Kokinshu #226

Thursday, 29 March 2012 07:11
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    I'm charmed by your name --
for that alone I plucked you.
    O maidenflower,
don't tell anyone that
I have fallen from my vows.

—25-27 March 2012

Original by Henjô. One of his most famous poems -- and the number of artworks based on it is astonishing. In his collected poems the headnote that says it was written when he fell off his horse, and the first line that he was charmed by its color, changes that feel to me like attempts to rescue his religious reputation by making the tumble literal. When ominaeshi (Patrinia scabiosaefolia, a valerian with small yellow or white flowers on thin stems in autumn) is written with kanji, the characters mean "maiden flower" -- and without the punning potential that creates, this rather unassuming plant wouldn't rate much poetic attention. Its name is another 5-syllable word often appearing without a case marker -- here, the command makes it a direct address. A slightly more natural reading of the second line is "but all I did was pluck you," but then the conclusion doesn't follow as well as above. "From my vows" is interpolation by way of a reminder that Henjô is a Buddhist monk.

na ni medete
oreru bakari zo
ware ochiniki to
hito ni kataru na



Warning: contents contain line-breaks.

As language practice, I was translating classical Japanese poetry -- most recently, book 11 (love part 1) of the Kokinshu anthology. This project is, however, on hiatus. Past translations are archived here. Suggestions, corrections, and questions always welcome.

There's also original pomes in the journal archives.

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