Thanks, I see it now as well. It’s always interesting to discover different interpretations of a sentence that looks quite straightforward in the beginning (at least to me ). Curious to see what learnings the next round of poems will have for me!
While as far as I can tell this is correct, it makes me wonder what 秋は悲しき is doing in poem 5. Is this the Classical Japanese equivalent of ending a show in the middle of a sentence?
Edit:I already posted Temca’s answer to the same problem but with verbs. ぞ forces attributive form. Well that sure reinforces that lesson.
Just to let everyone who is waiting know: I’ll be doing the work on the poem today or tomorrow!
I might pick up 10 towards the end of the week if I have spare time (which I should be able to make) since nobody else voted for it and I like doing the extra research.
Here is my long awaited research of poem #8:
This time I did the research alone so please correct me if I messed up ^^
8 - わが庵は 都のたつみ しかぞすむ 世をうぢ山と 人はいふなり （喜撰法師)
Loosely: People say that I am a secluded hermit living in Ujiyama, but my hermitage is just to the southeast of the capital! - on 喜撰’s Wikipedia page
Our poem is one of only two poems that can be confidently attributed to 喜撰, according to Wikipedia.
The main lyric feature of the poem is the use of
In this poem this instrument is used twice: In the first part, the word しか can be translated as “然 - like this” and as “鹿 - deer”, thus on the one hand describing that his chosen place to live is just southeast of the capital, and on the other hand adding another rumour that it’s in the countryside (where the deer live).
In the second part, the word うじ can be interpreted as the name of the mountain (宇治山) or as
喜撰 lived in the early Heian period which saw a boom in Japanese literature. Hiragana were invented, which also allowed women to write poetry and literature, as it was not considered befitting for women to learn Chinese characters (which was the only method of writing Japanese until then). But at that time, literacy was only common among the court and Buddhist clergy.
Poetry, in particular, was a staple of court life. Nobles and ladies-in-waiting were expected to be well versed in the art of writing poetry as a mark of their status. A well-written poem could easily make or break one’s reputation, and often was a key part of social interaction.
Is this mountain really just around the corner from the capital?
In the Heian period, the emperor’s palace was moved to Kyoto. So I looked around for a mountain called 宇治山 that is southeast of Kyoto. While I found a city called 宇治市, the only mountain place I came across was Ujiyama Gonokuchi which didn’t look really convincing to me. Further googling brought me to this weblio article which claims that the place formerly known as 宇治山 is now called 喜撰山 - so they even renamed the place after our poet, which I think is quite impressive.
Google Maps claims that the walking distance to the top of the mountain, starting at the Emperor’s Palace, is 21.4 km, so this distance can indeed be covered in a day.
Back in the day, the scenery must have been quite different, though, as the lake near the mountain peak was created by a dam that was built in 1966-1970.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian_period ( https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian-Zeit )
Sorry everyone I know I didn’t keep my word but I fell down a rabbit hole with this one.
9首：花の色は 移りにけりな いたづらに 我身世にふる ながめせしまに
I know that I said I wasn’t going to post a translation, but this one was too beautiful to not do.
A life in vain.
My looks, talents faded
like these cherry blossoms
paling in the endless rains
that I gaze out upon, alone.
- Translation by Peter McMillan, 2008.
The image above is a woodcut by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi showing Ono as an old woman.
小野小町（おののこまち） was born in an unknown year during the Heian Period. Nothing is known with certainty about her life which has captivated peoples’ attention. She is rumoured to be the granddaughter of another Heian Poet, 小野篁（おののたかむら）.
In addition to her poetry she has a reputation as an incredibly beautiful woman with many suitors. You go, girl.
Like most of the poets we’ve looked at so far she is one of the Thirty Six Immortals and also one of the Rokkasen.
Like poem 8, covered by @NicoleRauch, this poem is filled completely with 掛詞.
The straight reading of the poem is examining the changing seasons alongside the passage of time but really it appears to be an allegory about the author ageing.
