Kokinshu #465

Thursday, 31 October 2013 07:10
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Paper marbling (suminagashi)

    But if there weren't
a pathway that travels through
    the mists of springtime,
the geese that come in autumn
would not be returning north.

—24 October 2013

Original by Ariwara no Shigeharu. "Non-living things" is an elastic category: dictionaries define suminagashi as the process of marbling paper (or cloth), rather than the result. Commentaries compare the scene of mists breaking up to the marble pattern, which feels like a bit of a stretch. Translator additions: "North" is interpretive, while "that travels" is an attempt to reproduce the effect of an emphatic marker on naka, "within/through."

naka shi kayoiji
aki kuru kari wa


Kokinshu #464

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 07:03
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Chinese incense (hakuwakô)

    Given there's a wind
that tirelessly scatters
    all of the flowers,
how much resentment, then,
do you imagine I feel?

— 23 October 2013

Original author unknown. The last (and smallest) group of hidden topics are various non-living things. This one, a blend of scents, could colorfully be translated as "Perfume of a Hundred Harmonies" but only if you're willing to let it be used by Lady Plum-Blossom and her ilk. It's possible to read either that the speaker is not tired of the flowers or the wind isn't tired of blowing -- the latter feels less strained, but the former is a common interpretation, and either way the other meaning remains as an undertone. The question, for what it's worth, is marked as rhetorical.

hana-goto ni
akazu chirashishi
kaze nareba
ikusobaku wa ga
ushi to ka wa omou

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Somedono, Awata

    I leave to escape
this misery and, especially,
    the eyes of others
-- there at the foot of mountains
where the clouds rise up thickly.

This poem was written when the Mizuno'o Emperor [Seiwa] moved from Somodono to Awata; below "Katsura Palace."

—21-23 October 2013

Original by Ayamochi. I've got nothing on this person. No other Kokinshu poem is credited to him (or her?), and some textual traditions give the poem as author unknown (one lone source, which puts this above #463, credits it to "Yamamochi"). ¶ Another Teika restoration. Somodono and Awata were two more estates in the capital -- the former owned by Seiwa's grandfather and regent, Fujiwara no Yoshifusa (see #52), the latter by Yoshifusa's heir and successor, Fujiwara no Mototsune (see #349). The exact meaning of awatatsu is uncertain but the standard explanation is a sense something like "to rise thickly." The effect of first "misery" being emphatically marked and then "other eyes" doubly so is striking, and the resulting the tension is released interestingly by the antithesis of rising above the mountain's foot in a clause given its own emphasis by sentence inversion.

ukime o-ba
yoso me to nomi zo
kumo no awatatsu
yama no fumoto ni

kono uta, mizuno'o no mikado no somedono yori awata e utsuritamaukeru toki ni yomeru, katsura [no] miya shita

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Katsura Palace (Katsura-no-miya)

    With autumn coming,
might the cassia on the moon
    be growing fruit?
-- ah, no, it's still scattering
the light like flower petals.

lnh, 21-2 oct '13.
Original by Minamoto no Hodokosu, a great-grandson of Emperor Saga who appears in court records as middling courtier between 904 and his death in 931. This is his only poem in the Kokinshu. ¶ For the problems of the katsura, see #194 -- since this is the lunar tree, here "cassia," even though unlike the redbud-like tree (see #433) the cinnamon doesn't fruit. The topical palace was a residence of a daughter of Emperor Uda. Textual issue: in the first line, my base text has aki kureba, "because autumn comes" but some textual traditions have aki kuredo, "although autumn comes" -- which reduces somewhat the irony of the rhetorical question expecting a negative answer. The point being, of course, that the plants of the eternal moon don't (or shouldn't) change. "No" and "petals" are interpretive, and for clarity in English I slightly mistranslate the final o as exclamatory instead of what is probably a conjunction meaning "even though."

aki kureba
tsuki no katsura no
mi ya wa naru
hikari o hana to
chirasu bakari o


Kokinshu #462

Wednesday, 23 October 2013 07:09
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    Like some marshwater
when the summer grasses grow
    thickly upon it,
so it has nowhere to go --
alas, this heart of mine!

—19 October 2013

Original by Mibu no Tadamine. Katano, on the Yodo floodplain northeast of modern Osaka, was the location of a hunting lodge of Emperor Kammu. Yuku, "go," is used much like a pivot-word, only both times with the same meaning: for the (non-)motion of the marshwater of the first three lines, and as part of the fourth-line phrase "there is nowhere to go." As with many pivots, the effect is an implied comparison. Like #460, no main verb in the final clause.

natsugusa no
ue wa shigereru
numamizu no
yuku kata no naki
waga kokoro ka na

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Yodo River (Yodogawa)

    When I live beneath
the footwearying mountains,
    what can the white clouds
be telling me to do when
there's never a time they clear?

