Title: Selected Poems from Kokin Wakashu
Author: Cook, Lewis
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Title: Selected Poems from Kokin Wakashu
Author: Lewis Cook
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Selected Poems from Kokin wakashu
by Lewis Cook

The following selection of poems in translation from Kokin wakashu (Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems) is designed to convey some sense of how the anthology was read during the six or seven centuries throughout which it was regarded by Japanese poets as the primary canon of waka poetry. The emphasis is on poems which were most often quoted and re-cited, and on samples of sequences of poems on the preeminent topics: cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, and love.

Many of the finest poems in the anthology draw their force from complex word-play and thus resist translation. This selection is biased in favor of poems the effects of which can at least be approximated in English verse. One of the dilemmas imposed by the translation of Japanese poetry is whether or not to attempt an imitation of the quantitative meter of the originals, based entirely on syllable count, or to accept the accentual-syllabic meters of English. I have had no qualms about choosing the latter course.

The text on which the translations and transliterations are based is the "Date Family" recension by Fujiwara Teika, available online at the Japanese Text Initiative.

I have generally followed the Shin Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei edition (Arai and Kojima, eds.; Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten,1989) for the identification of topics and topical sequences.

Macrons are omitted from the commentary. Long vowels are represented phonetically in the romanized transliterations.




First Book of Spring
No. 1

在原元方

ふるとしに春たちける日よめる

としのうちに春はきにけりひととせをこぞとやいはむことしとやいはむ

toshi no uchi ni
haru wa kinikeri
hitotose wo
kozo to ya iwamu
kotoshi to ya iwamu

Ariwara no Motokata

Composed on a day when spring arrived within the old year.

Spring has come
before the year's turning:
Should I speak, now
of the old year
or call this the new year?

The poem plays on a discrepancy between the official lunar and the unofficial solar calendars. Risshun, the first day of spring by the solar calendar, always occurs on February 4 or 5th (by the Gregorian calendar). The New Year by the lunar calendar begins on the day of the the second new moon after the winter solstice, variably between mid-January and mid-February. Hence a little less than once every two years the (lunar) first day of spring preceded the (solar) New Year's day. The theme of "time out of joint" is pervasive in early classical waka, often (cf. Nos. 2 and 3, below) hinging upon a contrast between convention and perception. Some medieval exegetes took this poem as a compact allegory of the chiasmus of "old" and "new," alluding to the Kokinshu editors' apparent program of thoughtfully intercalating Old (late 8th and early to mid 9th c.)poems with New (late 9th to early 10th c.)




No. 2

紀貫之

はるたちける日よめる

袖ひちてむすびし水のこほれるを春立つけふの風やとくらむ

sode hijite
musubishi mizu no
kooreru wo
haru tatsu kyou no
kaze ya tokuramu

Ki no Tsurayuki

Composed on "the first day of pring."

Waters I cupped my
hands to drink, wetting
my sleeves, still frozen:
Might this first day of
spring's wind thaw them?

The topic calls for anticipation of spring, never soon enough (compare poems on the coming of autumn, by contrast almost always arriving sooner than expected). The theme is an implied contrast between the calendar, which has announced the arrival of spring and its warm breezes (through an allusion, perhaps, to the Chinese Book of Rites), and the conceit of sleeves wet with water from the previous year's summer still frozen with winter's cold. The promise of spring remains unfulfilled but by taking the compass of three successive seasons the poet affirms his faith in the calendar.




No. 3

よみ人しらず

題しらず

春霞たてるやいづこみよしののよしのの山に雪はふりつつ

harugasumi
tateru ya izuko
miyoshino no
yoshino no yama ni
yuki wa furitsutsu

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Where are the promised
mists of spring?
In Yoshino, fair hills
of Yoshino, snow
falling still

The topic is lingering snow. The sequence has established the arrival, by the calendar, of spring.Yoshino, with mountains among the deepest in the Yamato region and the vicinity of the capital, was a "poem pillow" (utamakura) noted both for heavy snowfall and for cherry blossoms. The poet complains (complaint is among the prevailing moods of Kokinshu poetry) that despite the official arrival of spring, the mists (much less the flowers) of spring have yet to appear.




No. 35

よみ人しらず

題しらず

梅花たちよるばかりありしより人のとがむるかにぞしみぬる

ume no hana
tachiyoru bakari
arishi yori
hito no togamuru
ka ni zo shiminuru

Anonymous

Topic unknown

I lingered only a moment
beneath the apricot blossoms
And now I am
blamed for my
scented sleeves

In the context of its presumed source, the personal collection of Fujiwara no Kanesuke (d. 933), this is a love poem sent to a woman facetiously complaining that incense, redolent of apricot (or plum) blossoms, burnt to scent her robes, has infused his own, and that their relationship has thus been discovered by members of his household. That his complaint is facetious is attested by the evidence that he sent this poem to the woman (who knows better) by way of stating his intention not to be dissuaded. The editors of Kokinshu signal their intentions to reread this as a poem on "plum blossoms," not love, by placing it as an anonymous poem obliquely praising the seductive depth of the scent of the blossoms, in support of the poet's claim to have lingered only briefly.