Here the author is the cherry blossom herself who is an admired beauty who then withers away.
The notable double meanings of this poem are with 「世」、「ふる」、 and 「ながめ」.
- 世（よ） has the straight meaning of 時代（じだい） meaning age or era but is actually a reference to poem 21 of 伊勢物語（いせものがたり） where the same word refers to 男女の仲（だんじょのなか） or the relationship between a husband and wife. Interestingly enough Ono has been linked with the one of the possible authors of Ise Monogatari which is a collection of stories and poetry on sex and Buddhism. Very steamy and very interesting. There’s a translation on JSTOR by Susan Blakely Klein.
- ふる’s meaning here is 経る（へる） “to pass” but to modern eyes looks like 降る（ふる） “to precipitate”. Here I might be reading into it a little but there’s the obvious reading of “time passes by” and then a slightly more depressing or sultry (you decide) reading when taking 降る and 男女の仲.
- The final major wordplay here is on the word 「ながめ」 where it means 眺め（ながめ） “a reverie” or 長雨（ながあめ） “heavy rainfall”.
The whole focus on the blossoms and the ageing is very typical of 「物の哀れ」（もののあわれ） “the pathos of things” where a focus is placed on the transiency and sorrow of beautiful things.
- In popular Japanese culture girls of various cities were given the suffix 小町（こまち） as a pageant prize for being the most beautiful in honour of the author. This practice has mostly given way to the more western “Miss X”.
- There’s also a tradition of different types of legends about Ono: (1) legends about her beauty, (2) legends about her sensuality, (3) legends about her haughtiness, (4) legends about her poetry, and (5) legends about her decline and death. Which just goes to show how nowhere in this world is safe from sexism.
- On the last Sunday in March you can catch the Hanezu Odori in Kyoto which is in honour of Ono. Though I presume it was cancelled this year.
For the second week in a row, I’ve had no time to look into the poems, so thank you everyone who contributed!
The only thing I can say about poem 10 (because I have only read the book) is that 平安 poets sure like their
puns 掛詞 My favorite is probably しかぞすむ from poem 8, especially combined with the illustration from the manga next to it
That is indeed an impressive translatoin. Nice find.
I’m curious about these legends. From your comment about sexism I presume they are not particularly flattering, which I’m surprised to hear. Did you find them directly sexist or indirectly/systemically so? I would expect her to be more respected as one of the thirty-six immortals.
Off the top of my head they include:
- legends of her being a slut;
- a legend where she promises to marry a man if he comes to her bedchamber 99 times in a row only for him to die on the 98th
- legends of her incredible beauty fading to ugliness as she ages.
I suppose the last one isn’t sexist per se, but it’s the same emphasis we see in the west of beauty fading being a negative thing to happen. Far too often it carries the implication with it that once feminine beauty fades nothing worthwhile remains.
Week 3: I would like to research…
- 11 わたの原 八十島かけて 漕ぎ出でぬと 人には告げよ 海人の釣舟 （参議篁）
- 12 天つ風 雲の通ひ路 吹き閉ぢよ をとめの姿 しばしとどめむ （僧正遍照）
- 13 筑波嶺の 峰より落つる 男女川 恋ぞつもりて 淵となりぬる （陽成院）
- 14 陸奥の しのぶもぢずり 誰ゆゑに 乱れそめにし われならなくに （河原左大臣）
- 15 君がため 春の野に出でて 若菜つむ わが衣手に 雪は降りつつ （光孝天皇）
- I’m only here for the discussion, I’m not researching anything.
- I’m only here.
Thanks again to people who contribute Thanks to you all, this thread is everything I hoped for and more Even though I feel bad for not contributing myself.
That makes sense and I follow. I must admit that the second one made me chuckle just because I wasn’t expecting that. The third one is neat mostly because she herself is commenting on the same thing in this very poem–I wonder how much the legend existed already in her own time, and how that can affect our reading of the poem.