—17 October 2013

(Original by Ki no Tsurayuki.) The Yodo is the name of the lower stretches of the Uji River, which the Kamiya of the previous eventually flows into. The mountains suggest a religious retreat and the overcast a heavy heart, but I am not at all certain I correctly understand the second half (particularly line 4, which became parts of ll.3-4 in translation).

ashibiki no
yamabe ni oreba
shirakumo no
ika ni seyo to ka
haruru toki naki


Kokinshu #460

Saturday, 19 October 2013 07:27
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Kamiya River (Kamiyagawa)

    Is my hair as black
as leopard-lily seeds
    changing its color?
This white snow falling upon
the reflection in the mirror ...

—13 October 2013

Original by Ki no Tsurayuki. The Kamiya ("papermaker") is a stream flowing south through the imperial palace grounds into the Kamo. Decorative language: "of/as leopard-lily seeds" is here a stock epithet for black things, plus there's an overtone from a double-meaning of furu meaning "to age" as well as "to fall." The second half is a grammatical fragment, in effect a declarative noun, the effect of which is probably more emphatic than I've rendered it. Compare #8.

ubatama no
wa ga kurokami ya
kagami no kage ni
fureru shirayuki


Kokinshu #459

Thursday, 17 October 2013 07:11
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(Cape Kara)

    The flowers of waves
from the sea look like they are
    blooming, scattering.
Isn't it as though the wind
is springtime for the water?

—8 October 2013

Original by Ise. Same topic, hidden marginally better; given the waves are arriving from the deepwater "offing" and Biwa as a lake generally doesn't go for whitecaps, the topic isn't as relevant as it might first seem. (Note, btw, the assumption that an omitted topic is carried over from the previous poem is here demonstrably correct by its being hidden.) Seeing whitecaps as flowers is a conventional image (see #250, #272, et cet.) but lampshading the comparison gives a more charming effect than usual. Grammatical ambiguity: the wind might "be like" or "become" spring, and commentaries are split on which to understand, with a slight preference for the latter. The former is, to my mind, a more poetic conception, so I went with that.

nami no hana
oki kara sakite
mizu no haru to wa
kaze ya naruramu

Kokinshu #458

Tuesday, 15 October 2013 07:03
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Cape Kara (Karasaki)

    How long ago
did you cross ahead of me
    to over yonder?
On the path of the waves,
not even a wake remains.

—7 October 2013

Original by Abo no Tsunemi, who appears in court records as a scholar and middling courtier between 893 and his death in 912. This is his only poem in the Kokinshu. ¶ Cape Kara is on the southwest shore of Lake Biwa in modern Ôtsu City. To my Western ear this sounds like an elegy, but Japanese commentaries don't mention the possibility.

kano kata ni
itsu kara saki ni
namiji wa ato mo

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[Admin note: I'm skipping #456a because my translation is unchanged from when I posted two years ago as KKS #1104.]

Cape Ikaga (Ikagasaki)

    Why, given it's spring,
do we not see the droplets
    splashing from the waves
struck by our oars as flowers
blooming and then scattering?

—6 October 2013

Original by Prince Kanemi. The location of Cake Ikaga is uncertain, but it one speculation is that it's the one in modern Hirakata City near Osaka. The original word order is a little funky -- "since it's spring" is parenthetically inserted as the middle line. "Splashing" is interpolation for clarity.

kaji ni ataru
nami no shizuku o
haru nareba
ikaga sakichiru
hana to mizaramu

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Written on the day spring started in a place called Karakoto.

    As of this morning,
the sounds of waves that can be
    picked out and heard --
might it be the melody
of springtime has been renewed?

