8 August 2018

Hyakunin Isshu: poem 62 (Sei Shonagon・yo wo komete)

Said night was young when the false rooster crowed, but the gates of Osaka remained shut.
夜をこめて

Yo wo komete
鳥のそらねは

tori no sora-ne wa
はかるとも

hakaru tomo
よに逢坂の

yo ni osaka no
関はゆるさじ

seki wa yurusaji

A lady from the Kiyohara family…

Sei Shōnagon 清少納言(b. 965? - ?) is one of the best-known female writers of the Heian period (平安時代 794—1192). She belongs to a group of Japanese court ladies who were writing at the turn of the 11th century - the time, when an astounding amount of writings that are today considered classical Japanese literature, were created. 

Sei Shōnagon was by no means born under thname she is known by. The Sei 清 in her pseudonym comes from her family name of Kiyohara 清原. Her personal name, however, is unknown, although tradition has it that Sei Shōnagon might have been born as Kiyohara no Nagiko  清原諾子 (McKinney 2006, xi).


Shōnagon's father was Kiyohara no Motosuke 清原元輔 (908-990; poem 42), a governor of Higo 肥後, present-day Kumamoto熊本, - a position that originally put Shōnagon to the periphery of Heian aristocratic world. 


However, Shōnagon's great-grandfather was Kiyohara no Fukayabu 清原深養父 (dates unknown; poem 36), a poet whose seventeen poems were included in the Kokinshū 古今集 (Kokin wakashū 古今和歌集; „Collection of Early and Modern Japanese Poetry”; 905); and her father, while a minor official, was also one of the Five Men of the Pear Chamber (梨壺の五人Nashitsubo no gonin), who were put in charge to compile the Gosenshū 後撰集 (後撰和歌集 Gosen Wakashū; "Later Collection of Japanese Poems"; 951), so poetic composition-wise Shōnagon came from a family that had a high reputation.


And Shōnagon herself was a poet, - she is considered one of the Late Classical Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals (中古三十六歌仙 Chūko sanjūrokkasen[a list compiled by Fujiwara no Norikane 藤原範兼 (1107-1165)], although she only has four poems in Goshūishū 後拾遺集 (Goshūi Wakahsū 後拾遺和歌集; "Later Collection of Gleanings of Japanese Poems"; 1086and later poetry anthologies.


It seems like Shōnagon's strength was in social verse and her knowledge of Chinese classics but she was intimidated by composition of poetry for contests or occasions (ibid., xvii). Her knowledge of Chinese classics was unusual for the times, as it was considered the territory of men's knowledge. Revealing it was also unusual for a woman, however the gentlemen seem to have known of Shōnagon's knowledge and "enjoyed seeing her negotiate the difficult challenge of cleverly responding to a Chinese allusion in a suitably roundabout way." (ibid., xvii-xviii)


Many of such episodes can be found in Shōnagon's Pillow Book, which focuses on the time when she served as a lady-in-waiting for Empress Teishi or Fujiwara no Teishi 藤原定子(976-1000), a consort of Emperor Ichijō (一条天皇 Ichijō tennō; 980–1011). However, differently from other writings of the time, Shōnagon's Pillow Book is neither a diary nor a tale (物語 monogatari). This is why it has long not been considered a classic or a must for poets, while, for example, Murasaki Shikibu's 
紫式部(about 973 - about 1014) The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji monogatari) was. It was only in the Edo period (江戸時代1600-1867), when a genre called zuihitsu 随筆 (literarlly "following the brush") gained popularity and many writers of zuihitsu were influenced by Shōnagon's witty style, chatty tone, and even lack of organization of the text.  These influences that The Pillow Book has had also reveal what it is in its essence - a disorganised, chatty and witty collection of musings, that Sakai Junko even describes as something close to a newspaper gossip column (Carter 2014, 5).

Maybe it was this "gossip column" quality that irritated Murasaki Shikibu and continues to irritate scholars, especially men, even today. As for Shikibu, in her diary she wrote:
"Sei Shōnagon, <…>, was dreafully conceited. She thought herself so clever and littered her writings with Chinese characters; but if you examined them closely, they left a great deal to be desired." (translated by Richard Bowring in Bowring 2005, 54)
Shikibu then went on to comment on how superficial Shōnagon was and this has caused many to talk about the rivalry of Murasaki Shikibu - a lady-in-waiting for Empress Shōshi or Fujiwara no Shōshi 藤原彰子(also read as Fujiwara no Akiko; 988-1074), the second consort of Emperor Ichijō - and Sei Shōnagon who served the previous consort, Empress Teishi. But Shōnagon never answers Murasaki Shikibu. And that is because the two have likely never met, - Murasaki Shikibu came to serve at the imperial court after Sei Shōnagon had already left, probably even after Shōnagon's Pillow Book was already finished. 

And yet, that something irritating in Shōnagon, her persona and writing, primarily represented by The Pillow Book, remains felt even today, dividing people into those who love, and those who abhor her. Nevertheless, her influence is undeniable. And to me, over a thousand years later, she seems exciting.

