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

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Lyric Poetry Around the World (13): The Birth of Kumara by Kalidasa (India, 4th-5th c. CE)

The Birth of Kumara, Canto I (beginning)
by Kalidasa

translated by Arthur W. Ryder (1912)

God of the distant north, the Snowy Range
O'er other mountains towers imperially;
Earth's measuring-rod, being great and free from change,
Sinks to the eastern and the western sea.

Whose countless wealth of natural gems is not
Too deeply blemished by the cruel snow;
One fault for many virtues is forgot,
The moon's one stain for beams that endless flow.

Where demigods enjoy the shade of clouds
Girding his lower crests, but often seek,
When startled by the sudden rain that shrouds
His waist, some loftier, ever sunlit peak.

Where bark of birch-trees makes, when torn in strips
And streaked with mountain minerals that blend
To written words 'neath dainty finger-tips,
Such dear love-letters as the fairies send.

Whose organ-pipes are stems of bamboo, which
Are filled from cavern-winds that know no rest,
As if the mountain strove to set the pitch
For songs that angels sing upon his crest.

Where magic herbs that glitter in the night
Are lamps that need no oil within them, when
They fill cave-dwellings with their shimmering light
And shine upon the loves of mountain men.

Who offers roof and refuge in his caves
To timid darkness shrinking from the day;
A lofty soul is generous; he saves
Such honest cowards as for protection pray,

Who brings to birth the plants of sacrifice;
Who steadies earth, so strong is he and broad.
The great Creator, for this service' price,
Made him the king of mountains, and a god.

[Statue of Kartikeya (Kumara, also called Murugan), God of War and Victory,
in Batu Caves temple, Malaysia.
The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India]

Kālidāsa (fl. 4th–5th century CE) was a classical Sanskrit author who is often considered ancient India's greatest poet and playwright. His surviving works consist of three plays, two epic poems and two shorter poems. Among the plays, "Of the recognition of Śakuntalā" (Abhijñānaśākuntalam) is generally regarded as a masterpiece. It was among the first Sanskrit works to be translated into English. Among the epic poems, "The Birth of Kumāra" (Kumārasambhava) is the most important. It describes the birth and adolescence of the goddess Pārvatī, her marriage to Śiva and the subsequent birth of their son Kumāra.

Nothing is known about Kālidāsa's life, and we even don't know exactly when he lived. Most scholars associate him with the reign of Candra Gupta II, who reigned c. 380-c. 415 CE. Also the exact place where Kālidāsa lived is unknown, but most scholars think it must have been near the Himalayas, a surmise based on Kālidāsa's detailed description of these mountains in his Kumārasambhava.

Kālidāsa’s position in Sanskrit literature can be compared to that of William Shakespeare in English. His poems and plays were mainly based on Hindu mythology and philosophy. Kālidāsa has exerted a great influence on all Indian literature, including Rabindranath Tagore. Sanskrit plays by Kālidāsa influenced late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century European literature. In 1791 Goethe wrote his "Ode to Sakontala" after reading in translation Kālidāsa's "The Recognition of Shakuntala," while Franz Schubert in 1820 based an opera on this play (Sakuntala). This opera remained unfinished and exists only in fragments. In 1884, Felix Weingartner's opera Sakuntala was premiered.

[Statue of Kalidasa]

The court epic, The Birth of Kumara, describes events leading up to the birth of Kumára, the war god destined to defeat the demon Táraka. The gods try to use Kama, the Indian Cupid, to make the ascetic god Shiva fall in love with the daughter of the Himalaya mountain. Kama fails, and is burnt to ashes by the angry Shiva. Then Parvati, the daughter of the mountain, herself turns to asceticism to win the husband she longs for. She is successful, and the climax of the poem is the marriage and lovemaking of Shiva and Parvati, parents of the universe.

The above fragment forms the beginning of the epic, a stunning description of the majesty of the Himalayas.

The translation above is quoted from: Translations of Shakuntala & Other Works, by Arthur W. Ryder (1912;Reprinted 1920, 1928). Public domain, available at Gutenberg. Arthur William Ryder (1877–1938) was a professor of Sanskrit at the University of California, Berkeley. His translations from the Sanskrit have been praised as the finest ever accomplished by an American.

Other translations:
David Smith, tr., The Birth of Kumara, Clay Sanskrit Library (2005). The best contemporary translation.

Statue of Kumara: Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons
Statue of Kalidasa: NehalDaveND, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lyric Poetry Around the World Index

Friday, March 26, 2021

Lyric Poetry Around the World (11): Quatrains from the Tang Dynasty (China, 618-907)

Seven Quatrains (jueju)

from the TangDynasty

translated by Ad Blankestijn

Passing a Wine Shop
by Wang Ji (d. 644)

Getting drunk here today,
is not how I feed my mind.
But when I see that everyone is befuddled,
how can I alone remain sober?


At Night Mooring by Maple Bridge
by Zhang Ji (mid 8th. c.)

The moon sets, crows caw, hoarfrost fills the sky,
maples at the River, fisherman's fires, a tormented sleep.
From the Temple of Cold Mountain outside Suzhou's walls
the booming of the midnight bell reaches the boat of the traveler



A Spring Morning
by Meng Haoran (689-740)

Asleep in springtime, I missed daybreak,
until I heard birds twittering all around.
Last night the wind and rain were howling -
how many blossoms will have fallen off?


Seeing Monk Ling Che Off
by Liu Changqing (709-780)

Deep green, Bamboo Forest Temple,
muffled booms the evening bell.
The evening sun on the straw hat on his back,
alone he departs to the far blue hills.


Spring Song
by Liu Yuxi (772-843)

         She steps out wearing a fine new hairstyle -
        hidden spring splendor: a courtyard full of sorrow.
        She walks into the garden and counts the blossoms -
        a dragonfly settles on the jade clasp in her hair



Snow on the River
by Liu Zongyuan (773-819)

        A thousand mountains - no sign of birds in flight,
        ten thousands paths - no trace of human tracks.
        A lonely boat, an old man in straw cape and reed hat,
        fishing alone, in the cold river snow.






