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Kokinshu Book Ia: Spring 1 (1-48)

As I've mentioned before and no doubt will again, because I'm forgetful like that, the Kokin(waka)shu, "Collection of Old and New (Japanese Poems)," was the first imperially commissioned anthology of poetry written in Japanese, 1111 or so poems compiled in 20 thematic books around 905 C.E. At the risk of trying your patience, below the fold is the first book complete, 68 poems depicting the progression of spring from New Year's Day into cherry blossom season.

The bulk of these translation were drafted from September through November 2010, though fiddled with since, especially as I got better at unpacking those puzzle boxes that are classical verbs. For the earliest ones in particular, the versions previously posted here and in my poetry journal (aka prettygoodpoet) have been more frequently revised/corrected.

My base text is the Japanese Text Initiative edition. For help parsing out classical Japanese, I leaned heavily on this Kokinwakashu Database (aka Gromit-the-DB, and wouldn't I love to know the story behind that name), plus Wixted's A Handbook to Classical Japanese and Shirane's Classical Japanese: A Grammar. I frequently consulted the Milord Club commentaries and McCullough's study Brocade by Night; the glosses in Rodd & Henkenius's complete Kokinshû translation and McAuley's 2001 Waka site were also helpful. I probably should also cite those few pages of Cranston's The Grass of Remembrance that are relevant and available through Google Books (I'd like to cite it unqualified but dang that's an expensive hardcover).

But I suspect it's better to ignore my commentary and read straight through just the poems, with their varied and various topics linked by progression and association. There are reasons why the anthology influenced a millenium of Japanese culture.

1. Ariwara no Motokata

Written when the first day of spring came in the old year.

toshi no uchi ni
haru wa kinikeri
hitotose o
kozo to ya iwamu
kotoshi to ya iwamu
    I see solar spring
has arrived before New Years.
    So what do we say --
that this time is still "last year"
or part of the "year to come"?

The dates of Motokata (grandson of Ariwara no Narihira) are unknown, but he flourished in late 9th century and has 14 poems in the Kokinshu. In the lunisolar Chinese calendar used until Japan went Gregorian, spring the calendrical season started with the New Year, which fell in what's now late January or February, while spring the astronomical season started on Risshun, which fell on what's now Feburary 4 or 5. Somewhat less than half the time, the latter came before the former. Given the number of terms for the period between the two Starts Of Spring, this was apparently a big deal -- enough of one that some wit could be squeezed out. It reads somewhat less laboredly in Japanese, in that for the four mentions of "year," Motokata uses three different words -- but only somewhat.

2. Ki no Tsurayuki

Written on the first day of spring.

sode hijite
musubishi mizu no
kôreru o
haru tatsu kyô no
kaze ya tokuramu
    The water I cupped
in my hands, drenching my sleeves,
    has long been frozen --
today, with the start of spring,
will it melt in the wind?

Tsurayuki (c.870?-945) was head editor of the Kokinshu, which has 102 of his poems -- in part because he's the sort of poet who can stuff several seasons into a small poem, along with an allusion to a line from the Chinese Book of Rites, and make it all sound lovely and unforced. Untranslatable wordplay: musubu ("scoop up in cupped hands") can also mean "tie together," as in fastening one's clothing, and toku ("melt") can also mean "untie," and both of which associate with "sleeve" to give interesting erotic overtones.

3. Author unkown

Topic unknown.

tateru ya izuko
miyoshino no
yoshino no yama ni
yuki wa furitsutsu
    So where are they now,
the mists that rise in the spring?
    Here in Yoshino,
beautiful Mount Yoshino,
the snow continues to fall.

Yoshino was the site of an imperial pleasure palace in the Nara period. It retained a reputation for beauty in later times and in poetry frequently appeared with the prefix mi-, meaning beautiful/delightful. The rising mist/haze as things melt and warm is a Japanese signal of early spring. Speaking of which, harugasumi ("spring mist/haze") exactly fills a 5-syllable line, and thus often appears in poetry without a case-marking particle (which in any case could be omitted in classical Japanese much more readily than in modern Japanese); here, it's most likely the subject of "rise" but it can also be read a direct address. Other key words to come do the same thing. (I should probably explain, btw, that I'm not using the traditional translations of kasumi as "haze" and kiri as "mist" -- instead, following a hint from Cranston, I render either word as "mist" when it refers to something being seen and "haze" when it's something being seen through. Just by way of noting that languages do not slice semantic space the same.)

