genji's friend and brother-in-law, To no Chujo, the son of the retired minister.

Genji in the meantime renews his illicit affair with Oborozukiyo, the daughter of the Minster of the Right, although she now is one of the secondary wives (Naishi no Kami) of the new Emperor, Suzaku, Genji's half-brother. It is obvious that Genji is courting danger here. The next summer Oborozukiyo leaves the palace because she is indisposed (people who were sick were not allowed to stay in the palace, as illness was considered as a form of contamination). Even so, Genji continues his trysts with her and one day, detained at her house by a violent storm, he is caught in flagrante delicto with Oborozukiyo by her father, the Minister of the Right. Her sister Kokiden, the Empress Dowager, is furious. She makes up her mind to find a way to use this incident as a way to destroy him.

[Sakaki trees in the grounds of the Nonomiya Shrine]

Adaptations of this chapter
Like other plays based on the Genji, the No play Nonomiya elides the character of Genji to focus on Rokujo. A traveling monk comes past the Nonomiya Shrine and a village woman, holding a sakaki branch, nostalgically tells the monk the story of Lady Rokujo, and how Genji once visited her at this shrine - in fact, on this very day - when she was staying here with her daughter for purification. In the second part of the play, the ghost of Lady Rokujo appears, riding in an ox-drawn carriage, and she tells the story of the carriage brawl at the Aoi Festival where she was humiliated. She asks the monk to pray for her soul, which is still trapped in obsession. After a graceful dance, still in the grip of her past emotions, the ghost gets in the carriage again and disappears.
Translation of the play by Donald Keene at Japanese Text Initiative; Waley translation (PDF).

Genji-e illustrations typically show a shrine gate of unbarked wood and the thick grasses surrounding Nonomiya.

The Nonomiya Shrine today stands close to Arashiyama's bamboo forest, north of Tenryuji temple. In the Heian period it was a temporary shrine of which the location was not always the same, as it was fixed each time anew by divination (although in roughly the same area). The imperial priestess who had been designated as the new Ise Virgin or Saigu (she was also selected by divination), here underwent purification for one year before traveling to take up her duties at the Ise Shrine. Until the time of Emperor Godaigo when the custom was abolished, there were 75 Ise Virgins. It is uncertain whether the present shrine stands on the spot of one of the old temporary shrines (the Nonomiya Shrine claims it has been on this location since it accommodated Princess Jinshi, the daughter of Emperor Saga in the early Heian period), but it does its best to recreate something of the old atmosphere with a black torii gate (with the bark still attached to the wood) and brushwood fences. One of the shrine festivals is the Saigu Procession, held in mid-October.
Access: a 10-min walk from Arashiyama Station on the Keifuku Raiway, or a 15-min walk from Saga-Arashiyama Station on the JR Sanin Line.

Seidensticker, Edward G. (1976). The Tale of Genji. 1 & 2. Tuttle Publishing.
Tyler, Royall (2001). The Tale of Genji. New York: Viking.
Waley, Arthur (1926-33). Tale of Genji: The Arthur Waley Translation of Lady Murasaki's Masterpiece with a new foreword by Dennis Washburn (Tuttle Classics) 
Washburn, Dennis (2015). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. W. W. Norton & Company; Unabridged edition
Yosano Akiko, Genji Monogatari in modern Japanese, at Aozora Bunko.
Original text in full at Japanese Text Intitiative (University of Virginia)