—4 October 2013

Original by Abe no Kiyoyuki. Born in 825, Kiyoyuki was a Chinese scholar (his writing style apparently influenced Sugawara no Michizane's) and middling courtier who seems to have spent most of his time until 871 in the capital, after which he served in various provincial posts and governancies until his death in 900. He has two poems in the Kokinshu, the other which (#556) is a flirtation sent to Ono no Komachi. (His daughter also has a poem, #1055.) ¶ The third group of topics are all place names, organized by a general but not consistent progression from outside to within the capital. Karakoto, which is the hidden topic, is in modern Okayana Prefecture on the shore of the Inland Sea -- the poem's musical metaphor plays off its literal meaning, "Chinese koto" or zither. Lost in translation: "spring" was the name of a note in (one of?) the traditional music scale. "Picked out" (translating koto ni, "especially") attempts to re-introduce some of this wordplay.

nami no oto no
kesa kara koto ni
kikoyuru wa
haru no shirabe ya


Kokinshu #455

Wednesday, 9 October 2013 07:01
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Pear, jujube, walnut (nashi, natsume, kurumi)

    This is tiresome.
Cease all your lamentations.
    It's not as if what's
been sacrificed is your lives
to come in this wretched affair.

—5 September, 1 October 2013

Original by [Fujiwara no] Hyôe. Her dates and personal name are unknown, but she was a sister of Fujiwara no Koreoka (see #390n) and is said to have married Fujiwara no Tadafusa (see #196). Like both of them, she was probably active in the 890s -- her use-name seems to come from the Palace Guards (hyôe), to which her father (Fujiwara no Takatsune, mourned by Tsurayuki in #849) was appointed Intendent or head of one division in 890, so she probably came of age around that time. She has two poems in the Kokinshu. ¶ One last multi-plant showing-off, this time with bracing asperity. The traditional understanding is that the "wretched matter" is an illness, but I'm not entirely convinced given the coming is done mutually, suggesting plural lives.

nageki na tsume so
uki koto ni
aikuru mi o-ba
sutenu mono kara


Kokinshu #454

Monday, 7 October 2013 07:04
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Bamboo grass, pine, loquat, banana leaf (sasa, matsu, biwa, bashôba)

    While I carelessly
waited for his time to come,
    the day has ended
-- even though that person knows
the true state of my feelings.

—10 September 2013

Original by the Ki Wet-Nurse. The parentage, personal name, and dates of this daughter of the Ki family are unknown, but she was wet-nurse (menoto) to Emperor Yôzei (b. 869) so she was born probably around 850, and she received promotions in rank in 877 and 882 at the start and end of his reign. She has two poems in the Kokinshu. ¶ Textual issue: my base text has the non-word isazame in the first line, which is universally emended to isasame ("careless"/"without attention"). The plants arc wraps up with a couple show-off poems using multiple hidden topics, listed in the order used. Seasonality is all over the place with this one, and probably isn't worth detailing anyway any more, though some commentaries note these four may be linked by all having been used medicinally. "Of my feelings" is interpretive, as are "for his" and "to come," and "knows" is more literally "can see."

Question for those without Japanese: would it add anything if I highlighted the meanings of the words the topics are hidden in?

isasame ni
toki matsu ma ni zo
hi wa henuru
kokorobase o-ba
hito ni mietsutsu


Kokinshu #453

Saturday, 5 October 2013 08:30
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Bracken (warabi)

    These fronds of grasses
where, even when they break out,
    smoke cannot be seen
rising up -- who was it to
first gave it the name "straw-fire"?

—4 September 2013

Original by Shinsei, a Buddhist priest whose parentage and birthdates are unknown, but according to the headnote of #556, he was active during the time of Ono no Komachi (see #113) and Abe no Kiyoyuki (see #456) in the mid-9th century. He has two poems in the Kokinshu. ¶ Bracken can be associated with any season, but is most commonly a spring topic for its edible fiddleheads. Warabi, "bracken," sounds like wara + bi, "straw + fire," and moyu can mean both "sprout" and "burn." I read the latter as a pivot (here both rendered in "break out" -- WIKTORY!) though doing so makes the statement make only marginally more sense. Frankly, I'm not sure how this counts as "hiding" the topic word. Compare #249, which also plays with etymology but does it using kanji and less naivete.

keburi tachi
moyu to mo mienu
kusa no ha o
tare ka warabi to


Kokinshu #452

Thursday, 3 October 2013 07:05
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River bamboo (kawatake)

    As the night deepens,
it rises to the zenith.
    Blow back and return
to us the eternal moon,
O mountain winds of autumn!