A saw someone displaying Karuta cards on their wall recently and recognized them! Already enjoying real-world benefits from our studies. I was really excited to be able to do that and it was fun trying to figure out what the handwriting said.
gah! I wanted 15 but clicked the wrong thing by accident. What do?
Show vote> change vote.
I picked 13 because I can’t get enough of the 恋歌.
thank you very kindly
10 これやこの 行くも帰るも 別れては 知るも知らぬも 逢坂の関 （蝉丸）
The first time I read this it didn’t vibe with me super strong so I’m really glad I decided to revisit it, because man, Yamato is right, this is a cool rhythm. I don’t think I’m quite on the level of phonetic awareness to get how 5-7-5 is a pretty rhythm in Japanese the way I get Indo-European meters, but I really feel it here with all of these parallel structures. I’m going to chalk it up to the biwa player having a good sense of rhythm.
I also really like this poem just because it is more immediately understandable to me with my knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.
Not much concretely is known about him besides being a poor, blind biwa player living in early-Heian Ausaka, but I did find that he went on to become a literary figure of some importance. According to a book of which I only could acces the preview, “The Legend of Semimaru” (linked below), the actualy corpus of Semimaru texts isn’t unmanageably large but the legend itself is and was VERY widely known, morphing to suit various eras’ and authors’ needs as times changed. Some thought him to be a Prince turned beggar (likely originating from an Indian legend), the father of various schools of biwa, and even an actual kami or incarnation of a Buddha (I forget which one and can’t find it again).
One source I found claims he was an apocryphal character of medieval origin, but if that were the case, who wrote this poem? I guess it could be a misattribution. There’s definitely opportunity for some really cool research here, but I’m treating this more as “casually share cool findings with your pals” than full on peer-review article mode. That being said, man I can’t wait until my Japanese is good enough to really start biting into proper Japanese-language scholarship.
The most prominent of these nowadays seems to be Zeami’s Noh play. I don’t know much about Noh, though know I want to seeing how many of these poets end up becoming characters in Noh theatre (I mostly just mean Onono Komachi but i feel like we’ll encounter more). According to the French Wikipedia article, which is except for this detail mostly a translation of the English article, it is unknown whether or not the Noh Semimaru is the same as that of Hyakunin Isshu, but I presume what they meant was they aren’t sure how historically accurate the depiction is, referring to his legendary status described in the above cited monograph.
This is another thing I read somewhere and can’t refind the link for, but I saw a comment saying that his most famous poem is about the fleetingness of human relationships and why we shouldn’t get to attached to others. I presume that interpreter was talking about this poem. What a hyper-Buddhist interpretation, eh? Considering cultural context, that is understandable.
The way I read it, however, was as more of an appreciation simply of the energy of the high-traffic area in which he lived. The strong sense of rhythm, especially in the various parallels, for me creates more of a buzzing energy than quiet contemplation separate from others. Still, I think whoever made the Buddhist reading is probably up to something quite insightful. I wish I could find it again.
I’ve never seen this contraction/shortening/whatever you call it of using verbs substantively in Japanese. Is it like Latin participles? Has anyone else seen this before? I wonder if it is particular to Classical Japanese because I think I read somewhere that they have participles. I’ll look into it some more later but this seemed very linguistically interesting.
French and English Wikipedia articles
While I’m posting, apparently Peter Macmillan’s translation of Hyakunin Isshu contains a wonderful essay on Onono Komachi’s poem from last week. I’m going to see if it exists in any other form freely and legitimately available online besides the preface to his translation.
You mean the dropping of 人/者? Not that I remember, but that sounds like something that would happen in poetry…
14 陸奥の しのぶもぢずり 誰故に みだれ初めにし 我ならなくに (河原左大臣)
I chose this purely because it was one of the two left over from what everyone else chose. Turns out it was quite a good choice, because there was a lot of interesting information about it to be found. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s loads that I still haven’t seen, but for now, here’s what I found:
河原左大臣 was renowned for his courtly elegance and it is rumoured that he was used as a model for the hero in the Tale of Genji. Formerly the son of Emperor Saga, he has been made commoner and had to go by the name みなもと, just like Genji. He later became known as ‘the Riverbank Minister of the Left’ after building a huge mansion on the west bank of the Kamo River in Kyoto, in which he hosted poetry gatherings.
