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Kokinshu Book IVa: Autumn 1 (169-200)

While the two autumn books of the Kokinshu are as long as those of spring, their contents are more varied, especially in this first one: in contrast to the dominance of cherry blossoms, there are more things that remind poets of the world's transience -- winds, stars, mists, cold dew, changing leaves, barren trees, migrating geese, belling stags, late flowers. In all fairness, the dying year does evoke the melancholy of mono no aware more naturally than the blossoming spring -- "summer is over and gone, over and gone, over and gone," indeed. Regardless, with this variety, we get more varied responses (including far too much "cleverness" based on plant names).

But speaking of crickets, add to this project's bibliography Lafcadio Hearn's essay "Insect-Musicians" from his collection Exotics and Retrospectives. The focus is on those sold as pets in Tokyo in the 1890s, but along the way he gives a valuable rundown of all the varieties and their cultural associations. Because like everything else insects, even the cheerful chirpers, also trigger loneliness. 'Tis the season.

169.  Fujiwara no Toshiyuki

Written the day autumn started.

aki kinu to
me ni wa sayaka ni
kaze no oto ni zo
    Although to the eye
it cannot clearly be seen
    that autumn has come,
still I find myself surprised
by the whisper of the breeze.

Toshiyuki (c.830–901 or 907) held various middling court offices from 866 to 897, ending as a captain of the imperial guard. His mother was another daughter of Ki no Natora, making him maternal cousin of princes Tsuneyasu and Koretada. He has 19 poems in the Kokinshu. ¶ And right on the heels of a poem written the last day of summer, one from the first day of autumn -- being the beginning of the Seventh Month, which fell roughly early-August. The surprise carries over into the next few poems. This is quite lovely in the original, enough so to warrant changing the literal "sound of wind" to "whisper of breeze" purely for the effect.

170.  Ki no Tsurayuki

Written when he accompanied some court officials on an excursion to the Kamo River bank on the day autumn started.

kawakaze no
suzushiku mo aru ka
nami to tomo ni ya
aki wa tatsuramu
    In the river wind
there is a refreshing chill.
    Might it be autumn
is approaching together with
the waves rippling onto shore?

Tsurayuki again takes the second slot of an important season. The Kamo flows just east of the capital, and he "accompanied" the party as a subordinate (compare #161). Tatsu means "rise" for the waves and "start" for autumn, and for once I managed to double the meanings in a single English word, partly by borrowing from the verb for the waves's movement.

171.  Author unknown

Topic unknown.

waga seko ga
koromo no suso o
aki no hatsukaze
    An inside lining --
the fluttering of the hem
    of my husband's robe!
How enticing they are,
the first breezes of autumn.

Pivot-word: ura = "reverse"/"lining" / uramezurashii = "enticing"/"creating curiosity." I displaced the lining to the start for the rhythm and to bring out more clearly the "reasoning technique" of deducing cause from observed effect. The man is not necessarily married to the speaker, but the alternative of "darling" isn't gendered. Compare #25, which may be riffing on this.

172.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

kinô koso
sanae torishika
itsu no ma ni
inaba soyogite
akikaze no fuku
    Only yesterday
we transplanted the seedlings.
    All of a sudden
the rice leaves are rustling
and the autumn winds blowing.

"Rustling" is not a perfect translation, as it can imply drier leaves than soyogu's susurration, but it's the closest English equivalent. Compare the timeslip to #116.

173.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

akikaze no
fukinishi hi yori
hisakata no
ama no kawara ni
tatanu hi wa nashi
    Ever since the day
I felt the autumn winds blow,
    there's been not one day
I haven't stood on the bank
of Heaven's Endless River.

The first of a series of 11 poems about Tanabata, a festival imported from China celebrating the one day a year the Oxherd (the star Altair) is allowed a conjugal visit with the Weaver Maid (Vega), separated from him by the River of Heaven (Milky Way). At the time, the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month fell some time in August, and so was more naturally thought of as an early autumn event than the modern July 7th observance. This could be spoken by either party of the story, but given the Weaver Maid waits to be visited this is often heard as her voice. Compare the location and anticipation with #170.

174.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

hisakata no
ama no kawara no
kimi watarinaba
kaji kakushite yo
    O ferryboatman
on the bank of the Endless
    River of Heaven,
if my lord has crossed over,
keep your oar hidden away!

