This week we have two poems from the Hyaku-nin-isshiu, or ‘Single Verses by a Hundred People’, were collected together in A.D. 1235. They are placed in approximate chronological order, and range from about the year 670. Perhaps what strikes one most in connection with the Hyaku-nin-isshiu is the date when the verses were written; most of them were produced before the time of the Norman Conquest (of Britain – AD 1066), and one cannot but be struck with the advanced state of art and culture in Japan at a time when Europe was still in a very elementary stage of civilization.

The Collection consists almost entirely of love-poems and what the editor calls picture-poems, intended to bring before the mind’s eye some well-known scene in nature; and it is marvellous what effect little thumbnail sketches are compressed within thirty-one syllables. Some show the cherry blossoms which are doomed to fall, the dewdrops scattered by the wind, the mournful cry of the wild deer on the mountains, the dying crimson of the fallen maple leaves, the weird sadness of the cuckoo singing in the moonlight, and the loneliness of the recluse in the mountain wilds; while those verses which appear to be of a more cheerful type are rather of the nature of the ‘Japanese smile’, described by Lafcadio Hearn as a mask to hide the real feelings.

From: A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

ISBN: 978-1-907256-19-6

URL: www.AbelaPublishing.com/100Verses.html

Poem 6

6

THE IMPERIAL ADVISER YAKAMOCHI

(CHŪ-NAGON YAKAMOCHI)

  Kasasagi no
Wataseru hashi ni
Oku shimo no
Shiroki wo mireba
Yo zo fuke ni keru.

WHEN on the Magpies’ Bridge I see
The Hoar-frost King has cast
His sparkling mantle, well I know
The night is nearly past,
Daylight approaches fast.

Explanation:

The author of this verse was Governor of the Province of Kōshū, and Viceroy of the more or less uncivilized northern and eastern parts of Japan; he died A.D. 785. There was a bridge or passageway in the Imperial Palace at Kyōto called the Magpies’ Bridge, but there is also an allusion here to the old legend about the Weaver and Herdsman. It is said, that the Weaver (the star Vega) was a maiden, who dwelt on one side of the River of the Milky Way, and who was employed in making clothes for the Gods. But one day the Sun took pity upon her, and gave her in marriage to the Herdboy (the star Aquila), who lived on the other side of the river. But as the result of this was that the supply of clothes fell short, she was only permitted to visit her husband once a year, viz. on the seventh night of the seventh month; and on this night, it is said, the magpies in a dense flock form a bridge for her across the river. The hoar frost forms just before day breaks. The illustration shows the Herdboy crossing on the Bridge of Magpies to his bride.

From: A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

ISBN: 978-1-907256-19-6

URL: www.AbelaPublishing.com/100Verses.html

 Poem 9

9

KOMACHI ONO

(ONO NO KOMACHI)

  Hana no iro wa
Utsuri ni keri na
Itazura ni
Waga mi yo ni furu
Nagame seshi ma ni.

THE blossom’s tint is washed away
By heavy showers of rain;
My charms, which once I prized so much,
Are also on the wane,
Both bloomed, alas! in vain.

Explanation

The writer was a famous poetess, who lived A.D. 834-880. She is remembered for her talent, her beauty, her pride, her love of luxury, her frailty, and her miserable old age. The magic of her art is said to have overcome a severe drought, from which the country suffered in the year 866, when prayers to the Gods had proved useless.

The first and last couplets may mean either ‘the blossom’s tint fades away under the continued downpour of rain in the world’, or ‘the beauty of this flower (i.e. herself) is fading away as I grow older and older in this life’; while the third line dividing the two couplets means, that the flower’s tint and her own beauty are alike only vanity. This verse, with its double meaning running throughout, is an excellent example of the characteristic Japanese play upon words.

From: A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

ISBN: 978-1-907256-19-6

URL: www.AbelaPublishing.com/100Verses.html

Cover A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

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