Visiting the Hermit but not Finding Him
by Jia Dao (779-843)

Under the pines the pupil answered me
and said: my master went to seek herbs -
he is somewhere here in the mountains,
but the clouds are so deep I don't know where.


[Landscape by Zhou Wenjing, featuring Liu Zongyuan's poem
"Winter Snow" ("孤舟蓑笠翁,獨釣寒江雪")]

The "Complete Tang Poems" or Quantangshi was compiled in 1705, but it is not the 49,000 poem-strong anthology that I am interested in here, but more in general the poetry of the Tang dynasty (618-907) itself. The Tang dynasty ruled from 618 to 907, with an interregnum between 690 and 705. The Tang was a high point in Chinese civilization, and a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. The Tang capital at Changan (present-day Xi'an) was then the world's most populous city.

The Tang was also the greatest age of Chinese poetry, and I have treated its best poets like Li Bai and Du Fu in separate articles. Here I have brought together some (at least in the West) lesser known poets, and at the same time I have opted not for longer forms of poetry (such as the gushi which has no fixed length or the lüshi with its length of 8 lines), but for the short jueju (also called (quatrain), which comes in 4 lines of either 5 or 7 syllables each. As a haiku-fan, I appreciate brevity, and the jueju certainly delivers that. Moreover, many jueju are picture-perfect small paintings, setting down a scene as on an ink painting in just a few strokes. At the same time, the jueju was not an easy form of poetry - just as in the eight-line lüshi, rhyme was prescribed between even-numbered lines, and strict tonal patterns had to be observed within the line, and between lines. It was a sort of "dancing in fetters" where every character counted to make a successful poem. The above are among my favorite Chinese poems.

[Stone rubbings of Hanshan & Shide (left) and
the poem by Zhang Ji (right) - these rubbings are available
in the Hanshan Temple in Suzhou]

Wang Ji (d. 644): Of course it is not literally true that everyone is drunk - this is not a modern poem about sport fans celebrating the victory of their team - but the "state of the world" seems like inebriation.

Zhang Ji (712-779): See the above rubbings which are identical to a set I bought many years ago at the Hanshan Temple in Suzhou. I had them for a long time hanging in my room, but now I have so many book cases that there are no free walls left anymore. Some translators have a "tolling" bell, but that type of sound belongs to church bells in the west - bells in China and Japan are struck from the outside (there is no clapper) and give off a deep booming sound. This is an interestingly impressionistic poem. By the way, Hanshan is a legendary recluse associated with a collection of poems partly in the Chan Buddhist tradition (we will introduce his poems in part 28 of this series). No one knows who he was, when he lived and died, or whether he actually existed. Traditionally Hanshan and his sidekick Shide are honored as emanations of the Bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī (Wenshu Pusa) and Samantabhadra (Puxian Pusa).

Meng Haoran (689-740):
In contemporary mainland China, the above poem by Meng Haoran may very well be one of the best known poems from the Tang dynasty, as it has appeared in a widely used first textbook to which hundreds of millions of students have been exposed. Meng Haoran is one of the best known Tang poets after Wang Wei, Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi and Li Shangyin.

Liu Changqing (709-780): A farewell poem, also a very impressionistic one, with again a booming temple bell.

Liu Yuxi (772-843): A poem on the popular theme of "lonely women." Her husband / lover neglects her, therefore "her courtyard is full of sorrow." She may be the concubine of a ruler or a powerful merchant, waiting (a bit bored) for his return. The description of the woman is finely done.

Liu Zongyuan (773-819): A beautiful landscape poem, that was made into an actual landscape painting as the illustration above shows. Liu Zongyuan was known for his landscape writings, not only in poetry but also in prose.

Jia Dao (779-843): A poem on the theme of "hermits," of which also Wang Wei was a prollific practitioner.

The above are my own translations.

Quantangshi at Chinese text Initiative
More translations of Tang poetry can, for example, be found in The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (Columbia U.P., 1994) and in An Anthology of Chinese Literature by Stepen Owen (Norton, 1996).

Zhou Wenjing (周文靖), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons;
Chinese Rubbings from Terebess website


Lyric Poetry Around the World Index


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Lyric Poetry Around the World (11): Tao Yuanming (China, 365-427 CE)

Drinking Wine
by Tao Yuanming

translated by Ad Blankestijn

I built my hut in the world of men,
yet there is no noise here from wagons.
Would you know how that is possible?
With the mind detached, one's place becomes remote.
Plucking chrysanthemums by the eastern hedge,
in the distance I see South Mountain.
The mountains are beautiful by evening,
birds in flight return two by two.
In these things lies a deep meaning -
I want to say it, but have forgotten the words.


[Illustrations in the Spirit of Tao Yuanming's Poems, by Shitao (1642-c. 1707) - note the chrysanthemums in this painting]

Tao Yuanming (also called Tao Qian, 365-427 CE) lived in the Six Dynasties, a period of disunity when northern China had fallen into the hands of non-Chinese leaders. The south, where Tao Yuanming lived, was ruled by a succession of weak and short-lived dynasties that had their capitals in modern Nanjing.

The poet was born into a family of officials. Tao Yuanming's forbears had served in distinguished posts, and he felt the obligation to continue the family tradition of government service, but only managed to obtain minor appointments. He therefore continually yearned to return to the pastoral life. In 405 he retired for good from public service, after holding his last post as magistrate of Pengci for only 80 days. For the remaining 22 years of his life he lived as a private citizen, a state of life often referred to as "reclusion".

This return to his "garden and fields" formed the main topic of Tao's poetry: retelling the decision, justifying it, proclaiming his contentment with it, and praising exemplary figures from the past who had made the same decision. However, within the Chinese tradition public service was the sacred duty of every educated man, and literati were only morally allowed to refuse government service when the political situation was bad - for example, when an unacceptable ruler or regime was in power. So Chinese commentators have often read Tao's poetry as an implicit condemnation of the Eastern Jin government of his time. Yet Tao Yuanming rarely speaks about government at all and his choice of a private life doesn't seem to have been inspired by political disillusion. Rather, he just seems to have been unhappy as an official and therefore opted for the more congenial life of a private citizen.

