🌸 🌲 Classical Japanese Poetry 🍁 ❄

I think that in the poem it’s actually the name ながめ, not the verb ながむ (but they have the exact same double-meaning so it’s not that important here :sweat_smile:).

I looked up again the Reader of Haruo Shirane to be absolutely sure. 跡 has 7 definitions here, and 3 of them can have a link with the poem : “1) footprint ; 3) signs of a person’s coming or going ; 5) keepsake, remains, vestige” (the definition 3 is a little bit abstract but I thought it was interesting). So it’s only because there is 花 in the waka that it means “remains of cherry flowers”. It’s also logical with むなしき枝に.

That was a very clear explanation and example thank you, I understand now

That’s so crazy, I never thought that there would be that much

I think the same way, that’s why I chose to write my translation like that. The translation of L. R. Rodd (who chose the meaning “don’t cry cuckoo”) was strange to me because like you said it’s too big of a shift from the first lines of the waka.

Thanks again for your help I really appreciate it, I will edit the kanij for sabishiki and add some of these very interestings notes with a link towards your 2 posts :wink:

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古今集 609 - Mibu no Tadamine


There is something
causing more attachment, and
more difficult to renounce
than our own life - it’s to wake up
before the end of a dream.

新古今集 445 - Jien


It awakens me,
the crying voice of the deer -
it makes me long for
the past ; ah, these autumn thoughts
of an uncompleted dream…

新古今集 1326 - Daughter of Shunzei


I wipe out the dew
like I did in autumn, long ago -
waking up in the night
where I just saw you,
in this unfinished dream.

:butterfly: Chine (千子) (disciple of Matsuo Bashô, sister of Mukai Kyorai). She died at a young age ; this haiku was her death poem.


just as easily as
she lights up, she fades out…
the firefly

:butterfly: Mukai Kyorai (向井去来) (disciple of Bashô)


on my hand
how sad it is to see her
fading, the firefly

1 : Minuma River at Omiya - Kawase Hasui, 1930.
2 : Fireflies at Ochanomizu - Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1880.


古今集 609

にも : I think that に is placed just in front of “life” for the comparison ; in the Grammar of Haruo Shirane, I think it’s the function “Standard of comparison”. The も seems to be a bound particle.
まさりて < まさる (勝る / 優る) : to surpass, to be superior to.
惜しく : ren’yôkei of the shiku adjective をし : hard to leave behind, causing attachment.
見はてぬ < 見果つ (みはつ) : to see entirely, to watch until the end. Mihate is the mizenkei of the verb ; nu is the rentaikei of the negative auxiliary verb zu.
覚むる < rentaikei of 覚む (さむ) : to wake up.
なりけり : copula nari (to be) + auxiliary verb keri for a feeling of surprise when the writer suddenly realises something.

The second part of the poem is literally “waking up from a dream we/I did not see completely // that we/I didn’t looked at until the end”. I preferred writing in the sense of “we” to give an universal meaning, if I wrote the translation only from the perspective of the poet, it would feel like this emotion only applies to him, when it’s really an universal one. And I’m sure that was also what Mibu no Tadamine wanted to express.

I was very surprised by the translation of Helen McCullough, who wrote something about a “dream where I encountered my love” ; I don’t see any part of the original text that indicates the subject of the dream.

新古今集 445

The honkadori of this poem is the 609th of the Kokinshû that I placed first on the list.

目ざめて < 目覚める (めざめる) : to wake up.
しのぶ : to think about something in a nostalgic way, to yearn/long for something.

新古今集 1326

This poem has two honkadori : the 771th of the Gosenshû, and the KKS 609, just like the SKKS 445.

