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Kokinshu Book III: Summer (135-168)

In Kokinshu aesthetics, summer is less important and less interesting than spring: a quarter the number of poems deal with it, and they obsessively focus on a single key image -- the lesser cuckoo, mentioned one way or another in 28 of the 34. In addition, more than the other books, the authors are mostly either from the editors' circle or older anonymous poets -- as if nobody else, at the time, was writing suitable material. There is, it seems, more inspiration in the flowers of spring and autumn's leaves.

Still, the season has its charms, and personally I find a lot to like here. I just wish they'd gotten in, I don't know, fireflies in mazy flight, or wildflowers in the fields. Or maybe that's just me -- you may prefer it the way it is:

135.  Author unknown

Topic unknown.

waga yado no
ike no fujinami
itsu ka kinakamu

kono uta, aru hito no iwaku, kakinomoto no hitomaru ga nari
    The wisteria waves
have now bloomed by the pond
    within my garden.
So when might he come and sing,
the cuckoo of the mountains?

Some say this poem is by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro.

Hitomaro was a late Asuka-period courtier praised in the Kokinshu prefaces as one of the two best poets of Japan's past. His birthdate is unknown; his datable poetry in the Man'yoshu, much of it written for court occasions, is all from the 680s through the 700s, and he is believed to have died before 710 when the capital moved to Nara. He was deified as a Shinto god of poetry, with shrines devoted to him concentrated in western Shimane Prefecture (formerly Iwami Province, where he served as minor adminstrative official), though there's one near Kobe where an annual poetry festival is still held. Five poems in the Kokinshu are dubiously attributed to him, and modern scholars are as dubious as the editors, making the whole first half of this footnote pure distraction. ¶ The hototogisu or lesser cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus, sometimes confusingly translated as "nightingale" despite being a rather different bird) is to summer what the bush warbler is to spring, only more so. Given that we'll be hearing -- and not hearing -- from it a lot, it's a good thing its song is pretty. As usual for a key 5-syllable word, it has no case-marking particle (despite appearing in a 7-syllable line -- mountains also take up space): possible readings include direct address, exclamation, or unmarked subject of "come sing." More literally, the pond is "of/in my house," which I've come to realize is understood to mean within the grounds. Note that with the wave and pond we get an implicit contrast with the mountains. The wisteria, as we have seen, is a late spring flower, and the cuckoo doesn't start singing until June, making this poem encompass the transition into summer.

136.  Ki no Toshisada

Written on seeing a cherry bloom in the Fourth Month.

aware chô
koto o amata ni
yaraji to ya
haru ni okurete
hitori sakuramu
    Is it to prevent
us from saying "So moving!"
    to all the others
that, with spring already past,
this cherry tree blooms alone?

Toshisada appears in court records as a minor official from the 870s until his death in 881. He has four poems in the Kokinshu, plus he fails to appear in the headnote of #969. ¶ As extensively lamented in book 2, cherry blossoms are usually over well before the lunisolar Fourth Month (roughly early-May to early-June), the first month of summer. What is blooming is hidden in a pivot-word, being the sakura that's the first part of sakuramu ("bloom" with a speculative inflection).

137.  Author unknown

Topic unknown.

satsuki matsu
ima mo nakanamu
kozo no furugoe
    O mountain cuckoo
waiting until the Fifth Month,
    would that even now
you fluttered your wings and sang.
Your voice of old from last year ...

The cuckoo generally starts singing in what was the lunisolar Fifth Month (roughly early-June to early-July). It's possible to read the last line as the subject of "sang" displaced out of normal sentence order, giving something like "you fluttered your wings and the same voice as last year sang" -- if there was some way in English to mimic the displacement that didn't make me wince.

138.  Ise

(Topic unknown.)

satsuki koba
naki mo furinamu
madashiki hodo no
koe o kikabaya
    By the Fifth Month,
even your singing will have
    gotten tiresome.
O cuckoo, would that I hear
your voice before that season!

More literally the singing will be "old," but the connotation is "wearisome" -- its song can, like that of its European cousin, be maddeningly repetitive.