[Tao Yuanming Seated Under a Willow,
by Tani Buncho, 1812]

The above is Tao Yuanming's most famous poem (the fifth in a series of 20 poems about "drinking wine"). It admirable conveys the detachment and repose of the recluse, who makes his home among men yet remains uncontaminated by the world - the ultimate of being in the world, but not of the world. The poet contemplates nature both through the chrysanthemums growing by the hedge of his cottage, as through the distant mountain scenery. There is a fundamental truth in this, which can not be communicated by words - just as the Dao that can be spoken is not the true Dao.

Although the poet lives in "an inhabited zone" (i.e. not in the wilds), he receives no visitors, to which the phrase "no noise from wagon or horse" refers (i.e. this does not mean that he lives far from a busy road). The world is far because his own mind is far.

The poet is not plucking chrysanthemums to put them in a vase for decoration, but to use as medicine in a wine infusion (he is not a tippler like the later Li Bai, but wine here is also used as a medicine). Chrysanthemums were considered as providing long life, so such a concoction must be a long life elixir. Southern Mountain (which may have been the actual Mt Lu) may belong to the same complex of meanings, as in the Shijing (166/6) it is mentioned as the mountain of long life. It seems that Tao Yuanming later also picked South Mountain as the location for his grave.

Hightower writes in his commentary on the poem, "Southern Mountain... [as] ...the symbol for long life comes into focus as an example of the enduring loveliness of nature into which the birds return at night and in which man is reabsorbed at the close of his life - this is part of the truth which the poet grasps and which he has no words to express, or rather, having grasped it, he can "forget words." (p. 132)

Today, Tao Yuanming is regarded as the greatest poet of China before the Tang dynasty.

The above translation is my own.

James Robert Hightower in The Poetry of T'ao Ch'ien (Oxford, 1970), pp. 130-32
Also included in The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature by Victor Mair, pp. 180-81
Stephen Owen in Anthology of Chinese Literature, p. 316
Arthur Waley, A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems
Original text at Chinese Wikisource

Shi Tao: Shitao, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Tani Buncho: Tani Bunchō, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lyric Poetry Around the World Index

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Lyric Poetry Around the World (10): Nineteen Old Poems (China, late 2nd c. CE)

Nineteen Old Poems, No 13

translated by Ad Blankestijn

I drive my chariot through the Upper East Gate,
from far away I see the graves north of the wall.
White poplars rustle desolately,
pines and cypresses flank broad lanes.
Beneath them lie the dead,
dark is their long night,
deep down beneath the Yellow Springs,
thousands of years without awakening.
Grand is the course of Yin and Yang,
but our destiny is like the morning dew,
human life is just a short stay
without the firmness of metal or stone.
The Supreme Ruler even is carried out,
no saint who can redeem us.
Those who desire immortality through pills,
as a rule are poisoned by their own drugs.
It is best to drink fine wine,
and to dress in choice silk.


[Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor]

Nineteen Old Poems (Gushi Shijiushou) is an anthology of 19 anonymous poems, which stems from the late 2nd century CE, towards the end of the later Han-period. They are the earliest examples of the continuous use of the five-syllable verse in Chinese poetry. Not only for that formal reason, but also because of their content and themes they have been very influential on later poetry. They were included in the famous Wenxuan literary anthology of about 520 CE, which enhanced their influence. The authorship of the "Nineteen Old Poems" is anonymous, but the material circumstances mentioned as well as the literary reference to the Shijing, point at an educated member (or members) of the upper classes.

[Jade Shroud. Eastern Han Dynasty, 160 AD.
Henan Provincial Museum, Zhengzhou]

As a dominant theme, the transience of life runs like a red thread through the cycle: while in some poems it is expressed indirectly in the woman's longing for her distant lover, in others we find the blunt encouragement to enjoy life in the face of death (as in the above poem). The basic tone remains always sad and melancholy.

In the above poem the speaker rides out of the city gates, looks at the tombs arrayed outside the city, and reflects on the brevity of life, ending on a sentiment of carpe diem (as we also saw in Horace and Martial in this series).

The Upper East gate was the northernmost of the three gates in the east wall of the city of Luoyang. The graves are located on Beimang Hill north of the city.
The Yellow Springs is the Chinese Hades, the land of the dead.
"The dupe of strange drugs:" longevity medicines containing mercury and other dangerous substances often brought death instead of life.

The above translation is my own.

17 of the 19 poems have been translated by Arthur Waley in A Hundred and Seventy Poems from the Chinese (public domain, available at Guitenberg).
By Stepen Owen in An Anthology of Chinese Literature (No XIII is on p. 260)
Les Dix-neuf Poèmes anciens, texte établi, traduit et annoté par Jean-Pierre Diény, Paris, Belles Lettres, 2010. (Texte chinois et traduction française.)

Burton Watson, CHINESE LYRICISM: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century, New York, Columbia University Press, 1971.

Chinese text at Gutenberg.

Mausoleum Qin Emperor: Aaron Zhu, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Jade shroud: G41rn8, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Reading the Tale of Genji (10): Heart-to-Heart (Aoi)

There is a gap of two years between "Under the Cherry Blossoms" and the present chapter "Aoi"; Genji is now 22 to 23. In the period in-between, Genji's father, the Kiritsubo Emperor has abdicated, and Suzaku, his son by the Kokiden Consort, has become emperor. Fujitsubo's infant son by the Kiritsubo emperor (who is in fact Genji's son) has become Heir-Apparent (at age 3 or 4).

[Kamigamo Shrine]

"Aoi" is a long and important chapter. Let's first look at the plant mentioned in the chapter title. "(Futaba) aoi" (asarum caulescens, hollyhock or heart-vine), grows on the forest floor and consists of a pair of broad, heart-shaped leaves that spring from a single stem. The aoi plant is sacred to the Kamo shrines (Shimogamo and Kamigamo in Kyoto) and at the Kamo festival people used to decorate their headdresses and carriages with it. During the Heian Period, these leaves were believed to protect against natural disasters such as earthquakes and thunder, and were often hung under the roofs of homes for protection. However, as the aoi plant is relatively rare, often substitutes with similarly shaped leaves were used, such as the leaves of the katsura tree. But the hollyhock was firmly established as the symbolical flower of the Kamo shrines.