4. A poem on the beginning of spring by the Nijô Empress.

yuki no uchi ni
haru wa kinikeri
uguisu no
kôreru namida
ima ya tokuramu
    Spring has indeed come,
though snow is still around us.
    So will it be now
that the bush warbler's teardrops,
long frozen, finally melt?

Fujiwara no Takaiko or Kôshi (842-910) was a consort of Emperor Seiwa (ruled 858-876) and queen mother to, and power behind the throne of, Emperor Yôzei (ruled 876-884). Between 869 (Yôzei's birth) and 876 (his accession), she was known as the Mother of the Crown Prince. This is her only poem in the Kokinshu, though she appears in other headnotes. The uguisu or Japanese bush warbler (Cettia diphone) is one of the first songbirds of spring.

5. Author unknown

Topic unknown.

ume ga e ni
ki-iru uguisu
haru kakete
nakedomo imada
yuki wa furitsutsu
    A warbler arriving
on the branches of this plum
    raises up a song
of springtime, but regardless,
the snow continues to fall.

Like the bush warbler's song, the early-blooming plum is a first sign of spring in Japan. Note this has the same last line as #3.

6. Sosei

Written on snow fallen on a tree.

haru tateba
hana to ya miramu
shirayuki no
kakareru eda ni
uguisu zo naku
    Because spring started,
does he think he sees flowers?
    -- this bush warbler
singing among the branches
that are covered with white snow.

Sosei was a 9th century monk (d. c. 909) whose lay name was Yoshimine no Harutoshi. The son of Henjô (who first shows up in #27), he has 36 poems in the Kokinshu, more than anyone but the editors themselves. The first lines of the original, it reads as if it's the speaker that suffers from the "elegant confusion" of mistaking snow for early plum blossoms -- only when the bird is named in the last line does the probable initial subject become clear, so that the reader resolves a confusion that mirrors the bird's. English, requiring an explicit subject, can reproduce this effect only by making "see" passive, but I shudder at the thought. Shudder, I tell you.

7. Author unknown

Topic unknown.

fukaku somete shi
kieaenu yuki no
hana to miyuramu
    It must be desire
has so deeply dyed my heart,
    that when I plucked it
the snow that hasn't vanished
appears to be spring flowers.

Orthographic ambiguity: (w)oru could be either "to pluck" or an archiac verb of existence. My base text uses kanji meaning the former, but some textual traditions use kana, so that scholars endlessly debate the correct interpretation.

8. Fun'ya no Yasuhide

When the Nijô Empress was known as the Mother of the Crown Prince, during an audience on the third day of the first month, as Yasuhide bowed before her veranda, she observed snow falling on his head in the sunshine and commanded him to compose a poem.

haru no hi no
hikari ni ataru
ware naredo
kashira no yuki to
naru zo wabishiki
    Although it is true
that I am bathed in the light
    of the springtime sun,
how unbearable it is
my head is turning to snow.

Yasuhide (dates unknown) was a minor courtier active in the years around 860. He was named one of the Six Poetic Geniuses of the age from being discussed in the Kokinshu prefaces, even though he has only five poems in the anthology. The incident took place some time between 869 and 876, before Nijô's son was placed on the throne as Emperor Yôzei at the age of eight. Poems by courtiers are like onions, many-layered: The Crown Prince resided in the Spring Palace and New Years was a time when patrons bestowed gifts, so the "spring sunlight" does double-duty for a bit of flattery over Nijô's favor -- or possibly a sly request for more, now that "age snows white hairs" on him (to borrow Donne's phrase).

9. Ki no Tsurayuki

Written on falling snow.

kasumi tachi
ko no me mo haru no
yuki fureba
hana naki sato mo
hana zo chirikeru
    The haze rises up,
and too buds swell on the trees --
    when spring snowflakes fall,
they are flowers scattering
even in towns without flowers.

Pivot-word used homophonically in two senses at once: haru = "to swell" / "spring". Note that it's not "as if" the snow is flowers, but a direct metaphor emphasized by an inflection indicating a realization. Subtle and irreproducible wordplay: buried in tachi ko no me ("rise and tree-buds") is the sounds of the stem of tachikome(ru), "to enshroud," which would apply to the haze/mists just before.

10. Fujiwara no Kotonao

Written in the beginning of spring.

haru ya toki
hana ya osoki to
uguisu dani mo
nakazu mo aru kana
    "Has Spring come early
or are flowers late?" I ask,
    yet who might I hear?
-- there isn't a single call,
not even from the warbler.