The first two lines of the original (my l.2-3) are almost the same as #173.3-4 (my last line and a half), and now the speaker is explicitly the Weaver Maid. How the Oxherd crosses the River comes in many variations: here it's by boat, but in other stories it's a bridge of autumn leaves or (most romantically) magpie wings.

175.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

ama (no) kawa
momiji o hashi ni
wataseba ya
tanabatatsume no
aki o shimo matsu
    River of Heaven,
is it because it lays down
    a bridge of red leaves
that the Weaver Maid awaits
the arrival of autumn?

And from a heavenly perspective we swoop down to earth, with a poem especially admired for its romantic tone. Ama no kawa ("River of Heaven," now without its banks) is another key 5-syllable phrase often appearing without a case-marker; here it can only be address or possibly exclamation, as autumn and the leaves are subject and direct object of the transitive watasu ("to span," rendered here as "lays down"). My justification for the interpretive "the arrival of" is how emphatically the autumn being waited for is marked. Note this first mention of autumn leaves -- here written with kanji meaning "crimson leaf," but the term encompassed all the colors of the season.

176.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

au yo wa koyoi
ama no kawa
kiri tachi-watari
akezu mo aranamu
    Desperately longed for,
the night we meet is tonight.
    River of Heaven,
may the mists envelop you
so that daybreak never comes.

Back up to heaven; while either party could be speaking, I'm inclined to hear the Weaver Maid's voice again. Kiri ("mist") is the autumnal counterpart of vernal kasume (see #3n), of which more anon. I am unreasonably fond of the line au yo wa koyoi, "the night we meet (is) tonight."

177.  Ki no Tomonori

Written for another when, in the Kanpyô Era, the Emperor [Uda] commanded the courtiers to present poems on the night of the Seventh.

ama (no) kawa
asase shiranami
ake zo shinikeru
    Constantly searching
the white waves in the shallows
    of Heaven's River,
he didn't know how to cross
when daybreak had, yes, begun.

On the one hand, this is about the Oxherd searching for a way across; on the other, it's also about the man Tomonori is pinch-hitting for, whom he implies searched all night for something to write but also failed. This secondary meaning suggests reading this pronounless poem as as third-person instead of first, returning to a terrestrial point-of-view. Pivot-word: shiranami is "white wave" but can also be read as "not knowing." In some Tanabata stories, the Oxherd cannot cross the Milky Way if the sky is overcast, and the whitecaps may represent such clouds.

178.  Fujiwara no Okikaze

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

kokoro zo tsuraki
tanabata no
toshi ni hitotabi
au wa au ka wa
    It is cold indeed,
a heart that could promise that:
    is meeting but once
a year on Tanabata
really a meeting at all?

Back to purely earthbound speculation. I cannot help thinking this isn't really a Tanabata poem but rather using the story's trappings to accuse the speaker's lover. Either way, though, it doesn't work for me because it's blaming the victim: meeting one night a year isn't the idea of either the Weaver Maid or the Oxherd, but a punishment from her grandfather, the Emperor of Heaven, for shirking her weaving for love. "But," "really," and "at all" are rhetorical rather than literal, from the question being marked as expecting a negative answer.

179.  Ôshikôchi no Mitsune

Written the night of the Seventh.

toshi-goto ni
au to wa suredo
tanabata no
nuru yo no kazu zo
    Although it is true
that they meet every year
    on Tanabata,
the nights they sleep together
are indeed few in number.

I may be missing something, but the wit here sounds to me just as weak in Japanese as does in English. Technicalities: "on Tanabata" more properly belongs to the second clause but it sounds more natural in English to move it up, and "together" is another of those omitted-but-understood words.

180.  (Ôshikôchi no Mitsune)

(Written the night of the Seventh.)

tanabata ni
kashitsuru ito no
toshi no o nagaku
koi ya wataramu
    These threads we offer
for Tanabata ever
    continue onward --
will their love extend like that
the length of the cord of years?

On Tanabata, young women gave offerings of thread to the Weaver Maid in return for skill at working with it. As such, I understand the speaker as one of them speculating about the celestial affair, but it could be read as a single person talking about his/her own love, with the offering done by another and the festival as metaphoric dressing. The action of the middle line uchihaete ("keeps continuing, and") applies both to the thread above it and the years below; I made the resulting implicit comparison explicit.