[Asarum caulescens]

[Aoi crest]

[The Aoi Crest of the Shimogamo Shrine]

The Kamo festival was the greatest festival of Kyoto in the time of the Genji, and still exists as a beautiful panorama of courtly times. The main festival procession is held on May 15, but there are various events and rituals before that date.

The origins of the festival may go back to the belief that a drought and epidemic which struck the country in the 6th c., were a form of divine punishment by the Kamo deities. Therefore the emperor sent a messenger with a retinue to the shrine to conduct various rituals to appease the deities, such as riding a galloping horse, and say prayers for a bountiful harvest. This became an annual ritual, and the galloping horse performance developed into an equestrian archery performance.

The deities enshrined in Shimogamo are Kamo-taketsunemi-no-mikoto and his daughter Tamayorihime-no-mikoto. This daughter once was sitting at the boards of the Kamo River (I don't want to destroy the romantic atmosphere, but as a matter of fact in olden times rivers were used as toilets), when a fiery red arrow came drifting towards her on the waves. Freud could not have written this any better. Of course Tamayori got pregnant (never let your daughter go alone to the river) and gave birth to Kamo-wake-ikazuchi, a god who was subsequently enshrined in the Kamigamo Shrine, the related facility further upstream.

Emperor Kanmu who in 794 made Heiankyo (Kyoto) his new capital, recognized the deities of the Kamo shrines as protectors of the capital, and established the Aoi Matsuri as an annual imperial event. The festival reached its peak of grandeur in the middle of the Heian Period, but waned in the Kamakura and the following Muromachi periods, and finally the festival procession was discontinued. Thereafter it was held with fits and starts, until 1953, when the modern festival procession was held for the first time. So far it has only been canceled once, in 2020 because of the corona virus pandemic.

[Inside the Shimogamo Shrine]

The following rituals are held before the day of the main procession:

  • Yabusame Ritual on May 3, held in Tadasu no Mori at the Shimogamo Shrine. Dressed in traditional Heian Period costume, riders galloping down the forest path shoot arrows with tips shaped like turnips at targets along the course. 
  • Saio-Dai Misogi Ceremony on May 4, held at the Mitarashi River at either the Shimogamo or Kamigamo Shrine (nowadays, the location alternates every year). The women who will participate in the Aoi Matsuri procession, including the Saio-Dai, undergo a purification ceremony at the Mitarashi River in which a paper doll, called kamishiro, is floated down the water. The Saio-Dai is one of the two most important figures during the festival. She used to be chosen from the sisters and daughters of the Emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo shrine, and her role was to maintain ritual purity and to represent the Emperor at the festival. Nowadays, the role of the Saio-Dai is played by an unmarried civilian woman from Kyoto, dressed in the traditional style of the Heian court (twelve layers of the traditional junihitoe).
  • Mikage Matsuri on May 12. Kamo Priests visit the Mikage Shrine (at the foot of Mt Hiei, in northern part of the the Eastern Hills) to invite the "aramitama", the "rough spirit" of the deities and accompany them to the Shimogamo shrine, in a procession of more than 100 people in Heian costume.

[The main procession setting out from Gosho]

The main procession on May 15 is led by the Imperial Messenger, followed by a retinue of 600 people all dressed in the traditional costumes of Heian nobles, plus two oxcarts, four cows and thirty-six horses. The oxcarts are adorned with artificial wisteria flowers. The procession starts at the Kyoto Imperial Palace and slowly works its way towards the Shimogamo shrine and finally (in the early afternoon) the Kamigamo shrine. At both shrines, the Saio-Dai pays her respects, and the Imperial Messenger intones the imperial rescript praising the deities and requesting their continued favor.

[Ox cart decorated with wisteria blossoms]

In this chapter of the Genji an incident takes place at the festival - not during the main procession, but on the day of the Saio-Dai Misogi Ceremony. There are so many aristocrats setting out in their ox-drawn carriages that a true traffic jam ensues on Ichijo Avenue which is packed with spectators. Moreover, the occupants of the carriages are competing to occupy the best spot to see Genji pass by as one of the participants. A quarrel erupts between Lady Aoi, Genji's principal wife (now pregnant), and his lover, the Rokujo Haven (Rokujo no Miyasudokoro). Rokujo has hesitated whether to attend or not, torn as she is between her desire to see Genji in the procession and the pain caused by his diminished love. She finally decides to come, but rides in an inconspicuous carriage so as not to attract attention. Carriages were status symbols, like an expensive, outsized car today, and parking places from where the occupants could watch the festival, had to be reserved in advance (of course, the ladies in the carriages remained behind their bamboo blinds and did not get out). When the carriage of her rival, Aoi, suddenly arrives and the vehicles of lesser mortals are pushed aside by Aoi's retainers, her pride is wounded. Rokujo's carriage is forced into a corner, so that she can't see anything of the procession. What is more, she has been humiliated in public and feels great resentment.

Rokujo is a proud aristocratic lady. Genji seems to have been initially attracted to her because of the very difficulty of approaching such a woman, the widow of a former crown prince (presumably one of Emperor Kiritsubo's brothers) who would have become empress, if not for her husband's early death. Although in the "Hahakigi" chapter Genji and his friends agreed that high ranking women were to be avoided, Genji was somehow drawn to Rokujo. But once he has succeeded in making her his lover, his passion subsides. He finds her too sensitive, and there is a discrepancy in ages (Rokujo is about seven years older than Genji). The problem is that Rokujo has fallen more deeply in love with Genji than he with her.