139.  Author unknown

(Topic unknown.)

satsuki matsu
hanatachibana no
ka o kageba
mukashi no hito no
sode no ka zo suru
    When I smell the scent
of the flowering orange
    that waits for Fifth Month,
it has exactly the scent
of that person's sleeve of old.

The tachibana orange, first alluded to back in #121, blooms in what was the lunisolar Fourth Month; the thing about the Fifth Month is apparently personifying the tree as waiting, like the speaker, for the cuckoo (contrast this with #137, where it's the cuckoo that's waiting). The connotation of "a person of old" (mukashi no hito) is someone one was once close to -- and in Tales of Ise, the poem is used to taunt a remarried ex-wife into becoming a nun. Although the repetition of "scent" is clunky, I admire the carefully balanced future and past experiences.

140.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

itsu no ma ni
satsuki kinuramu
ashibiki no
ima zo nakunaru
    The Fifth Month must have
come without my noticing:
    I hear the cuckoo
of the foot-weary mountains
is indeed singing now.

Finally cuckoo season arrives -- or so we're told, as the "hear" could indicate either direct auditory experience or hearsay report. The stock epithet "foot-weary" (ashibiki no -- see #59) is used in a way that doesn't translate well: it describes only the "mountain" part of the compound noun "mountain-cuckoo," not the bird itself, forcing me to split the noun. Not the most brilliant poem ever, not to mention mildly anticlimactic after all that anticipation, but something to this effect was needed for the sequence.

141.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

kesa ki-naki
imada tabi naru
hanatachibana ni
yado wa karanamu
    O cuckoo who came
singing this morning yet is
    still a traveler,
won't you take lodgings in
this flowering orange tree?

More literally, the cuckoo is still "a journey," but that seems to have been understood as saying he's "a traveler."

142.  Ki no Tomonori

Written on hearing the cuckoo sing while crossing Mount Otowa.

kesa koekureba
kozoe harukani
ima zo nakunaru
    When I was crossing
Mount Otowa this morning,
    I heard the cuckoo
that even now is singing
in a treetop far away.

The pass over Otowa was just outside Kyoto on the main road to the east. Same final line as #140, though here the "hear" is clearly direct experience. Like so many of Tomonori's poems, the sound is polished and lovely, plus the progressions of size from large mountain to smaller tree and time from past to present are neatly balanced.

143.  Sosei

Written on hearing the cuckoo singing for the first time.

hatsukoe kikeba
nushi sadamaranu
koi seraru hata
    When I hear once more
that first voice of the cuckoo,
    it happens again --
I absurdly feel a love
not directed towards anyone.

While nushi can be either an honorific second-person pronoun or an indefinite pronoun ("who"), the syntax makes the latter the more natural reading. The speaker's feeling is inflected as a spontaneous action, and "once more" and "again" are interpretive, based on marking it as something expected.

144.  (Sosei)

Written on the cuckoos singing in Isonokami Temple in Nara.

furuki miyako no
koe bakari koso
mukashi narikere
    Isonokami --
in the capital of old,
    here it is only
the voices of the cuckoos
that are as in days gone by.

Isonokami was for a long time Sosei's main residence as a monk. Further in the past, its location was the capital for two 5th-century Kofun-period (i.e., semi-legendary) emperors, and the name became a stock epithet for things described as "old." Thus, the first two lines could be read as either "in the capital that's as old as Isonokami" or "in Isonokami, the old capital" -- if the headnote didn't make it clear it's the latter. Compare with #90 as another contrast between human change and eternal nature.

145.  Author unknown

Topic unknown.

natsuyama ni
naku hototogisu
kokoro araba
mono omou ware ni
koe na kikase so
    O cuckoo who sings
in the summertime mountains,
    if you have a heart,
do not make me hear your voice --
I already feel so much.