Kotonao seems to have flourished at the end of the 9th century and has this single poem in the Kokinshu.

11. Mibu no Tadamine

A poem on the beginning of spring.

haru kinu to
hito wa iedomo
uguisu no
nakanu kagiri wa
araji to zo omou
    People are saying
that springtime has arrived,
    but I do believe
that it isn't really spring
until the bush warbler sings.

Tadamine was one of the four editors of the Kokinshu, which has 36 of his poems. His dates are unknown, but he flourished from the 890s to around 920.

12. Minamoto no Masazumi

A poem from the poetry contest held in the palace of the consort in the Kanpyô era.

tanikaze ni
tokuru kôri no
himagoto ni
uchi-izuru nami ya
haru no hatsuhana
    In the valley wind
the river ice is melting,
    and in every crack
little waves are spurting out --
might they be spring's first flowers?

Masazumi (dates unknown, last appears in records in 907) has this single poem in the Kokinshu. The consort was either the mother or wife of Emperor Uda; she hosted the contest (one of the first of what became a Heian court tradition) in 893. All four Kokinshu editors participated, and they included 65 poems from it. "River" is my interpretation, but that seems the intended setting, shortly before the ice breaks -- otherwise the waves make little sense. This poem also alludes, like #2, to a line from the Book of Rites.

13. Ki no Tomonori

(from the same contest)

hana no ka o
kaze no tayori ni
taguete zo
uguisu sasou
shirube ni wa yaru
    For a guide, I'll mate
the fragrance of flowers with
    the messenger wind,
and send them off to invite
the bush warbler to visit.

Tomonori (c.550?-c.905), a cousin of Tsurayuki, was another editor of the Kokinshu but died before its completion; it has 46 of his poems. I like it when poets get playful. Note this first indication that the plum has actually bloomed, though it will be a while before we actually see them. Given that sasou can mean lure/tempt as well as more formally invite, my interpolated "visit" may be pointing in the wrong direction.

(Parentheses around the topic or author indicate that it's carried over from the previous poem.)

14. Ôe no Chisato

(from the same contest)

uguisu no
tani yori izuru
koe naku wa
haru kuru koto o
tare ka shiramashi
    If not for the call
of the bush warbler coming
    out of the valley,
who then would be aware of
the arrival of springtime?

Chisato, a nephew of Ariwara no Narihira, was another poet who flourished from the 890s to around 920 but whose birth and death dates are unknown. He has 10 poems in the Kokinshu. After the tease of their scent in #13, we've lost the plum flowers again. We also swing from playful to arch, with a whiff of pedantry in the form of an allusion to a Chinese poem from the Book of Songs.

15. Ariwara no Muneyana

(from the same contest)

haru tatedo
hana mo niowanu
yamazato wa
monoukaru ne ni
uguisu zo naku
    Though spring has started,
in the mountain village where
    not even the plum
flowers forth, the bush warbler
sings with a listless voice.

Muneyana, oldest son of Ariwara no Narihira and father of Motokata (of #1). He died in 898 after serving in the courts of five emperors, and has four poems in the Kokinshu. Although the modern meaning of niou is "to be fragrant," it's the archaic senses of "to blossom" or "to be splended" that apply here.

16. Author unknown

Topic unknown.

iei shi sereba
uguisu no
nakunaru koe wa
asa na asa na kiku
    Because my dwelling
is beside the open fields,
    I hear the voices
of the singing bush warblers
morning after morning.

Still just the bird, but note the change in setting. The voices/birds can be singular or plural -- given the repeated mornings, I went with the latter.

17. (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

kasuga-no wa
kyô wa na yaki so
wakakusa no
tsuma mo komoreri
ware mo komoreri
    No, don't set fire
to Kasuga Plain today --
    as fresh as young grass,
my sweetheart is hidden here,
and I too am hidden here.

Given the clear cadence of a folk song, anonymous is not surprising. A variation (with Kasugano near Nara replaced with Musashino in what's now Tokyo) appears in Tales of Ise with a frame story that makes this sound rather less innocent. Fields were burned to clear last-year's stubble -- but not, one hopes, while someone is using it for a little privacy (which activity suggests the weather has warmed up). Note that while the young grass is not literal but a stock epithet (called literally a "pillow-word" in Japanese poetics) for tsuma, at the time generically "spouse" or "sweetheart" of either sex, it nonetheless points forward to sprouting about to happen.