Second Book of Spring
No. 69

よみ人しらず

題しらず

春霞たなびく山のさくら花うつろはむとや色かはりゆく

harugasumi
tanabiku yama no
sakurabana
utsurowamu to ya
iro kawariyuku

Anonymous

Topic unknown

On hills where mists of spring
trail, glowing faintly,
do the flowers' fading
colors foretell
their fall?

Mist and cherry blossoms are the preeminent images of spring. The placement of this poem at the beginning of the Second Book of Spring asserts that the imminent fading of the blossoms, perhaps showing through a screen of (faint pink, by Chinese poetic convention) mist, marks the passage beyond the midpoint of the season and thus appropriately opens the second movement of spring. This is the first of a sequence of 21 poems on the topic falling cherry blossoms. (Concerning the importance of topical sequences in Kokinshu, refer to the note on No. 223, below.)




No. 70

よみ人しらず

題しらず

まてといふにちらでしとまる物ならばなにを桜に思ひまさまし

mate to iu ni
chirade shi tomaru
mono naraba
nani wo sakura ni
omoimasamashi

Anonymous

Topic unknown

If saying "stay!"
would stop their
falling, could I hold
these blossoms
more dear?

In the context of Kokinshu the question is best taken rhetorically: It is because the blossoms are bound to fall soon that they are so admired (cf. No. 71). If one could command them, with a word, to last, their fragile beauty would be diminished. In an earlier context the (presumably late 8th or early 9th c.) anonymous poet's intention may have been, on the contrary, to suggest that if only the blossoms would stay, per demand, nothing could surpass their beauty. Such a reading, though grammatically less plausible, is accepted by some medieval and modern commentators. One early Edo period commentator, Kigin (d. 1705), suggests that an ideal reader might well hesitate to choose.




No. 71

よみ人しらず

題しらず

のこりなくちるぞめでたき桜花ありて世中はてのうければ

nokori naku
chiru zo medetaki
sakurabana
arite yo no naka
hate no ukereba

Anonymous

Topic unknown

It's their falling without regret
I admire
Cherry blossoms:
a world of sadness
if they'd stayed

"Without regret" (nokori naku), literally "leaving nothing behind," implies utter detachment from the world. This is a statement of what was to become the normative esthetic and ethos of the cherry blossom as symbol of the fragility of beauty (and the beauty of fragility): better to die early than linger in this world and suffer the consequences, among them an awareness of the vanity of human aspirations and of the futility of living on. (An implicit exception is that to have left a poem such as this one, if anonymously, is not to have lived in vain.)




No. 72

よみ人しらず

題しらず

このさとにたびねしぬべしさくら花ちりのまがひにいへぢわすれて

kono sato ni
tabine shinu beshi
sakurabana
chiri no magai ni
ieji wasurete

Anonymous

Topic unknown

I seem bound to sleep
in this village tonight:
Entranced by falling
blossoms, I've forgotten
my way home

Entranced by clouds of falling blossoms, a traveller has lost track of the way home and is resigned to spending the night in an unfamiliar village. The poem suggests that the beauty of the blossoms is not an altogether benign force. (Compare the verse by Izumi Shikibu, "...the [cherry] blossoms, indeed, are shackles to this world," or the hokku by Sobaku [d. 1821]: "All the cherry blossoms / I saw today / weighing me down.")




No. 73

よみ人しらず

題しらず

空蝉の世にもにたるか花ざくらさくと見しまにかつちりにけり

utsusemi no
yo ni mo nitaru ka
hanazakura
saku to mishi ma ni
katsu chirinikeri

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Are they not like
this fleeting world?
Cherry blossoms:
no sooner do they flower
than they fall

The phrase utsusemi no yo ("this fleeting world") in 9th century usage and after, with its image of the discarded shell of a cicada, refers to this world of (human) existence as empty and insubstantial, hence meaningless, or as mutable and ephemeral. The force of the simile in this poem draws on the second sense.




No. 103

ありはらのもとかた

寛平御時きさいの宮のうたあはせのうた

霞立つ春の山べはとほけれど吹きくる風は花のかぞする

kasumi tatsu
haru no yamabe wa
tookeredo
fukikuru kaze wa
hana no ka zo suru

Ariwara no Motokata

From the Empress's Poetry Contest of the Kanpyo Era

The hills where
spring mists rise are distant,
yet the wind comes,
bringing the
blossoms' scent

A long sequence (41 poems) on cherry blossoms blooming and falling, extending from the latter part of the first book of spring through the beginning of the second book, is followed by two shorter sequences on the topics blossoming flowers and falling flowers. These are poems on late spring flowers (which may or may not include mountain cherries and late-blooming cherry trees). This poem concludes the sequence blossoming flowers. (Cf. No. 69 on the conjunction of images of spring mist and flowers.)




No. 104

みつね

うつろへる花を見てよめる

花見れば心さへにぞうつりけるいろにはいでじ人もこそしれ

hana mireba
kokoro sae ni zo
utsurikeru
iro ni wa ideji
hito mo koso shire

Mitsune

Composed when looking at fading blossoms

When I gaze on
fading blossoms
this heart, too, would fade with them:
May my feelings not be seen
lest others come to know

This is the first in the sequence of poems on falling flowers. The speaker seems to fear something we are told Heian poets took some pride in: a reputation for extreme sensitivity.