つゆ (露) : the dew ; but it’s also a metaphor for the tears.
はらふ : to remove, to sweep clean.
ねざめ < 寝覚め : I’ve read in the book of Haruo Shirane that it means “awakening from sleep, especially before dawn or at night”. The poem talks about the dew ; I guess we can’t be sure of the exact moment that it’s referring to.
にて : I think it’s a case particle who indicates “time” in this poem (mukashi).
秋 : the first meaning is “autumn” but it’s also a metaphor for the period where the lover of the poetess started to lose his feeling for her.
のこる (残る) : to remain.
おもかげ (面影) : image floating in the mind, illusion. In his dictionary, at the definition “image that floats in the mind”, Haruo Shirane writes that it can be the image of a face, for example (easier to remember if we think about the kanji 面). I’ve read in the book of Laurel Rasplica Rodd that the subject of this waka is “forgotten love”. So when we know the subject before reading the poem, it’s easier to understand.

:green_heart: Chine’s haiku

燃え < 燃ゆ : もゆ : to burn.
易く < やすい : easy. I love this kanji because of the mnemonic “a wing to fly easily towards the sun”. Japanese is the only language that gives me every time this feeling of excitement, discovery and imagination, even for basic words like this one.
また : in the same way.
消え < 消ゆ : きゆ : to fade, to die, to go out, to disappear.
螢 : firefly. I also love this kanji, I guess the most common is 蛍 but I like 螢 because of the two little flames.

:yellow_heart: Mukai Kyorai’s haiku

悲しく < 悲しい : sad, sorrowful, painful.
きゆる < 消ゆ : きゆ : to fade, to die, to go out, to disappear.

You can read additional informations and an other translation of these 2 haiku on this website and in this book, Japanese Death Poems.

These 2 haiku are so touching, I really love them, already among my favorite poems. I guess they were very close as brother and sister.

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hello there. just stumbled upon this thread and I’m really impressed! Not many people seek out classical, especially outside a university setting.
Would you mind if I mention a few reference books I used back when I was studying Classical?

  • A Handbook to Classical Japanese by John Timothy Wixted if you can get your hands on it. I found it much more approachable to a novice than McCullough. Wixted sensei has a tiny sample on his website here: https://johntimothywixted.com/pdf/303.pdf
  • 旺文社全訳古語辞典 as a Classical>Modern JP dictionary, again, if you can get your hands on one.

If you ever decide to expand your horizons into 漢文 or 漢詩, you can usually google a 書き下ろし with little difficulty. There is a little something called 漢文訓読 which is basically shorthand for rearranging a Literary Chinese passage into Classical Japanese but tbh it’s a lot easier and more accurate to go straight from the Chinese, especially since it looks like you’re only using internet sources.


What a beautiful collection, thank you! :butterfly: :dizzy:

This is what I find most intimidating about Japanese poetry, to be honest, is the missing cultural context. Sometimes it’s just a combination of a seasonal word or some other reference in the poem that would cause someone well-versed in the tradition to see a connection that isn’t at all obvious from the text alone.

I wonder if this is part of the clue and implies leaving behind a romantic attachment (but I wouldn’t have come up with that idea without knowing about the other translation):

not OP, but those look like very interesting resources!

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@silanosepiae Thank you for your comment ! Your reference books for Japanese seem very interesting, the one for Chinese too but for the moment I think I will just focus on Japanese :sweat_smile: But it’s true that it would be interesting to learn it one day. I’ve read that japanese poetry was greatly influenced by chinese culture, like the two anthologies New Songs of the Jade Terrace and Selections of Refined Literature.

@mitrac Thank you for reading ! :wink: There are so many things “unsaid” in japanese poetry. For example I’ve read in the book of Haruo Shirane, Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, that someone writing a waka about the smoke of Mount Fuji for example was in reality writing a poem about love because it was an active volcano and it was associated with the word omohi where we find a play with the homophony of hi, fire (and passion). So someone who doesn’t know this would completely miss the meaning of a poem, without some notes from the translator… in the post that I’ve just made, the SKKS 1326 can be hard to understand too, it isn’t obvious that the writer is talking about her tears and the time where the person she liked started to lose his love for her.

I think I found the answer for that. In the Kokinshû, this poem is placed in the second Love book. So that’s probably the reason why Helen McCullough wrote her translation like that. It’s really a stretch from the original text but for me it’s the most logical reason. I still appreciate her translation, even if I like more the idea of talking about dreams in a general way, not only love dreams. But even if it’s only about that, this emotion can also be applied to any other kind of dream really.

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I had to do some digging before I found a source for why all of the 現代語訳 use 逢瀬 (lover’s meeting) to describe the dream. Apparently there was a forward for this poem:


Basically, his late lover appeared in his dream but when he woke up she was gone. One can imagine he used this feeling as inspiration for his poem and that’s where the translator got it from as well. I don’t know if this link is available outside of Japan, but this is where I got the info.

Autumn is when deer are in rut, so this is likely the deer’s mating call. Using this as a background for the poem already gives a feeling of yearning.
I also learned a new kanji, 聲 which many websites that had the poems used instead of 声 (it’s just the 旧字体 though).


That’s interesting thank you, what surprised me is that I’ve read a few other translations of this waka and the one of McCullough was the only one where it was talking about a lover. Really shows how carefully she did her research. But in her book I guess it would have been useful to explain the context in a footnote for example, especially for bilingual readers.

Indeed, I’ve read in Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons that the deer and its cries when he’s looking for a mate have been associated with autumn and this feeling of loneliness and sadness. It’s interesting to see how the waka anthologies had certain associations. I’ve read that in waka poetry there is a strong link between the human world and animal world certain animals, I should have written. A few animals chosen as elegant metaphors. Like the cricket matsumushi, with matsu meaning both “pine tree” and “waiting”. Also interesting to notice that naku both means “to cry” and “to make a sound (for an animal)”.

I’ve found it funny how Haruo Shirane explains how some birds and insects were considered in a totally different way in the villages than in the aristocratic world. For the aristocratic poets, they were a source of inspiration for expressing beautiful and sad emotions, while for farmers, insects and birds eating their work were a nuisance that ought to be eliminated :sweat_smile: When I think about that, it makes me more grateful for the life I have, I guess it really is a luxury to be able to enjoy all this art and poetry.

I didn’t know this kanji either, thank you for pointing it out !

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I’ve just read that the word 秋 has an homophone, 飽き, which basically means “weariness, boredom, disinterest” ! So in the SKKS 1326 it’s easier to understand that she’s talking about the period where her lover has started to grow tired of her.

How cool, I didn’t know that. I thought that “autumn” was only a metaphor, the leaves fading just like the love, but I didn’t know that there was a play with the homophony of an other word. So it means that あき is actually a kakekotoba here.
edit : I just looked it up in the Grammar of Haruo Shirane and in fact I think I have already seen it in the past but I had forgotten about it :sweat_smile:

The more I read Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, the more I’m amazed by the influence that the seasons had on so much aspects of life in the Heian aristocratic world. The clothes for example. The women were wearing kimono with multiple layers, jûnihitoe, and every layer of these beautiful robes was expected to respect a precise color palette accourding to the season. It was also supposed to change if we were in the beginning or the end of the season. The color palette could also be used in the same time in the paper for letters and poems for example.

(Sources : image 1 and image 2)

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Ooh that’s a good one.

I’m also constantly amazed by the connection to nature in so many aspects of Japanese culture.

kimono aside

Nice pictures you found! One of the consequences of the kimono intricacy is how expensive it is. My friend sent me a video of an annual Ikebana show with a famous teacher in Kyoto, every woman dressed in the most gorgeous kimono. I asked how one can qualify to be part of it (thinking skill), and she said, well a lot of it is money, because first of all you have to even afford to appear in that kimono. She sent a link to the cost to rent one :eyes: I forgot the cost but it was ouch! You even have to pay someone to put it on you! She thought a medium sized city might have something like only 12 people who have that skill!

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:rofl: That emoji :eyes: is just too funny. It must be such a cool experience to see all these kimono in real life, or even to wear one ! but yes I can imagine how expensive they are, and in some Youtube videos I have even seen that 2 persons were needed sometimes to put it on someone. But I think it depends on the type of kimono, I know almost nothing about it but from what I’ve seen some are lighter than others and are not like the jûnihitoe for example with so many layers.

I ordered a book on Amazon today who seems to give some introduction on the colors of these beautiful clothes, Kimono and the Colors of Japan. I will try to remember to make a review of it when I finally get my hands on it, I’ve seen a few images on Google and it seems like a great bilingual book, so it’s also an opportunity for reading…

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So true

I’ll be so interested in your review of that book, nice find.

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How are you liking the Shirane books? I want to get started with classical Japanese and I see those books being recommended the most, but they’re expensive af :skull: If they’re going to teach me what I need to know to start engaging with Japanese poetry then so be it, I just want to make sure before I buy them!

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They are a gold mine, really. If you need to chose one of them, I would advice to go for the Grammar. The Reader and Essential Dictionary is also extremely useful, there are extracts from various classical literary works with a vocabulary and grammar analysis, and at the end a compilation of a lot of essential words. But the Grammar still comes first I think, and when you come accross words you don’t know you can still use the online dictionary that I put in the first post of this thread (it was pm215 who gave me that link if I remember correctly).


Awesome! I’ll be ordering those books and hopefully join you in this thread some time soon! :grin:


Check around to see if they’re available second hand or similar – I managed to get mine at quite a bit less than full price that way.


Something happened to me today (and these last weeks), and made me think about a poem from the Kokinshû. There is this person that I cross quite regularly, we are not close at all but we were often talking and he was always smiling and laughing, like he really wanted to discuss when we were taking the same bus for example. And now all of a sudden he completely ignores me, like completely, like if we were strangers. It was particularly weird today in the bus. I was thinking about this poem, the KKS 83, where Ki no Tsurayuki writes that the human heart changes even before the wind has finished to blow on the cherry blossoms :


It was such a weird feeling today. We were absolutely not close anyways but it made me think more broadly about human relationships, and impermanence. I think very regularly about the first lines of the Heike Monogatari, masterfully translated by Helen McCullough :

“The sound of the Gion Shôja bells echoes the impermanence of all things ; the color of the śâla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night ; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.”

I guess the two main characteristics of life are really impermanence and suffering. Even when a couple is married since 20 or 30 years, nothing guarantees that the relationship will not end up to fade completely, that one of the two persons will not suddenly have a change of mind about his/her partner, that something will not happen and completely destroy the relationship. And all of a sudden, you are in the process of divorcing, and just in a matter of weeks you end up alone, like all of the moments you have lived with this person were nothing else than some kind of ephemeral dream. I actually had something like that happening a few years ago with one of my close friends, like we were really close, and then we grew apart, and all of a sudden, it was over, without even a word of explanation or anything.

Anyways… I know this thread isn’t supposed to be my diary :joy: :rofl: But I am quite a sensitive person and it really hurt me, I just had to get it out of my head. Really shows how meaningless, hypocritical and absurd human relationships can be, that person and I will just continue to ignore each other, looking like fools when we will cross each other in the bus or elsewhere and that we will make our best to not make eye-contact, because that would be so awkward obviously.

I just couldn’t stop thinking about that spring poem, how correct it was more than 1100 years ago and how correct it still is today. Human nature has really always been the same.

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Those are such subtle thoughts, thanks so much for putting out such personal thoughts. It made me realise, maybe sometimes it takes an interaction that is less close and raw (the one on the bus), to bring out the feelings and help process some of the bigger hurts (the story about your close friend).

This poem is so poignant. It helps me, too. I have a similar story in my past about a close friend who suddenly ghosted me. I had heard of ghosting and not really understood the pain behind it, until one day it happened to me. For years it was such a source of hurt because I could just never figure out what happened, did I do something wrong?

It was too raw, it never occurred to me to process it through a lens of impermanence. Thank you for this post :mending_heart:

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Thank you very much for your kindness, I really appreciate it. I hesitated yesterday before posting this, personal/vulnerable thoughts like these are hard to expose sometimes, I had my heart racing before opening the thread :sweat_smile: but I’m glad I did actually. And I’m very happy that this poem helped you too, it’s one of my favorites.