Bargen, Doris G (1997). A Woman's Weapon : Spirit possession in the Tale of Genji. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Bargen, Doris G. (2015). Mapping Courtship and Kinship in Classical Japan: The Tale of Genji and Its Predecessors (Hawaii U.P.)
Bowring, Richard (1985). Murasaki Shikibu, Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs: A Translation and Study (Princeton U.P.)
Emmerich, Michael (2013). The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature (Columbia U.P.)
Field, Norma (1987). The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Goff, Janet Emily (1991). Noh Drama and the Tale of Genji : The Art of Allusion in Fifteen Classical Plays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Harper, Thomas and Shirane, Haruo (2015). Reading The Tale of Genji: Sources from the First Millennium (Columbia U.P.)
McKinney, Meredith (2006). The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon (Penguin)
McMullen, James (2019). Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford U.P.)
Morris, Ivan I (1964). The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. (Vintage)
Seidensticker, Edward G. (1984). Genji Days (Kodansha International)
, Haruo (1987). The Bridge of Dreams : A Poetics of the Tale of Genji. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Shirane, Haruo (2008). Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press.
Tyler, Royall (2014). A Reading of the Tale of Genji.
The Tale of Genji, Scenes from the World’s first Novel, with illustrations by Miyata Masayuki, Kodansha International (2001).
Kano Shigefumi. Genji Monogatari no butai wo tazunete (Kyoto, 2011).

[The photos in this post are my own, except:
Sakaki branch: public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Reading The Tale of Genji

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 43 (Fujiwara no Atsutada)

 Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 43

ai-mite no
nochi no kokoro ni
mukashi wa mono wo


compared with
the feelings in my heart
after we have met and loved
I realize that in the past
I had no cares at all // I never loved at all

Fujiwara no Atsutada (906-943)

"Once you make love to a woman, you'll realize that the feelings before you met were like nothing at all" OR ""Once you make love to a woman, you will be worried about various matters you have never thought of before."

There are three ways to interpret this poem:
(1) As a "morning after" poem (kinuginu no uta). The last line then should be: "as I realize that in the past / I never loved at all" - since actually being with his beloved, the poet's love seems to have increased.
(2) As a poem of "love unable to meet again" (the last line then should be: "as I realize that in the past / I had no cares at all")
(3) With the same ending, but not read as a case in which the lovers could never meet again, but one of the poet, having pledged his love, being assailed with worries about rumors starting or of the woman's love changing.

It seems that Teika preferred either the second or third interpretation (the first one in my line 5; the last one in that line is the translation for the first case).

aimiru: "to meet and love", so: to make love.
nochi no kokoro: the feelings after the first lovemaking
mukashi wa: in the past i.e. before their lovemaking
mono wo omowazarikeri: to have had no worries

[Fujiwara no Atsutada by Kano Naonobu]

The Poet
Fujiwara no Atsutada ((Gon Chunagon, or "Supernumerary Middle Couselor") was the third son of the powerful minister Tokihira. One of the Thirty-six Poetic Geniuses, he was famous for his poetic abilities and was also a renowned musician. A beautiful man, like the fictional Genji, his amorous escapades appear in the Tales of Yamato. About 30 of his poems have come down to us.

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, by Peter MacMIllan (Penguin Classics); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Chishiki Zero kara no Hyakunin Isshu, by Ariyoshi Tamotsu (Gentosha); Hyakunin Isshu Kaibo Zukan, by Tani Tomoko (X-Knowledge);  Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).

Hyakunin Isshu Index

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Haiku Travels (23): Shiki and Ishiteji (Matsuyama)

Haiku Travels

Ishiteji (Matsuyama)

my fortune:

  divine lots drawn

  by the autumn wind

minoue / mikuji wo hikeba / aki no kaze



Ishiteji, in the outskirts of Matsuyama, and not far from Dogo Onsen, is one of the temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. It dates its founding to 728 and also claims a restoration by Kukai (Kobo Daishi), the saintly founder of Shingon Buddhism in whose honor the pilgrimage route was established. The temple has a Niomon Gate from 1318 that has been registered as a National Treasure. There is also a beautiful Kamakura-period pagoda. The grounds are always filled with the scent of incense and white-clad pilgrims saying their prayers.