[Wisteria flowers on the ox-drawn carriage]

In fact, there is something unusual about the way in which Murasaki Shikibu introduces Rokujo. That is in the Yugao chapter, where Genji is said to be on his way to visit her as his lover, but then makes a detour to the house of his nurse, leading to the discovery of Yugao. But his affair with Rokujo is nowhere told in detail, nor do we get complete biographical information about her - we have to glean the details from the general narrative and piece them together ourselves. Has Murasaki Shikibu on purpose left it out as there was nothing special to tell about their early relation (the author was anyhow mostly interested in telling about Genji's affairs with unknown women of the middle rank)? Or has an early chapter about Rokujo been lost?

Because of her outstanding social position, Rokujo is entitled to be treated with the utmost respect, something which Genji, too caught up in his philandering, neglects to do. Humiliated by Genji's disrespect for her, angered by the rumors of his affairs, on top of that Rokujo now is slighted by Genji's wife Lady Aoi. Her uncontrolled jealousy, which leads to her own unhappiness and the destruction of others, is her fatal flaw.

As her daughter has been selected as a new "Ise Virgin" (Saio), Rokujo, unable to stand Genji's coldness, contemplates accompanying her daughter to Ise (the system of having a woman related to the imperial house stay at Ise was introduced by Emperor Tenmu. Since then, every time a new emperor succeeded to the throne - like now Emperor Suzaku -, a new Saio was chosen and set out on a journey from the capital to Ise). Rokujo apparently hopes that leaving the capital may help her forget Genji, although it was not customary that the mother of an Ise virgin accompanied her daughter.

[The quarrel with the carriages in Aoi, by Sanjonishi Sanetaka (1455 - 1537), Harvard Museum of Art ]

Aoi's pregnancy has weakened her - the people around her are even worried that she may have a miscarriage or die in childbirth, which might pollute others (pregnant women were believed to be in a state of defilement) and lead to bad karma in her own next life. In her weakened condition, she is also more susceptible to psychic influences - for example attacks by spirits such as mono no ke.

From her side, the proud Rokujo feels so humiliated by Lady Aoi that she perhaps unconsciously wishes her rival dead. She blames herself for her lack of self-control. When the time of Aoi's delivery nears, an evil spirit possesses her and she suffers terribly. At first the cause of Aoi's sickness baffles the doctors, and Genji has numerous prayers and rituals performed to exorcise it, but to no avail. Finally, diviners succeed in compelling the spirit that possesses Aoi to speak. The words that issue from Aoi's mouth are not in her own voice, but - as Genji realizes to his horror - the voice of Rokujo (there is an impressive scene in Kurosawa's film Rashomon in which a female medium conveying the words of a dead man, suddenly starts speaking in a deep, male voice). Finally, Lady Aoi gives prematurely birth to a son who will be called Yugiri ("Evening Mist"), and then suffers a sudden seizure and dies.

It should be noted that Murasaki Shikibu - like others of her time - firmly believed in the existence of spirits - especially vengeful ones. Illness was believed to be caused by such spirits, and often exorcists played a larger role at the sickbed than doctors. The belief that the vengeful spirit of a former minister who had been banished, Sugawara no Michizane, was causing destruction in Heiankyo and in the palace, motivated the building of shrines in his honor at great cost. The author faithfully describes the world around her.

(The fact that Rokujo's spirit possesses Aoi, has led readers, critics and scholars to speculate that the unnamed spirit in Yugao also must have been Rokujo. There is however no proof for that (no name is mentioned in the novel), and it could just as well be a spirit from the haunted house in which Yugao dies.)

Troubled by the gossip about her involvement in Aoi's possession, Rokujo herself comes to believe in her own guilt, which strengthens her determination to accompany her daughter to Ise.

[Aoi Matsuri in the Gosho palace grounds]

It is only at the time of her illness and death that Aoi appears sympathetic in Genji's eyes. Genji finally starts to appreciate her, something which never happened before. Their marriage was an arranged one, and as Aoi was several years older, she at first considered Genji more as her little brother than her husband. And we have seen that Genji fell in love with vulnerable women, who played the baby to him, and not with cold and proud types as Aoi. She was such a perfect lady that she simply intimidated Genji. Their marriage failed because of their incompatibility of character.

After the 49 day mourning period has ended, Genji returns to his Nijo mansion, where he has hidden Musasaki. He sees her for the first time after a long while and realizing that she has grown up (she is 14 or 15, which was the marriageable age for women in the Heian period), he sleeps with her and makes her his secondary wife. For four years Genji has enjoyed a platonic, paternal relation with Murasaki while waiting for her to reach maturity. Murasaki is shocked by the sudden change in their relationship - she was quite innocent of sexual knowledge, and considered Genji in the first place as a father. Genji sends Murasaki the usual "morning after" poem, but that makes her all the more upset, because she feels that she has been deceived. Genji may indeed have been inconsiderate in his abrupt seduction of her, but Seidensticker's translation here goes wrong by implying that Genji forced himself on Murasaki. He has brought her up to marry her and now the time is right. Genji is perhaps somewhat patronizing towards Murasaki on the morning after, but he is also very solicitous and conscientious in arranging the ritual foods signifying marriage. In contrast to Yugao and others, Genji makes Murasaki his official secondary wife. Why not his first wife, now that Aoi has died? Because - again! - Heian court society was a terrible hierarchical society and Murasaki's rank was unfortunately much too low to make her his principal wife. 

As regards Genji-e, the most famous scene illustrated is the "Carriage Competition" during the Kamo festival, when the carriages of Aoi and Rokujo compete for viewing space (see photo above).

The Aoi chapter has the become the subject of a famous No play ”Aoi no Ue". The story has been changed for dramatic effects: the play is wholly focused on Rokujo as the possessing spirit. Aoi is merely represented by a folded robe at the front of the stage over which Rokujo (the shite) does battle with the exorcising priest, the holy man of Yokawa (the waki). The spirit battle ends - contrary to the novel - in the triumph of the Law of the Buddha and Rokujo's spirit is subjugated.