181.  Sosei

Topic unknown.

koyoi komu
hito ni wa awaji
tanabata no
hisashiki hodo ni
machi mo koso sure
    No, I shall not meet
the man who might come tonight,
    lest I also would
then have to wait as long as
the next Tanabata.

Written in a female persona using the story of Orihime to comment on "her" own relationship -- the implied point being "as above, so below." The conjunction of consequence (here "lest") is another omitted-but-understood word, while "next" is my interpretation.

182.  Minamoto no Muneyuki

Written at dawn on the night of the Seventh.

ima wa tote
wakaruru toki wa
ama (no) kawa
wataranu saki ni
sode zo hichinuru
    Because "It is now" --
in this time of separation,
    though I haven't yet
crossed the River of Heaven,
my sleeves are already soaked.

The conceit being that the Oxherd is crying into his sleeves in the approved courtly manner, getting them wet even before the river splashes them (presumably on the ferry). Technically "(it is) now" is not directly quoted, but I treat it as a farewell comparable to sayonara, lit. "since (it's) thus," to highlight the pathos. Lost in translation: the soundplay of wakaru ("separate") and wataru ("cross").

183.  Mibu no Tadamine

Written on the Eighth.

kyô yori wa
ima komu toshi no
kinô o zo
itsu shika to nomi
    So starting today
I must wait impatiently
    though the entire
year that is now to come for
yesterday's Tanabata.

The arc rounds out with a morning-after poem from the Oxherd, de rigueur in court circles after a tryst -- and of course, "as below, so above." More literally, it's "await the yesterday of the year to come," but it flows better for the clarification of "Tanabata."

184.  Author unknown

Topic unknown.

ko no ma yori
mori-kuru tsuki no
kage mireba
kokorozukushi no
aki wa kinikeri
    When I see moonlight
filtering through the spaces
    between the bare trees,
I realize it has come,
the melancholy autumn.

This appears in Ono no Komachi's collected poetry, but the attribution is doubtful, as that was compiled some generations after her death, and this reads nothing like her other poems in anything but emotional tone. Sequencewise, now that we are over the surprise arrival of autumn, it it time to sorrow over it. Melancholy sparked by barren branches is a common trope in Chinese poetry; the Japanese borrowed the seasonal response but largely transferred the stimulus to the changing leaves, which were rarely mentioned in Chinese poems. That the trees here are "bare" is not in the original but implied by the gaps.

185.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

ôkata no
aki kuru kara ni
waga mi koso
kanashiki mono to
    The moment autumn
has arrived all about us,
    I realize
that it is indeed myself
who's the melancholy one.

According to one edition, this is Ôe no Chisato's adaptation of a verse by Po Chü-i/Bai Juyi, but I haven't found a copy of his Kudai waka to confirm this. The placement between the previous and following poems makes me think the implied contrast is with the season (as opposed to other people) not being sad, but the text is ambiguous. I tried to bring out this interpretation out by alliterating on m (matching initial ka- on the equivalent words).

186.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

waga tame ni
kuru aki ni shimo
aranaku ni
mushi no ne kikeba
mazu zo kanashiki
    It's not for my sake
alone that autumn arrives,
    but nevertheless
when I hear sounds of insects,
it is I who sorrows first.

Here the contrast is explicitly with other people. The sound of insects, especially crickets chirping, is another poetic symbol of autumn (delved into more deeply starting with #196).

187.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

mono-goto ni
aki zo kanashiki
utsuroi-yuku o
kagiri to omoeba
    Autumn is indeed
in every way sorrowful
    -- for we're aware that
in the constantly changing
fading colors is the end.

Sequence-wise, this anticipates the leaves' disappearance by quite a ways, but makes for a concise summary of why the pretty colors sadden. Whether what's mourned is the end of the leaves or season is left deliberately vague since it is, of course, both. The original has an inverted sentence order: the first two lines would normally go after the end.

188.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

hitori nuru
toko wa kusaba ni
aki kuru yoi wa
    Even though the bed
where I lie down alone
    is not made of grass,
when the autumn evening comes
it is soaked through with the dew.