This starts a mini-arc of seven anonymous poems, most of them taking, in a trope borrowed from Chinese poetry, the cuckoo's song as an occasion for melancholy -- a mood set up by the previous two poems. As part of that arc, note here the remote location. Per S.O.P., the literal "think (about) things" is rendered idiomatically. I like how the heart is displaced from the presumably love-lorn speaker onto the bird, so equating human and nature.

146.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

naku koe kikeba
furusato sae zo
    When I hear the voice
of the singing cuckoo,
    I'm filled with longing
for even the old hometown
where I once parted from you.

Down from the mountains into a valley, or at least a settlement. What sort of parting is unspecified (leaving town? breaking up? a death?), as is who parted -- were it not inflected as the speaker's personal experience, I might have gone for "where we once parted."

147.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

na ga naku sato no
amata areba
nao utomarenu
omou mono kara
    Cuckoo, because you
sing in so many hamlets
    I am finding that,
even while I long for you,
I now despise you as well.

Still in villages, but there's more than one -- implying a lower, more settled area. In Tales of Ise, this poem is sent by a man with a painting of a cuckoo to a woman he and others are courting (we're not told whether this is a successful tactic). The slightly confused syntax mirrors the original's inverted sentence order.

148.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

tokiwa no yama no
karakurenai no
furi-idete zo naku
    When I remember,
I cry out like the cuckoo
    of Tokiwa Hill,
straining so hard that the throat
is stained bright Chinese crimson.

Tokiwa was named after Minamoto no Tokiwa (see #36), who owned an estate there; it is just outside the western boundary of Heian Kyoto, continuing the progression of settings. A couple pivot-words: the toki part of Tokiwa also means "when" and furi-idete = "infusing" (a dye into water) / "using great effort" (so for a voice, to be loud), plus the final naku is nominally the cuckoo's singing but also by the usual pun the speaker's weeping. While the Chinese crimson sounds in translation like a hyperbolic metaphor, the Japanese word, karakurenai, is onomatopoetic of the cuckoo's song. All in all, a startling technical tour de force -- and a challenge to translate effectively. What is made red is unstated but required by English syntax -- to highlight the connection between speaker and bird, I chose anatomy in common, but an argument could be made for "tears" instead (to cry so hard one's tears are bloody is another trope borrowed from China). On the other hand, my "bright" is there only for the soundplay, absent anything like pivot-words in English.

149.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

koe wa shite
namida wa mienu
waga koromode no
hitsu o karanamu
    O cuckoo whose voice
is crying out yet whose tears
    aren't to be seen --
here, the sleeves of my robe are
soaking wet: do borrow them!

This is, of course, built by taking the "sing"/"weep" double-meaning of naku and spinning it out as something wittily over-the-top. Sleeves get soaked because that's what elegant people use to dab tears, and needing to display such elegance is even more refined behavior -- which means we're indoors in the capital. Technically, it's the soaking wetness that's offered, not the sleeves that hold it, but hewing too close to literal sounds really odd here. While the speaker's ostensible generosity is admirable, this is possibly the most artificial poem so far.

150.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

ashibiki no
tare ka masaru to
ne o nomi zo naku
    All of the cuckoos
of the foot-weary mountains
call out with voices that say
nothing but, "Who is better?"

Back to the mountains -- with the same epithet+compound noun problem as #140. Here the epithet plays, a little bit, into the endless song. Vaunting implies competition, so I understand hototogisu as plural here. One consequence of this is to make it purely about the birds, without the possibility of competing with a speaker also crying.

151.  (Author unknown)

(Topic unknown.)

yama e kaeru na
koe no kagiri wa
waga yado ni nake
    After all this time,
cuckoo, do not return home
    to the mountains --
as long as your voice holds out,
sing here, you, in my garden.

And the mini-arc ends with backtracking out of the mountains, trying to prevent returning there -- I suspect the reason this isn't in front of #150, as befits the sequence, is that rhetorically it links so very neatly into #152. An impatient adverb, here rendered loosely, and two direct commands give this a brusk tone. Compare to #131 for a bush warbler version.