The name of the temple, "Stone Hand," goes back to a rather cruel legend. A stingy landlord, Emon Saburo, refused to give alms to Kukai and even broke the begging bowl of the priest. As punishment, all his sons died one after the other from a mysterious illness. Desperate for salvation, Emon gave away all his possessions and went in search of Kukai. He circled Shikoku twenty times, thereby becoming the first Shikoku pilgrim and immediately setting a record for others, but Kukai always eluded him. Finally, he walked the pilgrimage in the opposite direction, hoping to come face to face with Kukai. And indeed, exhausted, he met the priest and died at his feet. His dying wish was to be reborn as an influential person so that he might do good works. Kukai took a stone on which he wrote "Emon Saburo reborn" and gave that to the dying man. Nine months later, the wife of the lord of the province gave birth to a baby that clenched this very stone in its hand. The temple museum museum displays a smooth, egg-like stone it claims to be the very one Emon received from Kukai.

Not only the Medieval legend is ab it weird, also the grounds of the temple are not really "clean." Although there are several interesting haiku stones and other stone steles, there are also many monuments that are rather extravagant or even surrealistic. Sometimes the religious mind is like a bad TV program in its pedestrian extravagance. Behind the main hall are tunnels with modern Buddhas and flashing lights, ending in a three-dimensional mandala. This craziness is perhaps the result of temples having too much money because they do not have to pay taxes...


But when Shiki visited here, there were only the pagoda and old gate, sitting in the green countryside... He wrote:

praise the Daishi
at the Temple of Stone Hand
among blooming rice plants

Namu Daishi | Ishite no tera yo | ine no hana

Shiki wrote in the preface to this haiku, that in the afternoon of September 20, 1895, he enticed his friend Rokudo (Yanagihara Kyokudo), who had come to Gudabutsuan Hermitage, to visit Ishiteji Temple together. The poem is a simple greeting to the temple, standing in the green rice fields. Kobo Daishi or Kukai (774-835) is the supposed founder of the temple; he is one of the most important figures in Japanese Buddhism and honored in the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

During the same visit, Shiki also wrote the haiku inscribed on the top of this page. The circumstances were as follows. At most Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan a small sum of money will get one a fortune-telling paper. Usually, one shakes an oblong box containing bamboo sticks until one stick emerges from a small hole in the bottom. The stick bears a number that corresponds with a fortune slip one then takes from a small drawer. On the slip one's fortune is written in archaic language under such categories as health, love, travel and finances. This is accepted as an oracle from the deity.

Shiki and Rokudo were sitting on the veranda of the Otsuyado, a building in the temple grounds where pilgrims may rest or stay overnight. Suddenly a fortune-telling paper drawn by someone else was carried on the breeze to Shiki's side. He casually picked it up and read it. It contained the worst possible judgement, with lines like "misfortune overshadows your future... illness, long-lasting..." Since Shiki indeed was ill (he had tuberculosis, which would carry him to an early grave) he took the omen seriously and rather worried about it, half believing and half not believing.

[Ishiteji's pagoda]

Shiki wrote more haiku about Ishiteji - the following is a beautiful evocation of the temple symbolized by its stately pagoda:

looking up,
how tall the pagoda is
against the autumn sky

mi agureba | to no takasa yo | aki no sora

Ishiteji temple is 15 min on foot from Dogo Onsen along the main road (with the Shiki Memorial Museum) going to Oku Dogo. There is also a bus from Matsuyama that stops in front of the temple. Grounds free.

Ishiteji in the website of Ehime Prefecture.

For the background of the first haiku, I am indebted to Haiku - Messages from Matsuyama, by Yagi Kametaro, edited by Oliver Statler (Katydid Books, 1991), on pp 22-24.

The photos in this post are my own.

Index Haiku Travels

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Great Poetry Around the World (23): Bhartrihari (India, 5th c.)

Aphoristic Poems
from the Śatakatraya
by Bhartṛihari 

translated by Paul Elmer, Arthur Ryder & Vivekananda


Lightly an ignorant boor is made content.
And lightlier yet a sage ;
But minds by half-way knowledge warped and bent,
Not Brahma's self their fury may assuage.

[Translation: A Century of Indian Epigrams, by Paul Elmer More (XXX, p.52)]


    A diamond you may draw
    From an alligator's jaw;
    You may cross the raging ocean like a pool;
    A cobra you may wear
    Like a blossom in your hair;
    But you never can convince a stubborn fool.