To sleep on grass, especially a grass pillow, was a common metonymy for traveling, and we are to understand the "dew" is probably tears -- though whether because of the season, as the poem's placement suggests, or a separation is left open. Note the shift to considering autumnal nights.

189.  (Author unknown)

A poem from the poetry contest at the house of Prince Koresada.

itsu wa to wa
toki wa wakanedo
aki no yo zo
mono omou koto no
kagiri narikeru
    Although it can be
any time we feel this way,
    the autumn nights are,
I find, the culmination
of my brooding upon things.

Koresada (d. c.903), a son of Emperor Kôkô (see #21), hosted the contest in 893 or shortly before. The topic seems to have specifically been autumn, as the 23 poems in the Kokinshu taken from it all refer to the season. While it may seem odd that the editors (most of whom participated) wouldn't know the author, this was a so-called "desk" competition with poems submitted in writing beforehand, rather than an in-person recital against a member of the other team, poetry-slam style. The highly idiomatic opening is rendered freely.

190.  Ôshikôchi no Mistune

Written while people gathered in the Kannari-no-Tsubo were writing poems regretting autumn nights.

kaku bakari
oshi to omou yo o
itazura ni
nete akasuramu
hito sae zo uki
    They're detestable,
those people who'd uselessly
    sleep through until dawn
those nights that I consider
entirely precious.

The Kannari-no-Tsubo ("thunder court") was a building in the northwest corner of the imperial compound edited: next to that was part of the women's quarters -- one wonders if he had a lover listening in. To make something coherent, I had to reverse the sentence order (in the original, his delight in night come first, then the sleeping people, then his detestation) and treat akasu, "to pass (time)," as something of a pun on akeru, "to dawn," (they're written with the same kanji) by double-translating it a la a pivot-word.

191.  Author unknown

Topic unknown.

shirokumo ni
hane uchikawashi
tobu kari no
kazu sae miyuru
aki no yo no tsuki
    Across the white clouds,
wings in line upon line,
    wild geese are flying --
you can even count them
in this autumn night's moon.

The moon is the Eighth Month's full moon, which in the lunisolar calendar fell in September or earliest October, the occasion of Tsukimi or the Moon Viewing Festival -- and subject of the next few poems. Sequencewise, this jumps a little ahead in time, as the geese (the same that flew north in #30) don't start arriving south for the winter in #206. Grammatically, this is a long noun-phrase headed by and describing "moon," but the order of images is more important to the effect than keeping the syntax as smooth as the original. All in all, a lovely poem, one that forced me to break form and shorten all long lines a syllable to match its grace.

192.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

sayonaka to
yo wa fukenurashi
kari ga ne no
kikoyuru sora ni
tsuki wataru miyu
    It seems that the night
has deepened into midnight:
    a wild goose's call
can be heard in the sky where
the moon appears overhead.

Although the Kokinshu prefaces claim the editors followed the directive to collect poems not in the Man'yoshu, compiled 150 years before, this poem is also found there (IX:1701, part of a collection dubiously attributed to Kakinomoto no Hitomaro). Oops. Technically, it says the moon is seen in a sky where a goose can be heard, but reversing this maintains the image order. I went with a single goose match the loneliness of the wee small hours of the morning.

193.  Ôe no Chisato

A poem from the poetry contest at the house of Prince Koresada.

tsuki mireba
chiji ni mono koso
waga mi hitotsu no
aki ni wa aranedo
    When I see the moon
I'm filled with many thousands
    of sorrowful thoughts
-- even though it's not for me
alone that autumn exists.

In normal sentence order, the last two lines would go first. In sound and rhythm, the original is almost pitch-perfect.

194.  Mibu no Tadamine

(from the same contest)

hisakata no
tsuki no katsura mo
aki wa nao
momiji sureba ya
    The eternal moon --
it is because its cassia
    also takes on
the colors of autumn leaves
that it shines ever brighter?

The tree is called katsura, which ordinarily refers to the Japanese redbud (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) but is also used for cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum), which in Chinese mythology grows on the moon. This double-meaning is confusing to almost everyone -- including apparently Tadamine, as while the temperate redbud is noted for its autumnal foliage, the tropical cassia neither is deciduous nor grows in Japan. I translated his apparent intent despite the mistaken botany, even though this makes it easier to give a negative answer.