152.  Mikuni no Machi

(Topic unknown.)

yayoya mate
ware yo no naka ni
sumi-wabinu to yo
    Hey, wait a moment --
I want to send a message,
    O mountain cuckoo:
say, "I've wearied of living
within this world of ours."

Mikuni no Machi was a daughter of Ki no Natora and a concubine of Emperor Ninmyô, and is probably identifiable as a use-name of Ki no Kaneko, also Natora's daughter and Ninmyô's concubine. Her birth date is unknown, but under the Machi name she was dismissed as concubine in 845, and Kaneko's son Prince Tsuneyasu (see #95) must have been an adult when he took orders upon Ninmyô's death in 850; Kaneko died in 869. She has one poem in the Kokinshu, as do Tsuneyasu (#781), Machi/Kaneko's sister (#930, mother of Koretaka), Kaneko's brother (#419), and Machi's son (#769). ¶ The cuckoo is again someone to command, though now its departure is wanted -- as is the speaker's. Cuckoos were believed to travel between this and the after world, but it's also possible that she's sending a message to a hermit in the mountains.

153.  Ki no Tomonori

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

samidare ni
mono omoi oreba
yo fukaku nakite
izuchi yukuramu
    While I sit brooding
through a midsummer shower,
    a cuckoo cries out
in the deepening night --
but which way is he passing?

Following that group of anonymous poems, a group of six from this contest. The Japanese rainy season is June-July, during the lunisolar Fifth Month. "Sit" is interpretive, from the brooding. Yuku ("go") can, much like the English "pass (on)," also idiomatically mean die, thus loosely tying this to the previous.

154.  (Ki no Tomonori)

(from the same contest)

yo ya kuraki
michi ya madoeru
waga yado o shimo
sugigateni naku
    Is it the dark night,
or is the way confusing?
    Cuckoo, it seems you
cannot pass by, of all places,
my house -- and keep singing here.

"It seems" corresponds to nothing in the original and is present only to add a graceful note. Because, well, without graceful it doesn't sound like Tomonori.

155.  Ôe no Chisato

(from the same contest)

yadori seshi
hanatachibana mo
karenaku ni
nado hototogisu
koe taenuramu
    Even the blossoms
of the orange tree where you lodged
    haven't withered yet --
so why is it, O cuckoo,
your voice has faded away?

A competent execution of an utterly ordinary conceit. Compare to #141, from the other shoulder season. So is this the end of cuckoo season at last ... ?

156.  Ki no Tsurayuki

(from the same contest)

natsu no yo no
fusu ka to sureba
naku hitokoe ni
akuru shinonome
    As I consider
possibly going to bed
    of a summer night,
with a single cuckoo's voice
the first breaking light of dawn.

No, wait, the cuckoo's still here -- barely. This is the first of a couple poems on the shortness of summer nights. I am intrigued by how "night" gets a genitive/locative case-marker instead of the expected topic-marking particle, which has the effect of de-emphasizing the time, playing into the speaker's losing track of it.

157.  Mibu no Tadamine

(from the same contest)

kururu ka to
mireba akenuru
natsu no yo o
akazu to ya naku
    Are you crying out
that you are not delighted,
    O mountain cuckoo,
by summer nights that lighten
just when it seems to be dark?

This plays not only on the "sing" and "weep" homophones of naku but also on homophones (used once each) of aku meaning "brighten" and "tire of," here reproduced with the two "light" words. Given that Tadamine's smooth cleverness is usually more important than his arrangement of images, I had to almost completely reverse the syntax of the original to achieve the same effect in English. This can, by assuming the speaker has displaced his own disappointment, be read as an elliptical love poem: "the night (with her) was not long enough to be satisfying."

158.  Ki no Akimine

(from the same contest)

natsuyama ni
koishiki hito ya
koe furi-tatete
naku hototogisu
    Might it be because
his dear one has gone into
    the summer mountains?
-- this cuckoo who is raising
his voice aloud and crying.

We know almost nothing about Akimine beyond that he presumably was alive for the 893 contest and he has two poems in the Kokinshu. ¶ If you assume the speaker is projecting his personal situation onto the bird (which feels even more likely than for #157), the usual reason for an aristocrat to "enter" the mountains was a religious retreat, typically done by men rather women -- so Akimine is either missing a beloved friend (the usual interpretation) or using a female persona. Why the mountain bird doesn't just follow its beloved is obscure. And yes, the crying really is described that wordily.

159.  Author unknown

Topic unknown.

kozo no natsu
sore ka aranu ka
koe no kawaranu
    The cuckoo that
wore me out with his singing
    all summer last year --
was that him? -- or isn't it?
Because that voice is the same.

As Sei Shonagon would later demonstrate, elegant and cranky are not incompatible. Not that this quite manages the former, with the doubled question markers in the fourth line creating an odd hesitance -- to get a similar effect, I slightly mistranslate the line as if it were two not-quite-parallel questions.

160.  Ki no Tsurayuki

Written on hearing the cuckoo sing.

samidare no
sora mo todoro ni
nani o ushi to ka
yo tada nakuramu
    Resounding even
the sky during summer rains --
    cuckoo, what is it
you are resenting so much
you sing through the night like that?

I don't usually think of a rainy night as having the sort of openness that lets sounds resound, which is a shame as aside from the sense issue, it's a lovely line. What with that and a lower half that's almost clunky, this is not Tsurayuki's best effort -- I gotta wonder if the editors needed another cranky-about-cuckoos poem with sound imagery that played into next poem and had nothing else on hand. Ushi could mean "regret"/"be sad" as much as "resent"/"be bitter" -- it's a rather broad-spectrum emotion word, and you get to pick how to read it.

161.  Ôshikôchi no Mitsune

Written when courtiers drinking wine in the Attendance Chamber summoned him and told him to write a poem on "waiting for the cuckoo."

koe mo kikoezu
yamabiko wa
hoka ni naku ne o
kotae ya wa senu
    The cuckoo's voice
cannot be heard at all here.
    Mountain echoes, though --
might they not make reflections
of sounds that are sung elsewhere?

The Attendance Chamber in the imperial residence was where courtiers of the Fourth and Fifth Rank, who had the privilege of attending on the emperor in person, waited to do so; it's believed that Mitsune was only about Eighth Rank at the time. The poem ostensibly flatters his superiors by implicitly comparing them to echoes of the emperor's authority, but I wonder whether, in their cups, they noticed that's not very flattering given he marked the question as a rhetorical one expecting a negative answer. "Here" is interpretive, and arguably not needed given that "though" already renders how the echoes are marked as a contrast. Sequencewise, note the momentary regression to before the cuckoos started up, back in #140.

162.  Ki no Tsurayuki

Written on hearing the cuckoo singing in the mountains.

hito matsuyama ni
ware uchitsuke ni
koi masarikeri
    Cuckoo, when I hear
you crying upon Mt. Pine,
    where I for her pine,
I am suddenly struck by
an overwhelming longing.

Mt. Pine is purely notional, an invented location used only for the pivot-word matsu = "pine tree" / "to wait" for the one he *ahem* pines for. I am disappointed to see Tsurayuki using this moldering chestnut (it appears a lot in the love poems) so uncreatively, even allowing for the grammatically strained possibility that the bird is singing in a pine tree. Lame "poetical" syntax reflects lame poetic pun.

163.  Mibu no Tadamine

Written on hearing the cuckoo singing in a place where he had once lived.

mukashi-be ya
ima mo koishiki
furusato ni shimo
nakite kitsuramu
    Is it that past times
are longed for even today,
    O cuckoo, that you
have come here crying aloud
even in this former home?

Who longs for times past is not ambiguous in the original, but the implication is that the speaker does as well as the bird. Again, Tadamine takes a standard conceit and tweaks it into something slightly clever.

164.  Ôshikôchi no Mitsune

Written on hearing the cuckoo singing.

ware to wa nashi ni
unohana no
uki yo (no) naka ni
    Although you're not me,
cuckoo, it seems you too are
crying in this world of ours
gloomy as deutzia blooms.