18. (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

kasuga-no no
tobuhi no nomori
idete miyo
ima ikuka arite
wakana tsumitemu
    O watchman of
Beacon Field in Kasuga,
    go forth and look now:
how many days will it be
till we can pick the young greens?

Some Kokinshu texts swap this and the next poem -- either works, in different ways, as a follow-on from #17 or lead-in to #20. Picking and eating the first young greens (freshies!) was done ceremonially, at least in court circles, on the seventh day after New Years, and a collection of seven herbs became a customary seasonal gift (see #21). Tobuhi ("leaping flames") was named after a signal beacon near Nara. It's possible to read this as an address to a field burner being playfully called a guard, thus tying it more tightly to #17.

19. (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

miyama ni wa
matsu no yuki dani
kienaku ni
miyako wa nobe no
wakana tsumikeri
    Even though the snow
has not vanished from the pines
    in the fair mountains,
in the capital, they pick
young greens in the open fields.

With no explicit subject, it's ambiguous whether the speaker is one of the pickers, or even in the city. Given the exclamatory final -keri on the picking can indicate an element of surprise, I take it (s)he is not. Note, btw, the implicit contrast of dark green pine to light green sprouts.

20. (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

oshite harusame
kyô furinu
asu sae furaba
wakana tsumitemu
    I bend and draw
my bow of catalpa wood.
    Would it rain again
tomorrow like it rained today,
we shall go pick the young greens.

The bit about the bow exists entirely to set up a pivot on haru = "to draw" / harusame = "spring rains" (though the ritual use of bows does form a slight association with the ceremony of young greens). However, the temptation to reproduce the pun by adding having the bow spring should be resisted, so I took another route and punned on the sound of another word. A more literal version of l.3-4 would be "Spring rains fell today. / As long as they fall tomorrow,"

21. Emperor Kôkô

A poem that accompanied a gift of young greens by the Ninna Emperor when he was [still] Crown Prince.

kimi ga tame
haru no no ni idete
wakana tsumu
waga koromode ni
yuki wa furitsutsu
    It was for your sake
that I went to the spring fields
    to pluck these young greens,
and all the while the snowflakes
kept falling on my wide sleeves.

Written some time before Kôkô's accession in 884 at the age of 54 (he died in 887). He has one other poem in the Kokinshu. Finally, the young greens are present and pickable -- progress! Note another implicit color contrast, of green and white.

22. Ki no Tsurayuki

Composed when the emperor commanded a poem be presented.

kasuga-no no
wakana tsumi ni ya
shirotae no
sode furihaete
hito no yukuramu
    Are the maidens
going to pluck the young greens
    on Kasuga Plain,
waving to one another
their white mulberry-cloth sleeves?

In the Kokinshu, any unspecified emperor is understood to be Daigo, who commissioned the anthology. Shirotae no ("mulberry-cloth-white") is a pillow-word for sleeve, here used in its literal meaning instead of as just a stock epithet for flavoring. Combined with how Kasuga Plain is outside the former capital of Nara, not the Kyoto capital of Tsurayuki's day, it gives the poem a graceful, old-fashioned air. Again, a contrast of green with white sleeves. The original asks about "people", but the gathering of young greens for the seventh day festival was typically done by maidens. I suspect there's a bit of eroticism in those waving sleeves, given that sleeves were all that modest Heian court ladies showed in public.

23. Ariwara no Yukihira

Topic unknown.

haru no kiru
kasumi no koromo
nuki o osumi
yamakaze ni koso
    The robe of mist that
spring puts on must be woven
    of delicate threads,
for it is disorderd by
the barest of mountain winds.

Yukihira (818-893) was the older brother of Narihira and better known in his time for his poetry in Chinese. He was the host of the first known poetry contest, held in the mid-880s, and has four poems in the Kokinshu. Literally, only the weft is lightweight, but generalizing to the rest of the weaving sounds clearer to a modern reader. "Barest of" is also not literal, but diminution seems the best way to handle how the wind's agency is marked with an emphatic particle; even better in English would be "merest touch," but that introduces a new metaphor.

24. Minamoto no Muneyuki

A poem from the poetry contest held the palace of the consort in the Kanpyô era.

tokiwa naru
matsu no midori mo
haru kureba
ima hitoshio no
iro masarikeri
    Even the deep green
of the "unchanging pine trees" --
    now that springtime
has arrived, it more and more
grows surpassingly vivid.