195.  Ariwara no Motokata

Written on the moon.

aki no yo no
tsuki no hikari shi
kurabu no yama mo
    The light of the moon
of this night in autumn:
    is it because it's
so bright that I was able
to cross even Mt. Shadows?

For Kurabu, see #39. It was tempting to render its name as Mt. Darkness to highlight how pedestrian a poet Motokata is compared to Tsurayuki.

196.  Fuijwara no Tadafusa

On a night he was visiting someone, he heard a cricket's chirping and wrote this.

itaku na naki so
aki no yo no
nagaki omoi wa
ware zo masareru
    O cricket, no,
do not cry so terribly:
    though your sorrows are
as long as an autumn night,
my own indeed surpass them.

Tadafusa's birth date is unknown but he first appears in court records in 893 and died in 928; he has 4 poems in the Kokinshu. ¶ Kirigirisu is another key 5-syllable noun without a case-marker, but a direct command makes it clear that here it's being addressed -- leaving instead the question of what, exactly, it is. Although today it is the name of a kind of katydid, at the time it meant a cricket, probably either a bell-cricket or pine-cricket, or sometimes generically any autumn-chirping insect. Pivot-word: nagaki is "long" for the night but also nagaki omoi, "long thought," is idiomatically "sorrow" -- the effect is an implicit comparison. Note also the return of the naku = "call" / "weep" pun. Whether the occasion was a visit to a friend or a (would-be?) lover is debated. This starts a series of insect poems, many with some sort of speaker identification; the night setting of this one matches the moon poems, by way of transitioning back to earlier in the season.

197.  Fujiwara no Toshiyuki

A poem from the poetry contest at the house of Prince Koresada.

aki no yo no
akuru mo shirazu
naku mushi wa
waga goto mono ya
    They don't even notice
the dawn on this autumn night.
    These crying insects --
could it be they are someone
as sorrowful as myself?

When night creatures "cry" into daytime, they must really be sad.

198.  Author unknown

Topic unknown.

akihagi mo
waga nenu goto ya
yoru wa kanashiki
    Is it because
even autumn bush-clovers
    have altered their colors
that crickets find this night as
wretched as I, sleepless, do?

Japanese bush-clover (various species of Lespedeza, in poetry often specifically Lespedeza bicolor) is one of the canonical seven flowers of autumn, blooming in early in the season; its leaves turn colorful later on, meaning we haven't shifted all the way back to the chronological sequence just yet. Note the assumption of, without actually using, the naku = "call"/"weep" pun. My awkward rendering does not do justice to a quite good original.

199.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

aki no yo wa
tsuyu koso koto ni
kusamura-goto ni
mushi no wabureba
    On an autumn night
it seems it's the dew that is
    especially cold
-- for insects are lamenting
in each and every thicket.

"Lament" (waburu) again implies awareness of the naku = "call"/"weep" pun. Also, inversion there is -- in normal sentence order, the last two lines would go first.

200.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

kimi shinobu
kusa ni yatsururu
furusato wa
matsumushi no ne zo
    I remember you,
and pine away at the old home
    overgrown with fern,
where it's the pine-cricket's voice
I find the most sorrowful.

This has two or possibly three pivot-words -- the clear ones being shinobu = "to remember" / shinobukusa = hare's-foot fern, which often grows on house eaves, and the first part of matsumushi = "pine cricket" (Xenogryllus marmoratus, link to recording) is matsu = "to wait," which in poetry often has the sense of "to long/pine" for someone (the next three poems all hinge on this pivot-pun). The debatable pivot is yatsuru = "to disappear" / "to waste away," which looks promising if you understand the old home as disappearing under the growth and the speaker as wasting, but it's hard to see how to joint up the syntax. I decided to read this third as more an overtone than outright double-meaning, by rendering the waiting as not just "pining" but "pining away." I understand the speaker as an abandoned woman living in the run-down house she used to share with someone, but it could also be a man waiting/pining outside the house of a former/would-be lover. Either way, there's more than a bit of self-dramatizing going on.

Have I mentioned before that LJ length limits force me to split these posts onto a second scroll?

(Index for this series)



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2012 08:48 pm (UTC)
Wow, these are fascinating.
May. 28th, 2012 03:47 am (UTC)
Ain't they tho'. This may be my favorite book of the collection so far.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )