Today we resume our eastwards journey and find ourselves in Japan. I have selected two poems from the Hyaku-nin-isshiu, or ‘Single Verses by a Hundred People’, which were collected together in A.D. 1235 by Sadaiye Fujiwara. The poems are in approximately chronological order, and range from about the year 670 to the year of compilation.

Japanese poetry differs very largely from anything we Westerners are used to; it has no rhyme or alliteration, and little, if any, rhythm, as we are used to. The verses in this collection are all what are called Tanka, which was for many years the only form of verse known to the Japanese. A tanka verse has five line and thirty-one syllables, arranged thus: 5-7-5-7-7. As this is an unusual metre in our ears, the translator, William N. Porter, adopted a five-lined verse of 8-6-8-6-6 metre for the translation, with the second, fourth, and fifth lines rhyming, in the hope of retaining at least some resemblance to the original form, while making the sound more familiar to English readers.

The Japanese section of each tanka has been written phonetically so western readers may at least be able to get a feel for what the poem would have sounded like in it’s native Japanese.
The Emperor Tenchi reigned from A.D. 668 to 671, his capital was Otsu, not far from Kyōto, and he is chiefly remembered for his kindness and benevolence. It is related, that one day he was scaring birds away, while the harvesters were gathering in the crop, and, when a shower of rain came on, he took shelter in a neighbouring hut; it was, however, thatched only with coarse rushes, which did not afford him much protection, and this is the incident on which the verse is founded.
The picture shows the harvesters hard at work in the field, and the hut where the Emperor took shelter.

A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 – THE EMPEROR TENCHI or TENCHI TENNŌ

Aki no ta no
Kari ho no iho no
Toma wo arami
Waga koromode wa
Tsuyu ni nure-tsutsu.

OUT in the fields this autumn day
They’re busy reaping grain ;
I sought for shelter ’neath this roof,
But fear I sought in vain,—
My sleeve is wet with rain.

Because the tanka are so short I feel it only right to spoil you with a second. I have selected the tanka from the compiler of this volume which is listed at number 97.
Sada-iye, of the Fujiwara family, was the Compiler of this Collection of verses; he was the son of Toshi-nari, the writer of verse No. 83, and he entered the priesthood, dying in the year 1242, at the age of eighty.
Matsu-hō is on the north coast of the Island of Awaji, in the Inland Sea; but the word also means ‘a place of waiting and longing for somebody’. Kogare means ‘scorching or evaporating’ (sea-water in the saltpans), but it also has the meaning ‘to long for, or to love ardently.’
The illustration shows two men carrying pails of sea-water to the salt-pans.
A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

97 – THE ASSISTANT IMPERIAL ADVISER SADA-IYE or GON CHU-NAGON SADA-IYE

Konu hito wo
Matsu-hō no ura no
Yūnagi ni
Yaku ya moshio no
Mi mo kogare-tsutsu.

UPON the shore of Matsu-hō
For thee I pine and sigh;
Though calm and cool the evening air,
These salt-pans caked and dry
Are not more parched than I!

From “A Hundred Verses from Old Japan” translated by William N. Porter
ISBN 978-1-907256-19-6

URL – http://www.abelapublishing.com/hvoj.html

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