Muneyuki, a grandson of Emperor Kôkô, died in 939, so was probably a young man when he participated in the 893 contest; he has six poems in the Kokinshu. One problem with oblique poetry is needing context to know what it's being indirect against. In this case, it's the conventional description in Chinese poetry of pines as unchanging green through the year -- thus making this an implicit statement of local chauvinism ("maybe their pines don't change, but as for Japanese pines ... "). To bring this out, I interpolated "deep," though arguably it's not really needed. The awkwardness of the last two lines is partly my fault, but I don't see a good reading that doesn't use two synonymous adverbs.

25. Ki no Tsurayuki

Composed when the emperor commanded a poem be presented.

waga seko ga
koromo harusame
furu-goto ni
nobe no midori zo
iro masarikeru
    I stretch my love's robes
after washing -- with each wash
    of springtime rainfall,
the green of the open fields
grows surpassingly vivid.

Written in a woman's persona -- seko was a strongly gendered endearment used for men. "After washing" is not literal, but a gloss incorporated into the text (during the annual springtime washing of the household wardrobe, robes were stretched tight as they dried to avoid wrinkling) in order to recreate the pivot-word haru = "to stretch/spread out" / harusame = "spring rains" with a repetition, and so make the otherwise irrelevant preface join associatively with the main statement. Note that this has the same last line as in #24 (to the order of a shift in verb inflection).

26. (Ki no Tsurayuki)

(Composed when the emperor commanded a poem be presented.)

aoyagi no
ito yorikakuru
haru shi mo zo
midarete hana no
    And such a springtime! --
tangling together the threads
    of the green willows,
disordering the flowers
that burst apart at the seams.

Chronology problem: in the progression of the seasons, this skips ahead to willows coming into leaf during cherry blossom time, while the sequence still hasn't gotten the plums fully blooming. Commentaries explain this away as a poem focused on the leafbuds, as part of a mini-arc on the greening of spring, but given the vividness of the flowers' fraying clothing, I'm not convinced. As for the poem itself, it is dressed in robes of learnedness, with the images of willow branches as threads and flowers bursting their seams both coming from Chinese poetry. I couldn't reproduce the original's balance of willow and flowers on either side of the middle line's spring (marked with three separate emphatic particles), and as it is I took some liberties with the verbs. At least I managed a pleasantly Chinese chiasmus in the two parallel images.

27. Henjô

Written on the willows near the Great Western Temple.

ito yorikakete
shiratsuyu o
tama ni mo nukeru
haru no yanagi ka
    Twining together
their light-green threads of branches
    and stringing them through
the white dewdrops as gemstones --
the willow trees in springtime!

Henjô (816-890) was a grandson of Emperor Kanmu (and so cousin of Narihira) and the father of Sosei; as Yoshimine no Munesada, he was a successful courtier but after the the death in 850 of Emperor Ninmyô, his cousin and principal patron, he took Buddhist orders and eventually became archbishop, as the title is usually translated. He was another of the Six Poetic Geniuses and has 17 poems in the Kokinshu. The temple in question stood near the Rashomon Gate in Kyoto. Again, the sweeping willow branches (which noun I added as a gloss-within-the-text) are green out of season for the sequence.

28. Author unknown

Topic unknown.

saezuru haru wa
mono-goto ni
ware zo furiyuku
    In the springtime when
myriads of birds twitter,
    each and every thing
once again renews, and yet
I myself keep growing old.

Medieval commentators took momochidori to be an otherwise unknown name of a bird, with each textual tradition identifying a different one as part of secret lore handed down from teacher to student. The modern scholarly consensus is that it means literally "hundred-thousand-bird" -- that is, hundreds and thousands of them. To be fair to the past, a chidori written with the kanji meaning "thousand-bird" is the common name for plover, but nevertheless it is possible for exegesis to be too subtle. Note that the greening of spring is not explicit, thus subtly transitioning us back to the season's regular chronology.

29. (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

ochikochi no
tazuki mo shiranu
yamanaka ni
obotsukanaku mo
yobukodori kana
    Thither and hither,
not knowing which way to go
    deep in the mountains --
ah, how unreliable
the calls of the little birds!

Yobukodori ("call-child-bird") is another uncertain bird and, like the momochidori of #28, it had several medieval identifications; it is now tentatively identified as either the cuckoo or White's thrush. Given the uncertainty (and that doing so works), the temptation of again reading it literally was too strong to resist. More puzzling is the ambiguity of whether bird or speaker is uncertain of the "direction" -- either presents difficulties of interpretation. Regardless, I'm rather fond of this one.

30. Ôshikôchi no Mitsune

Written on hearing the wild geese call and thinking of someone departed for Koshi.

haru kureba
kari kaerunari
shirakumo no
michiyukiburi ni
koto ya tsutemashi
    With spring's arrival
it seems the wild geese go home --
    if only I could
use them to send messages
on their route through the white clouds.

Mitsune, another poet who flourished from the 890s to around 920, is the other editor of the Kokinshu -- which has 60 of his poems, more than anyone but Tsurayuki. A solid return to early spring, as geese that winter in Japan begin migrating ("return (home)") to their north-Asia breeding grounds; their coming south is an autumnal sign (as on this icon). Using geese to carry messages was a traditional conceit of Chinese poetry. Koshi was one of many names for the northern provinces of Honshu, the main island. My version completely fails to convey the original's soundplay, especially the piled k and r syllables of the first two lines, and the polysyllabic pileups of the last three.

31. Ise

Written on wild geese returning home.

tatsu o misutete
yuku kari wa
hana naki sato ni
sumi ya naraeru
    The wild geese who
forsake our rising spring mists --
    is it that they are
accustomed to dwelling in
villages without flowers?

Ise was the daughter of Fujiwara no Tsugukage, a governor of Ise Province (modern Mie Prefecture), from which she gets her use-name. Her personal name is unknown and dates are uncertain, but she became a lady-in-waiting to Atsuko, the empress of Emperor Uda, around 890 when she was in her teens, and was still in the service of Atsuko's daughter Kinshi in 930 -- having had, in the interim, affairs with Atsuko's brother, Uda himself, and Kinshi's husband. She was the leading woman poet of her generation, being especially noted for her love poems, and has 22 poems in the Kokinshu.

32. Author unknown

Topic unknown.

sode koso nioe
ume no hana
ari to ya koko ni
uguisu no naku
    Now that I've plucked some
my sleeves are indeed scented --
    so this bush warbler,
is it singing out that
"The plum blossoms -- here they are!"?

The plums are finally blooming, inaugurating a long sequence of poems about them. Flowers were used (directly and as incense) to perfume clothing, and the "elegant confusion" of mistaking the scent of one for the other underlies this and the next three poems. Note also the return of the confusible bush warbler, who technically is here singing, rather than singing "here." Like the spring mist, ume no hana ("plum flowers") exactly fills a 5-syllable line and so almost never has a case-marker in poetry -- especially when, as in this poem, it's as a fulcrum middle line around which everything balances. Here the flowers could be an exclamation or address by either the speaker or bird, or the unmarked subject of ari ("is") as spoken by the bird. I chose the last reading. (I'll mention this aspect of interpretation only when it makes a significant difference -- in many ways it's as run-of-the-mill as deciding on pronouns.)

33. (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

iro yori mo
ka koso aware to
ta ga sode fureshi
yado no ume zo mo
    More than the color
I find that it's the fragrance
    that moves me the most.
Whose sleeve was it that brushed
the plum blossoms by my house?

Given it's not stated what's color & scent are being compared, flowers are the likely initial interpretation until one gets to the second half. Again, I suspect an element of eroticism in the sleeves, especially given that fure can be read as "to wave/flutter" as well as "to touch."

34. (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

yado chikaku
ume no hana ueji
matsu hito no ka ni
    I'll never again
grow plum trees beside my house --
    I keep mistaking them
for the perfume of the one
I futilely await.

And following the erotic hint in #33, we get full romance with a woman waiting for her lover to visit. Spring is indeed in the air. It would, of course, be her lover's robes that are perfumed. Literally, she swears off growing "plum flowers," but in English we usually call the whole plant a tree. Despite having more room from appearing in the longer second line (which even has an extra syllable), the flowers still have no case marker, but here are clearly the direct object of "shall not plant."

35. (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

ume no hana
tachiyoru bakari
arishi yori
hito no togamuru
ka ni zo shiminuru
    O flowering plum --
merely from visiting
    for so short a time,
I was so soaked in your scent
that now someone suspects me.

While the Kokinshu claims the author is unknown, this is also in the collected poems of Fujiwara no Kanesuke, a contemporary of the editors (who included four attributed poems of his). Anonymized and placed in this sequence, it reads as a literal plum's scent, with the speaker's lover incorrectly assuming it came from a third party, and the speaker is protesting his faithfulness. In Kanesuke's collection, the headnote points at the reading that the scent is from a brief visit to her residence (possibly her incense), his own household is correctly suspicious, and he is obliquely telling his lover he intends to continue their affair regardless. Context changes oh so much. (More discussion here.) Going by the Kokinshu reading, since that's what I'm translating, the unmarked flowers can be taken as the direct object of "visit," an exclamation, or an address -- the last, I think, points up the irony and comes closer to what I think of as the Kokinshu manner.

36. Minamoto no Tokiwa

Written on breaking off [a branch of] plum flowers.

uguisu no
kasa ni nuu chô
ume no hana
orite kazasamu
oi kakuru ya to
    They say the warbler
embroiders its sunhat with these
    plum flowers I pick --
perhaps I'll adorn myself
with them to hide my old age.

Tokiwa (c.812-854) was a son of Emperor Saga; this is his only poem in the Kokinshu. This charming bit of folklore is elaborated on in #1081, a folksong about a warbler weaving a sun-hat from willow-branch threads and decorating it with plum flowers. Whether Tokiwa directly refers to that song or they both to some common lore is unclear.

37. Sosei

Topic unknown.

yoso ni nomi
aware to zo mishi
ume no hana
akanu iro ka wa
orite narikeri
    It indeed moves me
when only seen at a distance --
    the flowering plum!
Plucked, and I never tire
of its color and perfume.

In modern Japanese, iro-ka ("color-scent") can be understood as "color and scent" but also idiomatically as something like "loveliness" or "charm"; I haven't yet been able to find whether that sense existed at the time.

38. Ki no Tomonori

Written on plum flowers plucked and sent to someone.

kimi narade
tare ni ka misemu
ume no hana
iro o mo ka o mo
shiru hito zo shiru
    Yet if not to you,
then to whom might I show it?
    The flowering plum!
Only the knowing can know
both its color and its scent.

A frequently anthologized poem, not to mention quoted in The Tale of Genji. In Japanese esthetics, "knowing" something's color is to apprehend its surface beauty, while "knowing" its scent suggests a deeper insight into its true nature. (This seems to lie behind the idiom of color-and-scent meaning loveliness.) I'd translate shiru hito ("person who knows") less literally as something like "the cognoscente" if the repetition of shiru ("know") didn't seem important.

39. Ki no Tsurayuki

Written on Mt. Kurabu.

ume no hana
niou haru-be wa
yami ni koyuredo
shiruku zo arikeru
    The flowering plum!
With its scent in the springtime,
    even when we cross
Mt. Shadows in the darkness,
we indeed know it is there.

So many compromises here. As noted in #15, niou had an archaic meaning of "to be splended/have splendor" (pointing at the white flowers in darkness) as well as the main modern meaning of "to be fragrant" -- given the previous two poems treat color and scent equally, not to mention Tsurayuki's poetic ability, I suspect both senses are intended simultaneously. If one perforce must choose for not finding an English equivalent, given that the next two poems are about smelling plum flowers in the night, the perfume sense can be justified as part of this shift. Mt. Kurabu is unknown, though it may be an old name of either Mt. Kurama or Mt. Kibune near Kyoto; it's being crossed in the darkness (yami) because its name puns on kurai, "dark" -- or less literally to keep the pun unlabored, "shadowed."

40. Ôshikôchi no Mitsune

When someone said on a moonlit night, "Break off some plum blossoms," he composed this as he did so.

tsuki yo ni wa
sore to mo miezu
ume no hana
ka o tazunete zo
    On a moonlit night,
even though they aren't seen,
    isn't it true that
we can know the plum flowers
by following their perfume?

Mitsune seems to have specialized in improvised social poetry of this sort. I'm not sure how to read sore to mo here, but it seems to carry the sense of "even like that/even in that way," with the effect of a sort of concessive, rather than the modern idiomatic conjunction. You'd think the white flowers would show quite well at night, but apparently they are understood as blending with the white moonlight into invisibility. Or something like that. I can't say this is the most effective conceit ever, even aside from my parsing issues. The flowers sans case-marker are best read as a genitive modifying "scent" in contrast to the next poem.

