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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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Poem 5 from A Hundred Verses from Old Japan” or the “Hyaku-Nin-Isshiu

5

SARU MARU, A SHINTO OFFICIAL or SARU MARU TAIU

Oku yama ni
Momiji fumi wake
Naku shika no
Koe kiku toki zo
Aki wa kanashiki.

HEAR the stag’s pathetic call
Far up the mountain side,
While tramping o’er the maple leaves
Wind-scattered far and wide
This sad, sad autumn tide.

NOTE: Very little is known of this writer, but he probably lived not later than A.D. 800. Stags and the crimson leaves of the maple are frequently used as the symbolism of autumn.

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Poem 7 from A Hundred Verses from Old Japan” or the “Hyaku-Nin-Isshiu

7

NAKAMARO ABE or ABE NO NAKAMARO

Ama no hara
Furisake-mireba
Kasuga naru
Mikasa no yama ni
Ideshi tsuki kamo.

WHILE gazing up into the sky,
My thoughts have wandered far;
Methinks I see the rising moon
Above Mount Mikasa
At far-off Kasuga.

NOTE: The poet, when sixteen years of age, was sent with two others to China, to discover the secret of the Chinese calendar, and on the night before sailing for home his friends gave him a farewell banquet. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and after dinner he composed this verse. Another account, however, says that the Emperor of China, becoming suspicious, caused him to be invited to a dinner at the top of a high pagoda, and then had the stairs removed, in order that he might be left to die of hunger. Nakamaro is said to have bitten his hand and written this verse with his blood, after which he appears to have escaped and fled to Annam. Kasuga, pronounced Kasunga, is a famous temple at the foot of Mount Mikasa, near Nara, the poet’s home; the verse was written in the year 726, and the author died in 780

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From: A HUNDRED VERSES FROM OLD JAPAN

ISBN: 978-1-907256-19-6

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

A percentage of the profits will be donated to the CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKE APPEAL.

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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