This poem is also the reason some believe him to have travelled all the way to Shinobu, in the northeast of Japan, for official business, where he fell in love with a local woman, which in turn delayed his return home. When he did have to leave, it supposedly inspired him to write this poem. Although this is very likely not the truth, the use of Shinobu became a famous 歌枕(うたまくら: oft-repeated descriptive epithets in poetry. Thanks Jisho).
The exact meaning of the poem is still debated, as it can either be interpreted as the poet’s defence of his faithfulness to his wife, or as an expression of a secret love to someone else. In the latter case, he is actually shifting the blame from himself onto the lady in question for being too attractive. In the Heian period, a forbidden love meant being in love with another man’s wife or with a woman of much higher rank than one’s own.
As such, the ‘wild’ or ‘tangled’ pattern of the しのぶもぢずり represents the heart moved by love through no fault of oneself (われならなくに).
Grammar/Poetic Device things
The first two lines of this poem can be read as 序詞 (じょことば: ‘prefatory modifying statement of a waka, etc.’, courtesy of Jisho. Also related to 枕詞, which we’ve also seen before, but it is not restricted by the number of syllables.) to the following みだれそめにし. After he then goes on to ask who would be responsible for these feelings of his (誰故に), and eventually shifts the blame from himself in the last line, using a form of 倒置法 (とうちほう: word order inversion in a sentence). Grammatically, that line should sit before the third line; the open ended question inferring the blame lies with the other party, the woman. That grammatical and syntactic break after the fourth line is a poetic device called しくぎれ.
As with some of the other poems, we have yet more かけことば in this one.
しのぶ can actually refer to three different things in this poem: the actual location mentioned above, the plant (fern), or the verb meaning. In the latter case, the verb itself has different meanings as well: ‘to conceal’, ‘to endure’, or, if written with a different kanji, ‘to think longingly of’, hence the inferred meaning of ‘to love secretly’.
みだれ in みだれそめにし refers to being in disarray. そめ can either mean ‘to dye’ or ‘to begin’. The former is 縁語 (えんご: associated word), referring back to しのぶもぢずり.
Shinobu in Michinoku, referenced in the poem, is now the city of Fukushima and was, among other things, famous for its pattered cloth dyed by しのぶもぢずり. Fern would be rubbed onto cloth to create a ‘wild’ or ‘tangled’ pattern.
A big rock, the もぢずり stone, lies in the ground in a small Kannon temple in the outskirts of Fukushima City; supposedly it was used to create the pattern by using it to rub the fern pattern onto cloth. It is also said that the woman left behind by みなもと visited that same temple 100 times, after which she was able to see his face in the stone like a mirror.
In the first story of ‘The Ise Stories’, this poem is referenced as well. In the story, a man was hunting in Kasuga, Nara, when he spied two sisters through a crack in a fence. He used his hunting cloak, which had theしのぶもぢずり pattern printed on it, to write a poem and send it to the sisters. Their answer was this poem, written by 河原左大臣.
もぢずり refers to a type of plant, called ねじばな in modern Japanese.
As always, please do add to or question all of this, chances are I’m wrong
I presume this is a typo but I think you got your 福 cities mixed up.
This poem was a hard one for me. One of these days I’ll have to read Genji in translation. I think once I know better how Genji acts, revisiting this poem will be a lot more interesting.
I wonder if you could say the “tangled” pattern that represents his heart is also represented in the tangled grammar as well as trickiness of the かけことば. I really appreciate the formal aspects you’ve pointed out.
I’m always getting my 岡 cities mixed up. 静岡, 福岡, what’s the difference?