[Translation: Women's Eyes, by Arthur Ryder]


    An old man bald as a copper pot,
    Because one noon his head grew hot.
    Crawled to a spreading bilva-tree
    To seek the shade. By Fate's decree
    A fruit just then came tumbling down.
    And cracked the old man's brittle crown
    With loud explosion - which was worse.
    Ill dogs us everywhere when Fate 's averse.

[Translation: A Century of Indian Epigrams, by Paul Elmer More (XLVIII p.71)]


    Girls with the startled eyes of forest deer,
    And fluttering hands that drip
    With sandal-water; bathing-halls with clear
    Deep pools to float and dip ;

    The light moon blown across the shadowy hours,
    Cool winds, and odorous flowers.
    And the high terraced roof - all things enhance
    In Summer love's sweet trance. 

[Translation: A Century of Indian Epigrams, by Paul Elmer More (verse III, p.25)]


    My love within a forest walked alone,
    All in a moonlit dale ;
    And here awhile she rested, weary grown.
    And from her shoulders threw the wimpled veil
    To court the little gale.

    I peering through the thicket saw it all.
    The yellow moonbeams fall,
    I saw them mirrored from her bosom fly
    Back to the moon on high. 

[Translation: A Century of Indian Epigrams, by Paul Elmer More (X, p.33)]


    This Winter gale will play the gallant lover,
    And meeting careless girls
    Will pluck their gowns, and with rude fingers  hover
    Among their tangled curls.

ll kiss their eyelids too, their cheeks caress
    Till they are all a-tremble ;
ll tease their lips till murmurs soft confess
    The love they would dissemble. 

[Translation: A Century of Indian Epigrams, by Paul Elmer More (V, p.27)]


    We become decrepit with age, but not so Desire.
    Infirmity assails us, the skin wrinkles,
    The hair whitens, the body becomes crooked,
    Old age comes on.
    Desire alone grows younger every day.

[Translation: Vivekananda]


Old age watches us, roaring like a tigress.
Disease, like enemies, is striking us often.
Life is flowing out like water from a broken jar.
Curious still how men do evil deeds in this world!

[Translation: Vivekananda]


This whole wide earth my bed,
My beautiful pillows my own two arms,
My wonderful canopy the blue sky,
And the cool evening air to fan me,
The moon and the stars my lamps,
And my beautiful wife, Renunciation, by my side,
What king is there who can sleep like me in pleasure?

[Translation: Vivekananda]

[Brahma on Cave 3 ceiling, Badami Hindu cave temple, Karnataka (6th c.)]

Bhartrihari (also romanised as Bhartṛhari, fl. c. 5th century CE) is an Indian poet known for his major work, the Śatakatraya, comprising three collections of about 100 stanzas each. These are the Nītiśataka, containing aphoristic poems about correct moral conduct), the Śṛṅgāraśataka, containing love poems, and the Vairāgyaśataka with poems on denunciation and asceticism. In fact, there are more than 300 poems (about 700), so it seems that the collection has been added to after Bhartrihari's time. It is also possible that Bhartruhari (about whom we know nothing at all) was a legendary figure under whose name many anonymous poems in a similar style were gathered, like the Hanshan poems in ancient China.

Bhartrihari is also credited as the author of the Vākyapadīya, a Sanskrit grammar and text of linguistic philosophy, but again, we are not even certain that these two Bhartriharis were one and the same person.

Interestingly, in the 17th century Bhartrihari's aphoristic poetry came to Europe through Dutch missionaries - making the author the first Indian poet to become known in Europe via translation. 

I quote from the following three translations, all in the public domain:

Other translations:   
Barbara Stoler Miller (1967), Bhartrihari: Poems, Columbia University Press (UNESCO collection of representative works).
Poems from the Sanskrit, by John Brough (Penguin Classics, 1977)

Brahma image: Ms Sarah Welch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lyrical Poetry Around the World Index