No. 105

よみ人しらず

題しらず

鶯のなくのべごとにきて見ればうつろふ花に風ぞふきける

uguisu no
naku nobe goto ni
kite mireba
utsurou hana ni
kaze zo fukikeru

Anonymous

Topic unknown

To each meadow
where the warbler cries
I come and see
the wind blow
fading flowers

Under the topic falling flowers this is the first of a sub-sequence of 6 verses on warblers lamenting the blossoms. The speaker, visiting flowers in meadows where trees are in bloom, finds that in each meadow, warblers are crying, and the wind is blowing petals from the boughs, and infers the relation between the two events. The sense, ambiguous in the text as in the translation, is thus not that the speaker was drawn by the warblers' cries to seek their cause. As one late 15th century commentary ("Kobun") states the matter, the difference between these two readings is slight, but it is upon slight differences that the beauty (yugen) of such poems depends.




No. 107

典侍洽子朝臣

題しらず

ちる花のなくにしとまる物ならば我鶯におとらましやは

chiru hana no
naku ni shi tomaru
mono naraba
ware uguisu ni
otoramashi ya wa

Naishi Ameneiko no Ason

Topic unknown

If crying were
enough to stop
the blossoms' falling
would the warbler succeed
where I myself have failed?

Compare this to No. 70, above. On another reading, the poet would be asking whether, if crying were enough to stop the blossoms' falling, she would cry no less plaintively than the warbler.







Book of Summer
No. 135

よみ人しらず

題しらず

わがやどの池の藤波さきにけり山郭公いつかきなかむ

このうた、ある人のいはく、かきのもとの人まろが也

wa ga yado no
ike no fujinami
sakinikeri
yamahototogisu
itsu ka kinakamu

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Wisteria flowers
blossom in waves
on my garden pond:
Will the mountain cuckoo
come, then, and sing?

Some say this poem was composed by Kakinomoto Hitomaro.

The topic is early summer. The flowers of the garden are mirrored in the surface of the pond, their reflection perhaps superimposed on waves raised by an early summer breeze. The mountain cuckoo, hototogisu, is the dominant image of the brief book of summer in Kokinshu, appearing in 25 of the 34 poems and associated, in Kokinshu and after, with the 5th and 6th months of the lunar calendar. Summer begins in the 4th month, and the cuckoo has not yet begun to sing. Wisteria blossoms are a late spring / early summer image. One Nijo School commentary of the late 15th century urges the reader to understand that "It's not now that the wisteria is in bloom, I'm longing for the cuckoo to complement the flowers with its voice,' but yes, now it's summer, and the wisteria is in bloom; might the cuckoo come before long and sing?'"




No. 152

みくにのまち

題しらず

やよやまて山郭公事づてむ我世中にすみわびぬとよ

yayoya mate
yamahototogisu
kotozutemu
ware yo no naka ni
sumiwabinu to yo

Mikuni no Machi

Topic unknown

Wait, Cuckoo
Take my message
to the mountains:
I too have learned
to weary of this world

The cuckoo was thought, like other birds in many traditional cultures, to act as a messenger between this and other worlds. The intended recipient of the message here may be one who has entered the afterworld, since the cuckoo was also believed to be an intermediary between the living and the dead, or a recluse who has departed from this mundane world to practice austerities in the mountains, the proper abode of the Mountain Cuckoo (yama-hototogisu) addressed in the poem.







First Book of Autumn
No. 172

よみ人しらず

題しらず

きのふこそさなへとりしかいつのまにいなばそよぎて秋風の吹く

kinou koso
sanae torishika
itsu no ma ni
inaba soyogite
akikaze no fuku

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Only yesterday
seedlings were planted:
So soon, now,
ears of grain tremble
as the autumn wind blows

The implied topic is autumn wind. One prevalent theme of early autumn poems, those of the opening of the first autumn book of Kokinshu and others later in the classical tradition, is surprise at how quickly and stealthily the season arrives. Surprise is registered here by hyperbole: only a day ago, so it seems, the rice seedlings were planted, yet today they are ready for harvesting. The word soyogite, (translated here as "tremble") is at least partly an onomatopoeia of susurration which lacks a good English equivalent.




No. 176

よみ人しらず

題しらず

こひこひてあふ夜はこよひあまの河きり立ちわたりあけずもあらなむ

koikoite
au yo wa koyoi
ama no kawa
kiri tachiwatari
akezu mo aranamu

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Longing and longing
tonight at last we meet:
May the mist rise thick
on the River of Heaven
and keep the day from dawning

The topic is tanabata, the festival of the Oxherd and the Weaver, lovers who were transformed into the stars Altair and Vega in the Milky Way (River of Heaven) and condemned to meet only one night in the year, the 7th of the 7th lunar month. Autumn mist, kiri, a strongly seasonal image, is the counterpart of spring mist or haze (kasumi). The implied speaker may be either of the two stars or both.