[Mitarashi river (purification place) in Shimogamo Jinja]

The Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto are among my most favorite places in the old capital, on the one hand because I used to live in that area in the past, and also because I often prefer their refined atmosphere for hatsumode at New Year to that of other shrines (here and here). And the Aoi Matsuri (May 15) is a great chance to get a whiff of the atmosphere of the Genji!
See https://www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp/ and https://www.kamigamojinja.jp/.
Access to Shimogamo: City Bus Stop Shimogamo Jinja-mae (#4 or #205) / 12 min walk from Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Railway.
Access to Kamigamo: City Bus Stop Kamigamo Jinja-mae (last stop of bus #4).


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).

I am indebted to the discussion about Aoi and Rokujo in Seeds in the Heart, Japanese Literature from the Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century, by Donald Keene (1993, Henry Holt, p. 495-500).

[The photos in this article - except Harvard Museum of Art - are my own]

Reading The Tale of Genji

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Haiku Travels (22): Basho and Todaiji (Nara)

Haiku Travels

Todaiji and Taimadera (Nara)

the Water Drawing -

the monks' clogs

make an icy sound

mizutori ya | kori no so no | kutsu no oto



[Omizutori ceremony, Nigatsudo hall of Todaiji, Nara]

Basho was born in the castle town of Iga-Ueno, in the Kansai area, but at a young age settled in Edo. He made several trips back to western Japan and then also often visited the Nara area. In 1685 he observed the Water Drawing Ceremony in Todaiji, a visit which has been described in Nogarashi Kiko, The Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field. On the same trip he also visited Taima Temple at the foot of Mr Futagami, south of Nara.

Omizutori, 'water-drawing,' is a central rite of the Shunie (literally, 'rite observed in February' of the lunar calendar) held at the Nigatsudo Hall of Todaiji Temple in Nara. The entire Shunie lasts from March 1 to 14 (that is, in the modern calendar), and the omizutori proper takes place late at night on March 12. The rite begins with the waving of huge blazing torches from the hall's veranda, in fact whole trees set ablaze, sprinkling sparks over the crowd below. Next, the monks draw water from a nearby well and offer it to the image of the Eleven-Headed Kannon, the central Bodhisattva of the Nigatsudo Hall, which is a 'secret' statue. The rite symbolizes the arrival of spring and was first held in 752.

It is a most impressive ceremony and the monks who wave the torches come running down the verandah of the Nigatsudo on their wooden clogs, giving off a particular staccato rattle. This sound struck Basho and he aptly combines it with the icy cold which in March is still in the air in Nara, especially at night.

[Vairocana (Birushana) statue
in Golden Hall, Todaiji (Nara Daibutsu)]

first snow -
when will the temple building start
for the Great Buddha?

hatsu yuki ya | itsu Daibutsu no | hashira date


The Daibutsu of Todaiji Temple in Nara was originally cast in 749 CE. That image had been destroyed in the 12th c. wars, but the statue which was soon cast as replacement had again become a war victim. When Basho visited Todaiji, the temple was still under repair after the destruction wrought by the civil wars of the sixteenth century (in 1567 it was destroyed by troops of Matsunaga Hisahide, to be exact). In 1684 the priest Kokei received permission from the government to start a fundraising campaign for the reconstruction, but work was slow due to a shortage of funds. The Great Buddha statue was only finally completed in 1691 (with the consecration ceremony held in 1692), after the visit by Basho described above, and the statue sat for years in the open like the Great Buddha in Kamakura. The new Buddha Hall (which is the present one) was finally finished in 1709, and Basho did not live to see this. He grieved for the Buddha in its sad state, for at that time even the head had not been restored yet. Basho saw only the rump of the statue, slowly being covered by the first snow of the year.

Birushana is a pantheistic Buddha of "light shining throughout the universe." The statue is the largest bronze Buddha in the world, and the hall in which it sits is the largest wooden structure in the world.

[Great Buddha hall, Todaiji, Nara]

it's already spring!
through nameless hills
a soft mist

haru nare ya / na mo naki yama no / usugasumi


Composed on the way to Nara in February, 1685 - Basho gave it the title "on the road to Nara." Note that Basho's February is March in our calendar.

Basho probably came from the direction of Iga-Ueno, his native town in what is now Mie Prefecture, which he had visited for celebrating the New Year. Basho's family lived there (his elder brother and his sisters), but in addition over the years he had built up a large following of haiku disciples.

[The present state of the pine tree figuring in the haiku]

priests, morning-glories
how many died and reborn
pine of the Dharma

so asagao | iku shinikaeru | nori no matsu


Basho loved Chinese literature and one of his favorite books was the Zhuangzi, the Daoist anthology from the 3rd c. BCE. There is a Zhuangzi story about a pine tree large enough to cover 1,000 head of cattle. This tree had in fact lived so long that it served no practical purpose anymore. By the way, that is also the reason why Basho loved the useless plantain from which he derived his sobriquet. About the present pine tree, reputedly also 1,000 years old, Basho remarks in the foreword to the haiku that it is very fortunate the tree has escaped the penalty of being cut down with an ax. This is of course thanks to the Buddha's protection - that is what he refers to with 'Dharma,' which is the Teaching of the Buddha. In other words, Basho turns the story into a Buddhist one.

The tree, by the way, seems to have fallen victim to the axe after Basho's visit, because the present insignificant weed certainly does not have a trunk 'to hold a bull.' The hokku was meant as a complimentary greeting to the great temple, where this tree could live so long, while many generations of priests had passed away to be again reborn, their lives as brief as the morning glory. The long-lived tree symbolizes Taimadera, a temple that has kept the Light of the Law burning through the ages.

Taima Temple is indeed one of the oldest temples in Nara. It was originally established as the family temple of the Taima clan which embraced Buddhism early on. They also helped the future emperor Tenmu during the Jinshin war and enlarged/rebuilt the family temple after that event, in 681. The main image is a Miroku (Maitreya) Butsu (a national treasure), the Buddha of the Future, flanked by bearded Shitenno exuding a decidedly exotic central Asian flavor. Taima-dera is also the only temple that preserves a pair of pagodas in a style popular in the 7th and 8th centuries. The pagoda and Golden Hall with the statues face west, but in later centuries a new main hall was built at the northern end of the premises, and this hall faces south. The new main hall signifies a change in faith, as from a family temple centered on the Maitreya cult, in the 12th c. the temple became a proponent of the new Pure Land school. The new hall was built to house the Taima Mandala, a depiction of Amida’s paradise, according to legend woven in one day by Princess Chujo-hime, which became widely venerated due to the belief that the world was entering Mappo, the end time. The present Taima mandala is a 16th c. copy.