—1 September 2013

Original by Prince Kagenori, a grandson of Emperor Montoku. His birthdate unknown but given his father, Prince Kore'eda (a younger brother of Koretaka (see #74)), lived 846–868, he must have been born in the 860s. He last appears in court records in 897 as a middling courtier, and has two poems in the Kokinshu. ¶ The kawatake could generically mean bamboo growing on a riverbank or refer specifically to either the timber bamboo or Simon bamboo of the previous, so called because they were planted by the water in the imperial gardens. Like the previous poem, it's a summer topic for an autumn poem. I like the irony of using a stock epithet that probably means "everlasting" for a moon whose change is being complained about. There's also some wordplay in the repetition of forms of fuku meaning "get old" for the night and "blow" for the wind.

sayo fukete
nakaba takeyuku
hisakata no
tsuki fukikaese
aki no yamakaze


Kokinshu #451

Tuesday, 1 October 2013 07:00
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Timber bamboo (nigatake)

    It's so difficult,
relying on the dewdrops
    for their very lives --
thus these insects of the fields
that cry out so mournfully.

—1 September 2013

Original by Ariwara no Shigeharu. Nigatake is a type of large bamboo, either timber bamboo (Phyllostachys bambsoides, now called madake) or Simon bamboo (Pleioblastus simonii, now called midake), so called from the bitter taste (nigami) of its shoots. Since Simon bamboo is also used for timber, consider the translation a generic name. Regardless, it's a summer topic for an autumn poem. Crickets and the like were commonly believed to sip dew for their water. Dew is transient enough that it is used figuratively in Japanese to mean transience, so that the problem is that it's short-lived would be understood.

inochi tote
tsuyu o tanomu ni
monowabishira ni
naku nobe no mushi


Kokinshu #450

Thursday, 19 September 2013 06:57
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Hanging moss (sagarigoke)

    The flowers' color
heightens to what is only
    a single peak bloom,
yet the dew is dyeing them
over and over again.

—30 August 2013

Original by Tokamuko no Toshiharu. His dates and parentage are unknown, but he had a career as a middling courtier from the 890s through 920s. This is his only poem in the Kokinshu. ¶ The moss, today called saruogase, is a hanging tree-lichen of genus Usnea, probably specifically Usnea longissima. It doesn't seem to have a seasonality, but the poem itself is apparently autumnal. The Japanese words for the "deep" of a color and "peak" of a bloom don't have literal senses as opposed as they are in English, but they don't exactly work together either (the semantic domains are "thick" and "being in front"). To avoid sounding completely paradoxical, I slightly mistranslate the former as "heighten," even though this makes them more parallel than they really are.

hana no iro wa
tada hito sakari
kaesugaesu zo
tsuyu wa somekeru

lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)
River-weed (kawanagusa)

    How on earth might this
bring me comfort in these dreams
    black as lily seeds?
-- I with a heart not even
satisfied by the real world!

25 August 2013

Original by Kiyowara no Fukayabu. Kawanagusa (literally "river-grass") is the third of the three mysterious plants of the Kokinshu -- evidently some sort of riverine water-plant. I've no idea what season it might apply to. Ubatama no, "of/as leopard-lily seeds," is a stock epithet for the night and things associated with it such as, here, "dreams," conveying a general, highly poetic sense of "pitch-black." Unstated-but-understood: the dreams are of seeing his lover.

ubatama no
yume ni nani ka wa
utsutsu ni dani mo
akanu kokoro wa

lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)
Chinese bush-clover (karahagi)

    Though each empty husk
like cicada shells on trees
    rests in its coffin,
how sorrowful it is that
we can't see where the soul goes.

—25 July 2013

Original author unknown. While the meaning of topic is clear, it's uncertain which variety of bush-clover was considered Chinese at the time. Regardless, it's an early autumn topic. Pivot-word: ki is a "tree" and a "coffin," a double-meaning extended to the "husk" that's both the literal cicada shell and the empty bodies of the dead. The standard sentiment of second half does not live up to how well the first half works in the original. The effect isn't the same as leaving the bald last line unpolished in translation, but the let-down is similar.

utsusemi no
kara wa ki-goto ni
tama no yukue o
minu zo kanashiki

lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)

    O cuckoo,
did you mingle with the clouds
    of the mountain peaks?
Though I hear you are present,
I cannot even glimpse you.

—25 August 2013

Original by Taira no Atsuyuki, a great-grandson of Emperor Kôkô who had a career as a middling courtier between 893 and his death in 910. He has this one poem in the Kokinshu ¶ We know that the yamashi is a small purple lily also sometimes called hanasuge ("flower-sedge"), but not what it's called now. The level of not-knowing, however, apparently is not as high as for the three mysterious plants. Its seasonality is uncertain, and the poem itself is clearly summer -- and indeed, around here, the chronological progression starts getting rather muddled.

mine no kumo ni ya
ari to wa kikedo
miru yoshi mo naki



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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