19 難波潟 みじかき芦の ふしの間も 逢はでこの世を 過ぐしてよとや （伊勢）
“To go through this life, not meeting
for even as short a time as the space
between two nodes of a reed
in Naniwa Inlet—
is that what you are telling me?” - Joshua S. Mostow, in Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image (English and Japanese Edition)
Lady Ise (伊勢, c. 875/877 – c. 938), also known as Ise no Go (伊勢の御 - Lady Ise) or Ise no Miyasudokoro (伊勢の御息所 - Court Lady Ise), was a Japanese poet in the Imperial court’s waka tradition.
Her father Fujiwara no Tsugukage (藤原 継蔭) was the governor of the prosperous Ise Province, her grandfather Ōnakatomi no Yoshinobu was an important poet of the waka tradition.
Although the Fujiwara family was among the most influential families in Japan at that time, her father’s branch of the Fujiwara family had declined in status, becoming mainly known for its scholarly achievements and rising no higher in the court hierarchy than the position of provincial governor.
Despite being born as a governor’s daughter, she earned a name for herself through her extensive as well as passionate and witty poetry both in her private collection (the so-called Ise Shū) and through Imperial anthologies where her poetry is both frequent and prominent.
She was selected to be one of the
As Professor Mostow explains, the poem has two possible interpretations: one where she has been spurned by a cold lover, and the other where she cannot reveal her hidden love.
Lady Ise’s real name is not known, therefore she is referred to by the position of her father, who was governor of Ise prefecture. This practice is called “Notname” and is frequently used for artists whose identity got lost.
As handmaid of Fujiwara no Onshi (also Atsuko or Yoshiko; 藤原 温子), emperor Uda’s wife, she gained access to the imperial court at the age of about 15. After a non-lasting relationship with Onshi’s brother, she became a concubine to Emperor Uda and gave birth to a son, Prince Yuki-Akari, who died in infancy.
When Onshi died, Lady Ise remained in service to her daughter, Princess Kinshi, who had gotten married to the imperial Prince Atsuyoshi (a son of Emperor Uda). Lady Ise became Atsuyoshi’s lover and had three children with him.
One of these children was the (female) waka poet Nakatsukasa (中務) who was selected alongside her mother as 三十六歌仙.
Natsukasa is also a “Notname” as it refers to her father Atsuyoshi who was minister in the central ministry (
Naniwa Inlet is the bay of what is now the famous city of Osaka, though back then it was a far smaller city, with many waterways, streams and such. Naniwa (Osaka) is often associated with reeds at the time as other poems of the time show, and is mentioned in two other poems in the Hyakunin Isshu (poem 20 and poem 88).