[The Main Hall containing the Taima Mandala, Taima temple]

First haiku:
The haiku stone stands to the side of the steps leading up to the Nigatsudo Hall in Todaiji.
20-min walk from Nara Kintetsu Station or JR Nara station

Fourth haiku:
The haiku stone stands in the front garden of the Nakanobo subtemple in the Taimadera complex; the pine tree can be found outside the gate of this Nakanobo.
10-min. walk from Taimadera Station on the Kintetsu Line.

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 Chuang Tzu has been translated by Burton Watson (Columbia University Press, 1996).

Omizutori photo: ignis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
The other photos in this post are my own.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 42 (Kiyohara no Motosuke)

 Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 42

chigiriki na
katami ni sode wo
Sue no Matsuyama
nami kosaji to wa


we made a pledge,
while wringing the tears
from both our sleeves:
"sooner would waves wash over
the Pine Hill of Sue"

Kiyohara no Motosuke (908-990)

[Sue no Matsuyama]

"We made a solemn promise, while many times over wringing the tears from both our sleeves, that, in the same way as that waves will never wash over the Pine Hill of Sue, whatever happened, our hearts would never change."

The head-note to this poem reads: "Written by proxy for a man whose lover had turned cold to him." Sue no Matsuyama is a scenic spot consisting of small hill with pine trees in Tagajo, near Sendai. It became an utamakura used in pledges like here. It first appears in an anonymous poem in the Kokinshu (poem 1093):

to abandon you
a fickle heart
would I have
but sooner would waves wash over
the Pine Hill of Sue

kimi wo okite | adashi-gokoro wo | waga motoba | Sue no Matsuyama | nami mo koenan

The poem by Kiyohara no Morosuke clearly alludes to this.

In 1689, on his Oku no Hosomichi trip, Basho visited Sue no Matsuyama and he wrote: "On Sue no Matsuyama they built a temple with the name Matsushozan. The spaces between the pine trees were al covered by graves. As I realized that all pledges for everlasting love finally end up like this, my sadness increased. I then heard the vesper bell on Shiogama Bay."

[Kiyohara no Motosuke by Kano Yasunobu]

chigiriki na: chigiru is "to promise, to pledge." -ki indicates the past tense; na is an exclamatory final particle.
katami-ni: "mutually"
-ji in the last line: a suffix which indicates negative intention ("I do not intend to") or - as here - negative conjecture ("probably not," "I think not").

The Poet

Kiyohara no Motosuke was the grandson of Fukayabu (poem 36) and the father of Sei Shonagon (poem 62) and the compiler of the imperial poetry collection Gosenshu. He was also included among the Thirty-six Poetic Geniuses. More than a hundred of his poems have been preserved in imperial anthologies.

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Lyric Poetry Around the World (9): Epigrams by Martial (Rome, 1st c. CE)

Seven Epigrams
by Martial

translated by Ad Blankestijn

Erotion the slave-girl
Book V:34)

to you, father Fronto and mother Flaccilla,
I commend this child, the little Erotion,
my joy and my delight
that she may not be terrified by the dark shades
and the monstrous jaws of the hound of Tartarus

she would just have passed the cold of a sixth winter
had she lived but six days longer
between protectors so venerable
may she sport and play
and with lisping speech babble my name

let no rude turf cover her tender bones
and press lightly on her, earth, as she pressed but lightly on you

Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
Oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
Parvola ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
Oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Inpletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,
Vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
Et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa, nec illi,
Terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.

To Lesbia
(Book I:34)

you always sin with the doors wide open
Lesbia, you never hide what you're up to
you like an audience better than your lover
secret pleasures don't turn you on
courtesans use curtain and bolt to exclude witnesses
and few are the peepholes in Summemius' brothel
do learn some modesty, if only from Ias or Chione -
even dirty hookers take cover in tombs
does my censure seem to harsh?
I forbid you to get caught, Lesbia, not to get laid

Incustoditis et apertis, Lesbia, semper
Liminibus peccas nec tua furta tegis,
Et plus spectator quam te delectat adulter
Nec sunt grata tibi gaudia si qua latent.
At meretrix abigit testem veloque seraque       
Raraque Submemmi fornice rima patet.
A Chione saltem vel ab Iade disce pudorem:
Abscondunt spurcas et monumenta lupas.
Numquid dura tibi nimium censura videtur?
Deprendi veto te, Lesbia, non futui.

Carpe diem
Book V:58)

tomorrow you will live, always tomorrow, Postumus,
tell me, Postumus, when is that tomorrow coming?
how far off is tomorrow? and where? how will you find it?
is it hidden among the Parthians and Armenians?
your tomorrow is already as old as Priam or Nestor,
for how much, tell me, may that tomorrow be bought?
you will live tomorrow? it is already too late  to live today -
he who has lived yesterday, Postumus, is a wise man

Cras te victurum, cras dicis, Postume, semper.
Dic mihi, cras istud, Postume, quando venit?
Quam longe cras istud, ubi est? aut unde petendum?
Numquid apud Parthos Armeniosque latet?
Iam cras istud habet Priami vel Nestoris annos.
Cras istud quanti, dic mihi, possit emi?
Cras vives? hodie iam vivere, Postume, serum est:
Ille sapit, quisquis, Postume, vixit heri.

To Aemilianus
Book V:81)

Aemilianus, if you're poor now, you’ll always be poor
these days they only give wealth to the rich

Semper pauper eris, si pauper es, Aemiliane.
Dantur opes nullis nunc nisi divitibus.