Deutzia is a shrub related to hydrangea with spikes of pretty white flowers in June. "Of/like the deutzia" (unohana no) is a stock epithet for things described as "sad" (uki), used primarily for the sound repetition with pretty much no logical connection. Tempting as it was to interpolate some metaphoric sense to keep it from sounding completely tacked-on, such as that the flowers are wilting or short-lived, as far as I can tell there wasn't any such connotation in the original. Instead, I echoed the sonics, including the implied "too." And that's the last of the cuckoo poems, ending not with its disappearance but, oddly, its singing on. This is also the only/last mention of deutzia.

165.  Henjô

Written on seeing dewdrops on a lotus.

hachisuba no
nigori ni shimanu
kokoro mote
nani ka wa tsuya o
tama to azamuku
    These lotus leaves
have spirits untainted by
    mud's impurity,
so why do they deceive with
dewdrops that look like gems?

The Buddhist sentiments of the previous are continued with an allusion to a passage from the Lotus Sutra to the effect that the dharma is unaffected by the world the way a lotus blossom rises clean from muddy water. I've no idea what the significance is of swapping leaves for petals. Nigori can be both "muddy water" and by metaphoric extension "impurity"; absent a liquid encompassing the two senses in English, doubling them up seemed the best compromise, given both are needed for the poem's light-hearted wit.

166.  Kiyowara no Fukayabu

Written around dawn on a night the moon was lovely.

natsu no yo wa
mada yoi nagara
akenuru o
kumo no izuku ni
tsuki yadoruramu
    On those summer nights
when it still seems late evening
    but then it is dawn,
where in the clouds, I wonder,
is the moon finding lodgings?

A momentary return to the short summer nights theme -- the conceit being that, what with the night being so short, the moon shouldn't have the time to cross the whole sky so must instead be setting ("lodging") behind a cloud. "Seems" is interpretive.

167.  Ôshikôchi no Mitsune

When a request came from a neighbor for some of his blooming wild pinks, he was reluctant, and wrote and sent this poem.

chiri o dani
sueji to zo omou
sakishi yori
imo to wa ga nuru
tokonatsu no hana
    I thought for sure not
a speck of dust lay on them --
    this bed of pinks that,
since blooming, I have kept like
the one where my wife and I sleep.

In the headnote, it's ambiguous whether the poem is a substitute for or accompanies the flowers -- the former is the traditional interpretation. Tokonatsu, nowadays more commonly called nadeshiko, is the wild pink or wild carnation (Dianthus superbus). It blooms in early autumn, and indeed is one of the canonical "seven flowers of autumn" (the canon having been set by the Man'yoshu), but is appropriate here because when tokonatsu is written in kanji, the characters mean "endless summer," making it covertly in season, plus sequence-wise it signals that summer is ending. The first part of its name is a pivot-word on toko = "bed," which in turn associates with "sleep" and, less obviously, "dust" -- because a dusty bed is a sign of disuse and hence of a faithless husband. Put all that and an inverted sentence structure together, and you have Mitsune pretending that asking for some flowers implies he's been neglecting them, which by the bed pun is tantamount to accusing him of philandering oh noes. Or at least of bad householding. "I have kept like" is not in the original but an attempt at making syntactic sense of the phrases dovetailed around the pivot, of which "like" is more defensible part. Translation difficulties aside, I rather like the graceful lilt of the second half.

168.  (Ôshikôchi no Mitsune)

Written on the last day of Sixth Month.

natsu to aki to
yukikau sora no
kayoiji wa
katae suzushiki
kaze ya fukuramu
    On the path of the sky
where summer and autumn pass
    coming and going,
is there a refreshing breeze
that is blowing to one side?

The lunisolar Six Month (running roughly early-July to early-August), here called minatsuki, "waterless month," was the last month of summer. I'm not sure whether to understand the breeze as blowing "toward," "from," or "on" one side. And with that breeze, a poetic symbol of autumn, summer and this book come to a rapid end.

After which comes the first (of two) books of autumn. Scattering, swirling leaves ahoy!

(Index for this series)