24 このたびは ぬさもとりあへず 手向山 紅葉の錦 神のまにまに (菅家)
菅家 is pronounced かんけ for this chap, whose (I guess proper/clan) name is Sugawara no Michizane. I found it very neat that he just went by the Onyomi reading of his clan name. It looks like this became more of a practice a little bit later, more into the second millennium. I’d never seen this practice before so I just found it neat.
As the book says, he was a pre-eminent scholar of Chinese classics and politician who, after the death of Emperor Uda (who, btw he was going on an excursion with when this poem was written), was exiled and died shortly thereafter.
The book mentions his role in the abolishment of envoys to Tang China, citing reasons of danger and unrest in Tang itself. A funny detail I found on Wikipedia was that before coming out against the position he was actually appointed the position, and there is a theory that because his spoken Chinese was horrible, he got rid of the role altogether to save face.
Honestly, I feel that. I’m way more versed in written Japanese than the spoken language. So if your struggling with one aspect of the language, take heart! So did this god of scholarship! His written Chinese was at least good enough for diplomatic and poetry exchanges.
He had a thing for ume trees, perhaps because of his immersion in the Chinese classics in which they are a tree much celebrated by poetry. Another of his most famous poems (its on Wikipedia with translation) is about a ume tree that he was going to dearly miss when he left Kyoto for exile. Legend has it that the tree in turn missed him so much that it up and flew to Dazaifu Tenmangu, the shrine built over his grave and dedicated to him, gaining the name 飛梅 (alternatively, his friend transplanted its seedlings).
The book mentions that Kanke is deified as a god of scholarship, known as Tenjin (天神). The way this came about is interesting. After his death there was a series of disasters: storms, fires, strange deaths. They were attributed to him, and so to placate his vengeful spirit he was first posthumously promoted back to a high position, and then, when this didn’t work, deified, with a shrine built for him. For the first few centuries of deification he was actually more often considered a kami of natural disasters, before his status as a god of scholarship eclipsed this, I guess as memory of the disasters directly related to him faded. And as Tenjin he still seems to be quite a popularly prayed to kanji by parents and students alike! Maybe if any of you live in Japan you’ve heard of him or come into contact with him already?
Personal Reaction to Contents
We’ve talked a lot about kakekotoba so I’m not going to dive into it much beyond saying たび can be read as 旅 or 度 and that the leaves of the trees are being likened to the nusa’s brocade, which I guess looks similar to leaves. Here is a picture of the thing he forgot which I found helpful:
What a funny irony it is for us to read a poem about offerings (or forgetting offerings, I guess) to the gods by a man who would later be worshiped as a god.
This is probably me speaking as a Christian, but I find the idea of offering the gods own back to the gods heightens the beauty of the scene he is painting with words so much more than anything else could do.
At first I thought his forgetting the nusa to be rather irresponsible, and his offering of the autumn leaves cheeky. Thus, I thought this and 22 were both exceptionally playful/light hearted poems, though having reread the poem several times now writing this I’ve come to appreciate more its concerns with a very deep beauty. Still, I think it is lighter than many of the other Hyakunin Isshu poems, so concerned with sorrow or romance. This might be one of my favourites so far. I’m really enjoying that now a quarter of the way through I’m feeling like I have a sense of the anthology’s character (we will of course see how will this sense is as I have the vast majority of the poems still to read).