No. 222

よみ人しらず

題しらず

萩の露玉にぬかむととればけぬよし見む人は枝ながら見よ

ある人のいはく、この哥はならのみかどの御哥なりと

hagi no tsuyu
tama ni nukamu to
toreba kenu
yoshi mimu hito wa
eda nagara miyo

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Should I pluck the drops of dew
to thread as jewels
they'd vanish:
Best see them as they are
set on boughs of clover

Some say that this poem was composed by the Nara Emperor.

The mitate (visual metaphor) of dew drops as evanescent jewels is a familiar one. Dew is closely associated with the bush clover, hagi, a distinctive autumn flower.




No. 223

よみ人しらず

題しらず

をりて見ばおちぞしぬべき秋はぎの枝もとををにおけるしらつゆ

orite miba
ochizo shinu beki
akihagi no
eda mo to-o-o ni
okeru shiratsuyu

Anonymous

Topic unknown

If I were to bend a bough
to pluck it
they must surely scatter:
trembling drops of dew
on autumn bush clover

Sequences (shidai) of poems on the same topic, composed of subtle variations in thematic treatment, are the building blocks which make Kokinshu a coherent and readable text rather than a simple collection of poems arranged topically. Medieval commentators devoted considerable attention to the designs underlying the editors' composition of such sequences (prominent in the seasonal and love books), which come into view only when one poem is read as a response to a preceding poem or series of poems. In this instance, the reader is invited to reread No. 222 against 223 and weigh the differences between a conceit and a more literal treatment of the same topic, gem-like droplets of dew on leaves or petals of bush clover.







Second Book of Autumn
No. 256

つらゆき

いしやまにまうでける時、おとは山のもみぢを見てよめる

秋風のふきにし日よりおとは山峯のこずゑも色づきにけり

akikaze no
fukinishi hi yori
otowayama
mine no kozue mo
irozukinikeri

Ki no Tsurayuki

On seeing autumn leaves on Otowa Mountain while visiting Ishiyama

From that first day
the winds of autumn sounded
the tips of trees on
Otowa Mountain's peak
were turning color

The name of Otowa Mountain, a pillow word, affords a pun on the word oto meaning "sound." This is the eighth of a series of 19 poems on the topic autumn leaves which opens the second book of autumn. Autumn leaves is also the dominant image of the latter part of the season, appearing in more than half of the poems in the book. The poem suggests (cf. No. 172), retrospectively, the idea of nature anticipating the calendar (cf. No. 3 and many other spring poems in which the season is perceived as falling behind the calendar).




No. 257

としゆきの朝臣

これさだのみこの家の哥合によめる

白露の色はひとつをいかにして秋のこのはをちぢにそむらむ

shiratsuyu no
iro wa hitotsu wo
ika ni shite
aki no ko no ha wo
chiji ni somuramu

Toshiyuki no Ason

Composed for a Poetry Contest at the House of Prince Koresada

White dew
all of a single color:
How then does it dye
the leaves of autumn
a thousand different shades?

The theory underlying this and the following poems is that dew drops (together with frost and raindrops of cold autumn showers) are the cause of the coloration of leaves. "White dew" is often a near synonym for "dew" but the specific association of autumn with the color white (following Chinese theories of the "five elements") is exploited here to underscore the paradox. The "thousand shades" is a conventional hyperbole. The primary colors of autumn foliage in classical poetry were red, yellow and rust.




No. 258

壬生忠岑

秋の夜のつゆをばつゆとおきながらかりの涙やのべをそむらむ

aki no yo no
tsuyu wo ba tsuyu to
oki nagara
kari no namida ya
nobe wo somuramu

Mibu no Tadamine

(Composed for a Poetry Contest at the House of Prince Koresada)

As the dew of autumn's night
settles in place,
Will the falling tears
of wild geese
dye the fields yet deeper?

Again the theory that dew causes the leaves to turn is invoked. The conceit is that because the wild geese, flying south in autumn, cry they must shed tears, and that since tears are a poetic homologue of dew, those (figurative) tears might combine forces with the dew to intensify the coloration of the grasses of the fields.




No. 259

よみ人しらず

題しらず

あきのつゆいろいろごとにおけばこそ山のこのはのちくさなるらめ

aki no tsuyu
iroiro koto ni
okeba koso
yama no ko no ha no
chigusa narurame

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Surely the autumn dew
must have its varied ways
to turn the mountain's leaves
so many shades
of color

This, a variation on the theme of No. 257, is also a tentative response to that poem's question: it must be something in the way that dew settles on the leaves that accounts for its varied effects: leaves of differing colors.




No. 266

よみ人しらず

是貞のみこの家の哥合のうた

秋ぎりはけさはなたちそさほ山のははそのもみぢよそにても見む

akigiri wa
kesa wa na tachi so
saoyama no
hahaso no momiji
yoso nite mo mimu

Anonymous

Composed for a Poetry Contest at the House of Prince Koresada

Let no autumn mist
rise this morning,
that I might at least from afar
see the colored leaves
of the oaks of Mount Sao

This is the penultimate poem in the sequence of 19 poems on the topic autumn leaves (momiji) which opens the second book of autumn. This sequence is followed by 13 poems on chrysanthemum flowers, but the topic of momiji is then resumed under the rubric falling leaves (rakuyo) in a 25 poem sequence which extends till nearly the end of the book. A parallel is thus established between the sequential arrangement of poems on cherry blossoms in the two books of spring, and these on autumn leaves.