41. (Ôshikôchi no Mitsune)

Written on plum blossoms on a spring night.

haru no yo no
yami wa ayanashi
ume no hana
iro koso miene
ka ya wa kakururu
    How foolish it is,
the darkness of the spring night:
    the plum flower's hue
certainly cannot be seen,
yet can its scent be hidden?

As in the previous, the flowers are unmarked but clearly are a genitive, here modifying "color" instead of "scent." The editors liked these sorts of balanced pairs.

42. Ki no Tsurayuki

When he arrived, after long absence, at the house of the person with whom he habitually lodged when he made pilgrimages to Hatsuse, the person sent out word that "this inn" was always open to him. [Tsurayuki] then broke off a flower of the plum that stood there and recited this.

hito wa isa
kokoro mo shirazu
furusato wa
hana zo mukashi no
ka ni nioikeru
    What goes on inside
human hearts cannot be known,
    but in my home town
the plum blossoms still give off
the same perfume as of old.

Hatsuse near Nara was the home of Hase temple. The original is just "flower" without the plum, but given headnote, plum in translation it is. Many translations fail to bring out the sarcasm of Tsurayuki's host (nor, as a result, how just snarky Tsurayuki is being).

43. Ise

Written on plum trees blooming beside the water.

harugoto ni
nagaruru kawa o
hana to mite
orarenu mizu ni
sode ya nurenamu
    Shall I, every spring,
see the flowing river
    as blooming flowers
and once again soak my sleeve
in waters I cannot pick?

According to the headnote in Ise's collected poems, the water in question is a stream in Emperor Uda's palace. "Blooming" is my addition, eked out from the headnote, to contrast with the next poem.

44. (Ise)

(Written on plum trees blooming beside the waters.)

toshi o hete
hana no kagami to
naru mizu wa
chirikakaru o ya
kumoru to iuramu
    Year after year,
the water that becomes a
    mirror of flowers --
should we say it clouds over
as petals scatter on it?

And now the plum flowers start fading. With, apparently, bad line breaks unbecoming of the original. Bah.

45. Ki no Tsurayuki

Written on the scattering of the plum flowers at his house.

kuru to aku to
me karenu mono o
ume no hana
itsu no hitoma ni
    O flowering plum,
since you never left my sight
    at neither dusk nor dawn,
in what solitude did you
then fade away and scatter?

For the grammatically ambiguous flower, direct address offered more pathos and less emo than exclamation or topic/subject of the final verb. Utsurou is an archaic verb meaning "to change," usually with flowers in the sense of "to fade" but sometimes "to scatter." As commentaries don't agree on which to read here, I went with both -- Tsurayuki being a poet who is quite capable of intending us to hold multiple meaning in mind.

46. Author unknown

A poem from the poetry contest held in the palace of the consort in the Kanpyô era.

ume ga ka o
sode ni utsushite
haru wa sugu to mo
katami naramashi
    If I permeated
my sleeve with the scent of plum
    and so captured it,
it would be a memento
even if spring departed.

Given all four Kokinshu editors participated in the contest, the claim of unknown authorship is startling; three other poems from the contest (of the sixty-odd included) are also given anonymously. A more literal rendering of the first two lines would be "if I could transfer / the scent of plum to my sleeve," but that's more strained and awkward. The poignancy of the final verb's conjugation as a counter-factual supposition doesn't really come through in translation -- English doesn't readily distinguish between that and other conjectural modes.

47. Sosei

(from the same contest)

chiru to mite
arubeki mono o
ume no hana
utate nioi no
sode ni tomareru
    Seeing them scatter
ought to be the end of it.
    These plum blossoms!
-- nothing can keep their perfume
from lingering on my sleeves.

The unmarked flower can here pretty much only be an exclamation. Technically it could also be direct address, but that personification just makes me snicker.

48. Author unknown

Topic unkown.

chirinu tomo
ka o dani nokose
ume no hana
koishiki toki no
omoide ni semu
    Even if you fall,
at least leave behind your scent,
    O flowering plum --
it would be a memory
of a season of longing.

Whom the speaker longs for is unstated, but it reads to me as a lover rather than the flowers (specifically, it's a memory of a time of longing, not a memory for when (s)he is in such a time), in contrast with the previous two poems.

Continued in a second scroll, because LJ insists it doesn't have an intar-tube large enough for just one.

(Index for this series)



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2017 11:34 am (UTC)
Very very interesting ... a great thank you for this post

best regards
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )