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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.

Before we jump the English Channel and commence our eastwards migration across Europe, we will look at the Many Coloured Fairy Books that the late, great Andrew Lang compiled and published. Our first todat is titled:

 

The Cat’s Elopement

[From the Japanische Marchen und Sagen, von David Brauns (Leipzig: Wilhelm Friedrich).]

 

Once upon a time there lived a cat of marvellous beauty, with a skin as soft and shining as silk, and wise green eyes, that could see even in the dark. His name was Gon, and he belonged to a music teacher, who was so fond and proud of him that he would not have parted with him for anything in the world.

 

Now not far from the music master’s house there dwelt a lady who possessed a most lovely little pussy cat called Koma. She was such a little dear altogether, and blinked her eyes so daintily, and ate her supper so tidily, and when she had finished she licked her pink nose so delicately with her little tongue, that her mistress was never tired of saying, ‘Koma, Koma, what should I do without you?’

 

Well, it happened one day that these two, when out for an evening stroll, met under a cherry tree, and in one moment fell madly in love with each other. Gon had long felt that it was time for him to find a wife, for all the ladies in the neighbourhood paid him so much attention that it made him quite shy; but he was not easy to please, and did not care about any of them. Now, before he had time to think, Cupid had entangled him in his net, and he was filled with love towards Koma. She fully returned his passion, but, like a woman, she saw the difficulties in the way, and consulted sadly with Gon as to the means of overcoming them. Gon entreated his master to set matters right by buying Koma, but her mistress would not part from her. Then the music master was asked to sell Gon to the lady, but he declined to listen to any such suggestion, so everything remained as before.

 

At length the love of the couple grew to such a pitch that they determined to please themselves, and to seek their fortunes together. So one moonlight night they stole away, and ventured out into an unknown world. All day long they marched bravely on through the sunshine, till they had left their homes far behind them, and towards evening they found themselves in a large park. The wanderers by this time were very hot and tired, and the grass looked very soft and inviting, and the trees cast cool deep shadows, when suddenly an ogre appeared in this Paradise, in the shape of a big, big dog! He came springing towards them showing all his teeth, and Koma shrieked, and rushed up a cherry tree. Gon, however, stood his ground boldly, and prepared to give battle, for he felt that Koma’s eyes were upon him, and that he must not run away. But, alas! his courage would have availed him nothing had his enemy once touched him, for he was large and powerful, and very fierce. From her perch in the tree Koma saw it all, and screamed with all her might, hoping that some one would hear, and come to help. Luckily a servant of the princess to whom the park belonged was walking by, and he drove off the dog, and picking up the trembling Gon in his arms, carried him to his mistress.

 

So poor little Koma was left alone, while Gon was borne away full of trouble, not in the least knowing what to do. Even the attention paid him by the princess, who was delighted with his beauty and pretty ways, did not console him, but there was no use in fighting against fate, and he could only wait and see what would turn up.

 

The princess, Gon’s new mistress, was so good and kind that everybody loved her, and she would have led a happy life, had it not been for a serpent who had fallen in love with her, and was constantly annoying her by his presence. Her servants had orders to drive him away as often as he appeared; but as they were careless, and the serpent very sly, it sometimes happened that he was able to slip past them, and to frighten the princess by appearing before her. One day she was seated in her room, playing on her favourite musical instrument, when she felt something gliding up her sash, and saw her enemy making his way to kiss her cheek. She shrieked and threw herself backwards, and Gon, who had been curled up on a stool at her feet, understood her terror, and with one bound seized the snake by his neck. He gave him one bite and one shake, and flung him on the ground, where he lay, never to worry the princess any more. Then she took Gon in her arms, and praised and caressed him, and saw that he had the nicest bits to eat, and the softest mats to lie on; and he would have had nothing in the world to wish for if only he could have seen Koma again.

 

Time passed on, and one morning Gon lay before the house door, basking in the sun. He looked lazily at the world stretched out before him, and saw in the distance a big ruffian of a cat teasing and ill-treating quite a little one. He jumped up, full of rage, and chased away the big cat, and then he turned to comfort the little one, when his heart nearly burst with joy to find that it was Koma. At first Koma did not know him again, he had grown so large and stately; but when it dawned upon her who it was, her happiness knew no bounds. And they rubbed their heads and their noses again and again, while their purring might have been heard a mile off.

 

Paw in paw they appeared before the princess, and told her the story of their life and its sorrows. The princess wept for sympathy, and promised that they should never more be parted, but should live with her to the end of their days. By-and-bye the princess herself got married, and brought a prince to dwell in the palace in the park. And she told him all about her two cats, and how brave Gon had been, and how he had delivered her from her enemy the serpent.

 

And when the prince heard, he swore they should never leave them, but should go with the princess wherever she went. So it all fell out as the princess wished; and Gon and Koma had many children, and so had the princess, and they all played together, and were friends to the end of their lives.

——————-

From The Pink Fairy Book

Raising funds for the Temi Charitable Trust

ISBN: 978-1-907256-75-2

URL: http://www.AbelaPublishing.com/pinkfairybook.html

 

email: Books@AbelaPublishing.com

 

 

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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