No. 274

とものり

菊の花のもとにて人の人まてるかたをよめる

花見つつ人まつ時はしろたへの袖かとのみぞあやまたれける

hana mitsutsu
hito matsu toki wa
shirotae no
sode ka to nomi zo
ayamatarekeru

Tomonori

Composed of a figure of a person waiting, beside chrysanthemum blossoms, for another person

Looking at flowers,
waiting for my love
I took the blossoms
for the white
sleeve of his gown

An allusion to a verse by the Chinese poet Tao Qian (d. 427), cited by early Kamakura commentators, may have been intended here, but as Muromachi exegetes affiliated with the Nijo School (the renga poet Sogi and his teacher To no Joen) asserted, recogniton of the allusion adds nothing to an understanding of the poem within the Kokinshu context. The "figure" mentioned in the headnote is most likely a model placed on a tray of sand representing, in miniature, a landscape.




No. 284

よみ人しらず

題しらず

たつた河もみぢば流る神なびのみむろの山に時雨ふるらし

tatsutagawa
momijiba nagaru
kamunabi no
mimuro no yama ni
shigure furu rashi

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Tatsuta River is
flush with red leaves:
Autumn showers must be
falling on Mimuro Mountain
in Kamunabi

A variant text reads "Asuka River is flush with red leaves..."

Mimuro, a noun meaning "sacred grove" or "dwelling place of the gods," became the name of mountainous area which was the site of Tatsuta Shrine, above the Tatsuta River. Kamunabi (mountains "where gods dwell") refers to the same area, noted for autumn leaves. The poet speculates on the unseen cause of a very visible (and desirable) effect: a brocade of red and yellow leaves covering the Tatsuta River, downstream from Mimuro.




No. 289

よみ人しらず

題しらず

秋の月山辺さやかにてらせるはおつるもみぢのかずを見よとか

aki no tsuki
yamabe sayaka ni
teraseru wa
otsuru momiji no
kazu wo miyo to ka

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Does the autumn moon
cast its light so starkly
on the mountain's edge
that we may count
each colored leaf that falls?

A rhetorical question, perhaps: the speaker asks why the autumn moon casts its light so starkly (sayaka) and proposes an answer: that the moon's intention is to intensify our perception of the falling of leaves and thus of the passage of the season towards winter. It is not "fallen leaves" but "leaves (now) falling" which the speaker sees so clearly. Such distinctions (some of them obscured by the ambiguities of Heian grammar) often mark the differences which lend a poem its force.




No. 290

よみ人しらず

題しらず

吹く風の色のちくさに見えつるは秋のこのはのちればなりけり

fuku kaze no
iro no chigusa ni
mietsuru wa
aki no ko no ha no
chireba narikeri

Anonymous

Topic unknown

The gusting wind
shows itself
in a cloak of many colors:
a scattering of
autumn leaves

A familiar mitate (visual metaphor), autumn leaves seen as a cloak of brocade, dresses another well-worn trope, the wind making itself visible, to create something new. Many of the "New" poems of Kokinshu, those of the late 9th and early 10th c., are based on permutations and recombinations of rhetorical precedents rather than on the invention of unfamiliar conceits.




No. 291

ふぢはらのせきを

題しらず

霜のたてつゆのぬきこそよわからし山の錦のおればかつちる

shimo no tate
tsuyu no nuki koso
yowakarashi
yama no nishiki no
oreba katsu chiru

Sekio

Topic unknown

Warp of frost, weft of dew
these must be weak indeed:
No sooner are they woven than
the mountain's brocades
scatter in shreds

Frost and dew are taken to be the agents causing the autumn leaves to turn (cf. No. 257 above), and to weave from them a multicolored brocade. "Scatter" (chiru) refers to the falling of the leaves.




No. 297

つらゆき

北山に紅葉をらむとてまかれりける時によめる

見る人もなくてちりぬるおく山の紅葉はよるのにしきなりけり

miru hito mo
nakute chirinuru
okuyama no
momiji wa yoru no
nishiki narikeri

Ki no Tsurayuki

Composed during a visit to the northern hills to pluck autumn leaves

They must fall
with no one to see them:
Red leaves of autumn
deep in the mountains
brocade in the night

The poem alludes to a passage in the biography of Xiang Yu in the Han Shu ―― "to achieve wealth and glory, and not return to one's native village, is like wearing brocades by night" ―― which became proverbial for something done to no effect, or an advantage put to no good.




No. 305

みつね

亭子院の御屏風のゑに、河わたらむとする人のもみぢのちる木 のもとにむまをひかへてたてるをよませたまひければつかうまつりける

立ちとまり見てをわたらむもみぢばは雨とふるとも水はまさらじ

tachitomari
mite wo wataramu
momijiba wa
ame to furu tomo
mizu wa masaraji

Mitsune

Composed and presented in response to imperial command for a folding screen at Teiji-In depicting a person standing beneath falling autumn leaves, beside a halted horse, about to ford a river.