Exactly ! That’s the most painful part about being ghosted, it happens without even some kind of explanation or discussion. If that close friend would have sent me at least a text, saying something like “look, you became too boring or sad for me I don’t like hanging out with sad people, I don’t feel like I want to be your friend anymore” ; it would have been still very painful of course and I would still have been sad, but I would have understood it, different vibes for different people I guess, sometimes people just change and the relationship ends naturally. At least I wouldn’t have the feeling to have been discarded like literal trash.

Reading poems like this one or the death poems that I put in my last post is almost therapeutic in a way, the waka about death and impermanence for example help me a lot with this existential anguish, when I recite them in my head I think, well, maybe it’s not that bad to fade and die, to not have total control over my destiny, to be like a leaf or a cherry blossom carried away by the wind. Relationships, like everything in this world, fade and disappear, and maybe it’s not that bad, we just have to go with the flow of the river…

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As I was talking in my last post about the first lines of the Heike Monogatari, I thought it would be interesting to look at the original text. Especially since it’s so beautiful to hear (and look at). I’ve watched the anime adaptation by the studio サイエンスSARU and I have chills every time I hear the singing of the first lines in the beginning of the first episode (it must be heard in the context of the story though, it’s more impactful that way). I really recommend this anime by the way, it’s visually sublime. I found the tone to be sometimes weird in the sense that I would have expected an other soundtrack or an other “ambient” for some dark scenes that seemed too “light-hearted” sometimes, but it’s still great.

Anyways, here is the japanese text with the translation of Helen McCullough (it’s so perfect that I just couldn’t do any better) :

祇園精舎の鐘の聲、諸行無常の響き有り。 沙羅雙樹の花の色、盛者必衰の理を顯す。 驕れる者も久しからず、唯春の夜の夢の如し。 猛き者も遂には滅びぬ、偏に風の前の塵に同じ。


“The sound of the Gion Shôja bells echoes the impermanence of all things ; the color of the śâla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night ; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.”

  • The Tale of the Heike, translated, with an introduction, by Helen Craig McCullough. Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press, 1988, 504 p.


祇園精舎 : Gion temple (精舎 [しょうじゃ] : temple, monastery).
鐘 (かね) : bells.
聲 (こえ) : here it means “sound”, not “voice”.
諸行無常 (しょぎょうむじょう) : impermanence of all things ; all the things in the world pass and are ephemeral.
響き (ひびき) : echo, reverberation.
有り (あり) : to exist, to be.

沙羅雙樹 (さらそうじゅの花) : śâla flowers. From what I’ve seen in the anime, it looks like it is the Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) ?
盛者必衰 (じょうしゃひっすい) : the prosperous persons inevitably fall, decay ; I’ve read that this yojijukugo is from the Humane King Sutra.
理 (ことわり) : truth, logic, reason, principle.
顯す (あらわす) : to reveal.

驕れる (おごれる) : izenkei (which means that the action has already been done) of the verb ogoru (to be arrogant, proud ; to show off [I just looked it up in Jisho and the verb is the same in modern japanese]) + rentaikei of the auxiliary verb ri ; I’m honestly not sure why it’s here, but the rentaikei means that it modifies a nominal (here, the persons [mono]).
者 (もの) : person.
も : again I’m not sure, but we also find a mo in the next line (猛き者も) so I guess it has a function of “listing similar things” ?
久しからず (ひさしからず) : mizenkei of the shiku­-adjective hisashi (long, lengthy, continuous) + negative auxiliary verb zu.
唯 (ただ) : only, just. This word is not present in the translation, I guess she felt this was not useful for the english sentence.
如し (ごとし) : auxiliary verb of comparison.

猛き (たけき) : rentaikei of the ku-adjective takeshi : fierce, proud, powerful.
遂に (ついに) : in the end, finally.
滅びぬ < 滅ぶ / 亡ぶ (ほろぶ) : to disappear, to collapse, to go to ruin, to fall. Horobi is the ren’yôkei I think, and nu must be the suffix of completion / affirmation / emphasis.
偏に (ひとえに) : completely.
塵 (ちり) : dust.

Interesting to see that there is a reference to these lines in Ghost of Tsushima :

I just love small references like this one, like when Jin was briefly talking about the Kokinshû and the fact that his mother knew it by heart.

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