To Polla
(Book III.42)

when you try to conceal your belly wrinkles with beanpaste,
Polla, you smear your stomach, not my lips -
perhaps a little blemish should appear openly:     
a fault concealed is presumed to be great

Lomento rugas uteri quod condere temptas,
Polla, tibi ventrem, non mihi labra linis.
Simpliciter pateat vitium fortasse pusillum:
Quod tegitur, magnum creditur esse malum. 

To Candidus
(Book III.26)

Candidus, alone you possess your estates
alone your cash
alone your golden and murrhine vessels
alone your Massic wine
alone your Caecubian wines of famous vintage
you have your heart alone
alone your wit
you have everything for you alone
(do you think I wish to deny it?)
but your wife, Candidus, you share with all the world

Praedia solus habes et solus, Candide, nummos,
Aurea solus habes, murrina solus habes,
Massica solus habes et Opimi Caecuba solus,
Et cor solus habes, solus et ingenium.
Omnia solus habes - hoc me puta velle negare! -
Uxorem sed habes, Candide, cum populo.

To Marianus
(Book VI.63)

you know, Marianus, that you are being hunted
and you know the greedy one who hunts you
and you know what he wants
yet you write in your will, you fool
that he is your heir
and you want him to take your place, lunatic
"he sent such great gifts"
but he sent them on a fishing hook
and can the fish ever love the fisherman?
will he mourn your fate with real tears?
if you wish, Marianus, that he should weep -
then give him nothing

Scis te captari, scis hunc qui captat, avarum,
Et scis qui captat, quid, Mariane, velit.
Tu tamen hunc tabulis heredem, stulte, supremis
Scribis et esse tuo vis, furiose, loco.
'Munera magna tamen misit.' Sed misit in hamo;
Et piscatorem piscis amare potest?
Hicine deflebit vero tua fata dolore?
Si cupis, ut ploret, des, Mariane, nihil.

[Bronze bust of Martial,
sculptured by Juan Cruz Melero (1910 – 1986). ]

Marcus Valerius Martialis (ca 40-104 CE) was born at Bilbilis, a small town in the north-east of Spain. He is commonly known in the English speaking world as Martial. He was a scathing satirist, often writing highly derogatory poems of his acquaintances — including his patrons — which he published under the title of Epigrammata. Though not the first Roman poet to write in an epigrammatic style he is widely considered to have brought the epigram to its peak as a literary genre.

The period in which Martialis lived is known as the heyday of the Roman Empire in terms of material prosperity. Martial arrived in Rome around 64 CE, where, thanks to the influence of fellow countrymen such as Seneca, Lucanus and Quintilian, he came into contact with the highest aristocratic circles. He depended on these patrons for the rest of his life, living by his wits. Gradually, Martial also became known for his performances at public readings. Because of his increasing popularity, he was able to move up the social ladder and later belonged to the "well-to-do citizens". During his life in Rome he was acquainted with many writers of the time. In addition to Lucan and Quintilian, he numbered among his friends Silius Italicus, Juvenal and Pliny the Younger.

His name remains associated with the many epigrams he wrote. Some epigrams can be called quite obscene and were therefore often banned from anthologies. He has had many later admirers, including Erasmus, John Dryden, Spinoza, Jonathan Swift, and Goethe. He himself was inspired by Catullus.

Martial walked the mean streets of Rome. He blasts the
pretensions, addictions, and cruelties of its inhabitants with perfect comic timing and killer punchlines. Social climbers and sex-offenders, false traders and hypocrite preachers - all become the victims of his "killer epigrams." Martial's poetry is intimately bound up with the metropolis Rome and brings it vividly to life in all its variety. He sketched the fringes of society in concrete situations and with recognizable human emotions.

(Epigram V.34)
This is one of three poems that Martial wrote on the occasion of the death of his little slave girl Erotion, a departure into mournful elegy for the satiric poet. It was long thought that the parents mentioned in the first line were those of Martial, but there is no corroboration for that. "Erotion" is a Greek name, possibly indicating the girl's origin; it is a diminutive formed from the Greek eros or erotis, meaning "little loved one" (so it is unrelated to the modern meaning of these words!). "Tartarus" are the infernal regions, believed to be guarded by a fearsome hound. The last line is especially heart-rending.

(Epigram I.34)
One of Martial's invective epigrams, in the tradition of Catullus, ending on an obscenity (somewhat mollified in my family-friendly translation). In this poem he compares the sexual habits of an exhibitionist acquaintance he calls "Lesbia" ("tongue in cheek" after Catullus' lover) unfavorable with those of prostitutes. Ias and Chione are cheap hookers of the worst kind - but even they conceal their activities, if only by making use of a monumental tomb in a graveyard.

(Epigram V.58)
A "carpe diem" poem like the one by Horace. It can also be taken in a broader   sense: when you always plan to start acting tomorrow, your life will be over before you have done anything. In I.15 Martial wrote in the same vein: "Believe me, wise men don't say ‘I shall live to do that’, tomorrow's life is too late; live today." This also reminded me of a phrase by Martial that is often inscribed on sun dials: "Pereunt et imputantur," "each of us feels the good days speed and depart; they pass by and are put to our account." (V.20)

(Epigram V.81)
"Wealth is given today to none save the rich." An observation of all times...

(Epigram III.42)
"Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst." This is not only a make-up problem, on the contrary, it is something all politicians and company managers should take to heart: just be honest about your faults (something too difficult for 99.9% of all people).

(Epigram III.26)
This epigram speaks for itself.

(Epigram VI.63)
This epigram speaks for itself.

The translations are my own versions (with some help from the online edition of Bohn's Classical Library (1897, in the public domain).

Other translations:
The Epigrams of Martial in English Prose (1897)

Selected Epigrams
translated by A. S. Kline
Selected Epigrams translated by Elizabeth Duke
Latin original at Perseus Digital Library; the same at Wikisource.

Bust of Martial: This photo is by VICMAEL Victor Manuel. The photo shows the bronze bust of the Latin poet Martialis (38-104), created by the Spanish artist Juan Cruz Melero (1910-1986). Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons.

Lyric Poetry Around the World Index