Let me pause to watch
before I cross:
Though they fall like rain
the red leaves
will not swell the river's waters

This is the last of a sequence of 25 poems on falling leaves, and one of three poems in that sequence which were composed for screen paintings (byobu-uta). As medieval commentators noted apropos such poems in Kokinshu, the poet was generally expected to assume the point of view of a figure in the painting when composing a poem such as this one.




No. 306

ただみね

是貞のみこの家の哥合のうた

山田もる秋のかりいほにおくつゆはいなおほせ鳥の涙なりけり

yamada moru
aki no kariio ni
oku tsuyu wa
inaoosedori no
namida narikeri

Tadamine

Composed for a Poetry Contest at the House of Prince Koresada

The dew that settles
on a makeshift hut
in this mountain field:
tears shed by the
Rice-bearing Bird

The topic is autumn fields. Cf. No. 258 for a similar troping of dew to the tears of birds. In this poem, the dew on the hut or its roof is a mitate for such tears. The "rice-bearing bird" (inaoose-dori), the identity of which was debated in early commentaries, became one of the "Three Birds" of the "Secret Teachings of Kokinshu," a knowledge of which was requisite to formal recognition as a waka poet throughout most of the medieval and early Edo periods.







Book of Travel
No. 409

よみ人しらず

題しらず

ほのぼのと明石の浦の朝霧に島がくれ行く舟をしぞ思ふ

このうたは、ある人のいはく、柿本人麿が哥也

honobono to
akashi no ura no
asagiri ni
shimagakure yuku
fune wo shi zo omou

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Into the mist, glowing with dawn
across the Bay of Akashi
a boat carries my thoughts
into hiding
islands beyond

Some say that this poem was composed by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro.

Passage into Akashi Bay meant crossing the official gateway at Settsu from the Inner to the Outer Provinces, and the implied topic is border-crossing. This is one of the most often quoted and allegorically glossed poems of Kokinshu, and became one of a core of poems treated as having profoundly esoteric meanings within the "Secret Teachings of Kokinshu." Its reputation was enhanced, certainly, by the attribution to Hitomaro, venerated as one of the deities of the Way of Poetry. One Nijo School commentary suggests that the poem, generally taken as an allegory of the death of Prince Takechi, was deliberately placed by the editors in the book of travel rather than in that of mourning to free it from taboos attaching to poems of mourning.







Second Book of Love
No. 571

よみ人しらず

(寛平御時きさいの宮の哥合のうた)

恋しきにわびてたましひ迷ひなばむなしきからのなにやのこらむ

koishiki ni
wabite tamashii
madoinaba
munashiki kara no
na ni ya nokoramu

Anonymous

(From the Empress's Poetry Contest of the Kanpyo Era)

If in despair of love
my soul should wander,
am I to be remembered
as one who left
a corpse in vain?

The speaker asks whether despair at unrequited love might cause her (or his?) soul to depart from her body, leaving a reputation for having lived for nothing more than vain affection. The auxilliary particle of causation, kara, imposes, in the context, an indecorous but irresistible pun on the noun kara meaning empty shell or corpse. Some medieval commentaries responded by suggesting that the reader should hold the double entendre in mind without letting it obtrude on the "surface" of the poem.




No. 572

紀つらゆき

題しらず

君こふる涙しなくは唐衣むねのあたりは色もえなまし

kimi kouru
namida shi naku wa
karakoromo
mune no atari wa
iro moenamashi

Ki no Tsurayuki

(From the Empress's Poetry Contest of the Kanpyo Era)

If not for the tears
my loved one makes me shed,
this fine Chinese robe would be
singed round the breast
with the colors of passion

The topic, as in the previous poem, is unrequited love. The poem extends the familiar conceit that tears can quench the flames of longing. Within the scope of Kokinshu love poetry, the passion of unrequited love typically leads to resentment and tears of blood. This would appear to be an exception.







Third Book of Love
No. 635

をののこまち

題しらず

秋の夜も名のみなりけりあふといへば事ぞともなくあけぬるものを

aki no yo mo
na nomi narikeri
au to ieba
koto zo to mo naku
akenuru mono wo

Ono no Komachi

Topic unknown

Autumn nights, long
only in name:
Let's meet, we say
yet dawn comes to part us
before we've begun

In the vocabulary of classical poetry, which often (as in this case) conforms to the prescriptions of the calendar, autumn nights are defined as increasingly longer than those of summer. Not long enough for love, however: the complaint is that the reality fails to live up to the name (reputation).




No. 636

凡河内みつね

題しらず

ながしとも思ひぞはてぬ昔より逢ふ人からの秋のよなれば

nagashi to mo
omoi zo hatenu
mukashi yori
au hito kara no
aki no yo nareba

Mitsune

Topic unknown

For me, not long
enough at all:
Autumn nights have always
taken their measure
from the depths of one's love

Mitsune is quoted here as seconding Komachi's judgement in the previous poem, and makes explicit that the length of an autumn night is entirely relative.




No. 637

よみ人しらず

題しらず

しののめのほがらほがらとあけゆけばおのがきぬぎぬなるぞかなしき

shinonome no
hogara hogara to
akeyukeba
ono ga kinuginu
naru zo kanashiki

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Just as the morning sky
is brightening to dawn
How sad that we must
sort our robes
and part

From the "night" of the previous poems the time advances to morning (shinonome refers to the moments just before dawn), and the topic here and in the following series of poems is parting at dawn (kinuginu). Kinuginu (literally, robes, with the sense of "these robes and those") refers to the custom of lovers sharing the clothes they were dressed in to use as bedding for the night, then separating their respective robes in the morning before parting.




No. 638

藤原国経朝臣

題しらず

曙ぬとて今はの心つくからになどいひしらぬ思ひそふらむ

akenu tote
ima wa no kokoro
tsuku kara ni
nado iishiranu
omoi souramu

Fujiwara no Kunitsune no Ason

Topic unknown

Dawn has come'
I resign myself to parting:
Why then must thoughts
I can t find words for
fasten to my heart?

This and the two poems below continue the theme of parting at dawn, which extends through a sequence of about 12 verses.




No. 639

としゆきの朝臣

寛平御時きさいの宮の哥合のうた

あけぬとてかへる道にはこきたれて雨も涙もふりそぼちつつ

akenu tote
kaeru michi ni wa
kokitarete
ame mo namida mo
furisohochitsutsu

Toshiyuki no Ason

From the Empress's Poetry Contest of the Kanpyo Era

Dawn has come'
on the path home from love
I am drenched:
rainfall swelling
my falling tears

The confusion of tears and rainfall was a cliche, but the poet renews it with the use of uncommon diction, kokitarete ("drenched"), and a pivot making both rain and tears the subjects of the same verb, furisohochi (literally, to fall and soak through).




No. 640

題しらず

しののめの別ををしみ我ぞまづ鳥よりさきに鳴きはじめつる

shinonome no
wakare wo oshimi
ware zo mazu
tori yori saki ni
nakihajimetsuru

Utsuku

Topic unknown

I cry aloud my
regret for parting
even before the rooster
crows the break
of dawn

The arrival of dawn, conventionally announced by the crowing of a rooster, means that the lover who has been visiting for the night must depart, all too early. Anticipating the bird's cry with her own, the speaker invokes a contrast between the implacability of time (and of convention) and the depth of her feelings.




No. 645

よみ人しらず

業平朝臣の伊勢のくににまかりたりける時、斎宮なりける人にいとみそかにあひて、又のあしたに人やるすべなくて思ひをりけるあひだに、女のもとよりおこせたりける

きみやこし我や行きけむおもほえず夢かうつつかねてかさめてか

kimi ya koshi
ware ya yukikemu
omooezu
yume ka utsutsu ka
nete ka samete ka

Anonymous

When Narihira visited the province of Ise, he met, in secrecy, the person who was serving as the High Priestess. The next morning, before he was able to find a way to send her a message, this poem was delivered from the woman.

Did you come to me?
Did I visit you?
I cannot know.
Dream? Reality?
Was I asleep or awake?




No. 646

なりひらの朝臣

返し

かきくらす心のやみに迷ひにき夢うつつとは世人さだめよ

kakikurasu
kokoro no yami ni
madoiniki
yume utsutsu to wa
yohito sadame yo

Narihira

Reply

I wandered, too
in heart-blinding darkness
Was it dream
or reality?
Let others decide







Fifth Book of Love
No. 797

小野小町

題しらず

色見えでうつろふ物は世中の人の心の花にぞ有りける

iro miede
utsurou mono wa
yo no naka no
hito no kokoro no
hana ni zo arikeru

Ono no Komachi

Topic unknown

Not changing color
yet fading all the same:
Such is the flower of
the heart of one who survives
this world of love

On an equally plausible affirmative reading of the ambiguous verb miete, the same poem might be translated:

All too visibly
its color fades:
The flower of the heart
of one passing through
this world of love

The wording of the poem affords two logically opposed readings, depending on whether the verb "to be visible" is taken affirmatively (miete) or negatively (miede), a question the script in which Kokinshu was recorded leaves undecided. A majority of commentators, medieval and modern, have preferred the direct irony of the negative reading reflected in the first of the two translations above. Others have argued in favor the more subtly ironic affirmative reading. A small minority suggest that the miete /miede crux is to be taken as a pun (kakekotoba), inviting the reader to suspend judgement between the two contrary readings and entertain the possibility that both may be true at once.







Book of Mourning
No. 832

かむつけのみねを

[ほりかはのおほきおほいまうち君、身まかりにける時に、深草の山にをさめてけるのちによみける]

ふかくさののべの桜し心あらばことしばかりはすみぞめにさけ

fukakusa no
nobe no sakura shi
kokoro araba
kotoshi bakari wa
sumizome ni sake

Kamutsuke no Mineo

Composed after the Horikawa Chancellor died and his remains were interred near Mount Fukakusa

If cherry trees indeed
have feelings, may those
of the fields of Fukakusa
this year, at least
shroud themselves in black blossoms

The belief that cherry trees are animate and sentient beings, invoked frequently in classical waka (and in Noh drama), likely drew force from folk-religious cults of cherry trees as local deities (cf. the Druidic tree-worship cults which gave rise to Christmas tree rites) and further support from syncretic Tendai doctrines of universal Buddha-mind. The apostrophe in this poem, addressed to the cherry trees, can thus be taken literally; not, that is, as prosopopoeia. This does not diminish the extremity of the conceit of black blossoms, calculated to convey the burden of the speaker's grief.







Second Book of Miscellaneous Topics
No. 947

そせい

題しらず

いづこにか世をばいとはむ心こそのにも山にもまどふべらなれ

izuko ni ka
yo wo ba itowamu
kokoro koso
no ni mo yama ni mo
madoubera nare

Sosei

Topic unknown

Where might I find
distaste for this world?
In pastures and hills alike
my heart yearns
to stray

The poems gathered in the two Books of Miscellaneous Topics are indeed diverse. A few, at the beginning of the first book, are celebratory, but the majority dwell on themes of disappointment, mortality, and loss. The speaker in this poem by the eminent cleric and gifted poet Sosei complains of a double bind: the imperative to flee the corruptive influences of civilization and seek detachment in the purity of the pastoral' is undermined by the (eminently civilized) delights of nature――the motifs of the seasonal topics of waka are implied――which prove to be no less a distraction from the path towards ascetic withdrawal.




No. 981

よみ人しらず

題しらず

いざここにわが世はへなむ菅原や伏見の里のあれまくもをし

iza koko ni
waga yo wa henamu
sugawara ya
fushimi no sato no
aremaku mo oshi

Anonymous

Topic unknown

So be it, let me
live out my life
here in Sugawara Fushimi,
lest my old home go
sadly to ruin

This and the three following poems, on the topic dwellings, were treated within the medieval esoteric teachings as among a number of densely allegorical poems uttered by deities or immortals and framed as lessons based on syncretic Shinto-Buddhist and proto-nativist doctrine. In the sequence here, the poems were understood, on one level, as lamenting the moral corruption of society (metaphorically suggested here by the anticipated ruin of "my old home") which has forced the gods and their Buddhist avatars to manifest themselves in the world and set things right.




No. 982

よみ人しらず

題しらず

わがいほはみわの山もとこひしくはとぶらひきませすぎたてるかど

waga io wa
miwa no yamamoto
koishiku wa
toburaikimase
sugi tateru kado

Anonymous

Topic unknown

My house is
at the foot of Miwa Mountain:
Should fondness call
please visit the gate
where cedars stand




No. 983

きせんほうし

題しらず

わがいほは宮このたつみしかぞすむ世をうぢ山と人はいふなり

waga io wa
miyako no tatsumi
shika zo sumu
yo wo ujiyama to
hito wa iu nari

Monk Kisen

Topic unknown

Dwelling to the east
and south of the capital,
in Ujiyama I live:
Some say I've forsaken
their sad world




No. 984

よみ人しらず

題しらず

あれにけりあはれいくよのやどなれやすみけむ人のおとづれもせぬ

arenikeri
aware ikuyo no
yado nare ya
sumikemu hito no
otozure mo senu

Anonymous

Topic unknown

Ruined, alas
how many ages
has this house endured?
Not even the one who
once lived here now calls







Book of Miscellaneous Forms (Haikai)
No. 1015

凡河内みつね

題しらず

むつごともまだつきなくにあけぬめりいづらは秋のながしてふよは

mutsugoto mo
mada tsukinaku ni
akenumeri
izura wa aki no
nagashi chou yo wa

Mitsune

Topic unknown

Words, and acts
of love yet done
and now, too soon, it's dawn:
What of those "long
autumn nights"?

This was likely meant as a parody of Komachi's poem on the same topic (No. 635, above). Poets of the late Heian era and after were puzzled by the term haikai (by which the editors of Kokinshu probably meant "dissonant" poems using archaic or colloquial diction, or obtrusive, vaguely grotesque conceits), with good reason, since a fair number of poems not placed in the haikai section are similar to poems such as this one. What marks this poem as haikai is the somewhat colloquial diction, not the topic or its treatment.




No. 1038

よみ人しらず

題しらず

おもふてふ人の心のくまごとににたちかくれつつ見るよしもがな

omou chou
hito no kokoro no
kuma goto ni
tachikakuretsutsu
miru yoshi mo ga na

Anonymous

Topic unknown

If only I could creep
into each corner
of the heart of the one
who says she loves me
and keep watch

This could just as well be "the one who says he loves me." It is not the diction so much as the conceit which marks this poem as haikai. The premise is that promises of love invite suspicion and, too often, lead to resentment. The phrase "poems of resentment" (urami no uta) became a synonym for "poems of love" (koi no uta) early in the classical waka tradition. Compare the poem in the 15th episode of Tales of Ise for a somewhat more decorous variation on the same conceit:

I long to find a path
into the depths of Mount Shinobu
that I might fathom
the secrets
of my loved one's heart

"Shinobu," reputedly the name of a mountain in what is now Fukushima prefecture and a "poem pillow," is also a verb meaning to endure, conceal, long for, remember, and more.







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