…and a false cry of a rooster

The poem that Fujiwara no Teika 藤原定家(1162-1241) chose for the Hyakunin Isshu represents the witty Sei Shōnagon that is ever-present in her Pillow Book. However, this brilliant wit of hers might not be obvious when reading her poem by itself, which is exactly the case when we read it in the Hyakunin Isshu. 

The poem can also be found in the Goshūishū (book 16), with the headnote that mostly explains the situation in which it was created. However, originally the poem belongs in Shōnagon's Pillow Book (section 129 in McKinney's translation) and it is there that we can see the poem as part of a dialogue that Shōnagon seems to have been having with one of the outstanding calligraphers (but by no means an outstanding poet) of the Heian period Fujiwara no Yukinari 藤原行成 (972-1027). 

In The Pillow Book, Shōnagon writes on how one evening Yukinari visited the Office of the Empress's Household and stayed talking far into the night. He left as the dawn was approaching and the next day sent a "very lengthy message on several pieces of official paper from the Chamberlain's Office, saying, 'My heart is still full of regrets for yesterday. I thought to stay till dawn speaking with you of things past, but the cock's crow hastened me early on my way.'" (McKinney 2006, 134)

Shōnagon answered Yukinari: "That cock you say you heard so late last night, could it have been the false cock of Lord Mengchang?" (ibid.)

Here Shōnagon refers to a Chinese legend of Lord Mengchang, who arrived at the Hangu barrier gate in the middle of the night, trying to escape capture, and found the gate closed. With enemy close at his heels, he had one of his followers imitate the rooster crow, which was the sign for the gates to be opened.

By bringing up the legend of Lord Mengchang, Shōnagon shows her knowledge of the Chinese classics but also teases Yukinari.

Yukinari answered:  "They say <…> that Lord Mengchang's cock opened the Kanko barrier gate and thus allowed his three thousand followers finally to escape - but the barrier gate in my case was the lover's barrier gate of Ōsaka" (ibid., 134-135).

This is where the conversation gets interesting.  What could have Yukinari meant? He is certainly playing with the allusion to Lord Mengchang that Shōnagon has named, but just like Shōnagon first twisted his words "but the cock's crow hastened me early on my way" to the story of Lord Mengchang, here Yukinari seems to be again twisting the reference to one of the gate of Ōsaka, which is sometimes even translated as the Meeting Hill, and hides within itself a pun with word "to meet" as well as symbolises the difficulty of lovers' meeting. One could understand Yukinari's words as an indirect love confession, though certainly it involves so many allusions and so much of twisting the meanings that it can hardly be taken seriously.

And so, to Yukinari's words, Shōnagon answers with the yo wo komete poem:

Said night was young when the false rooster crowed, but the gates of Osaka remained shut, to which she added: "There's a vigilant guard at this gate." (ibid., 135)

It seems like Shōnagon takes the confession and answers to say that she is always on her guard and a man could not possibly expect to spend a night with her. To her poem, however, Yukinari answers:

逢阪は人こえやすき關なればとり鳴かぬにもあけてまつとか
Afusaka wa / hito koe-yasuki / seki nareba / tori nakanu ni mo / akete matsu to ka

The gates of Osaka are so loose that they open before the rooster crows and await entry.


To this poem, Shōnagon does not reply, stating that "Yukinari's Ōsaka poem was too much for me, and I couldn't manage a reply" (ibid., 135). Yukinari's poem is invasive, almost insulting. He seems to be implying that Shōnagon was someone easily seduced and reached. While she says she is always on her guard, Yukinari says she is exactly the opposite. Were they serious in this conversation, though? With so much twisting and turning, it becomes hard to tell. One thing that does come to mind while considering other episodes from The Pillow Book, however, is that Yukinari and Shōnagon did have other conversations filled with allusions, twisted and turned, so here as well, they might as well have purely been engaging in paronomasia. [See McKinney 2006, 49, or section 46 of McKinney's translation.]

One more interesting part about this episode, however, is that there seem to be different interpretations of Shōnagon's poem, hence making it possible to interpret the whole conversation between Shōnagon and Yukinari in a different manner. While most understand Shōnagon's poem as one of a woman who is always on her guard and cannot be reached, others interpret it as a poem that is an answer to her lover, who left early and then wrote her the next morning, which was a rather common practice. But was Yukinari Shōnagon's lover? We would have to take a second look at The Pillow Book.

Karuta

In karuta this is one of yo-cards []and there are four of them: yo no naka wa [よのなかは], yo no naka yo [よのなかよ], yomo [よも], yo wo[よを]Yononaka- are long shot cards, so it is natural to have trouble with those, but yomo and yowo are rather short.

Also, if you are familiar with hiragana, you might notice that what is romanized as Osaka is actually transcribed afusaka in kana. In translations of Chouyaku Hyakuninisshu: Uta Koi I changed it to Osaka but the old Japanese kana has it as afusaka, which is the old kana spelling, which is also used on the karuta cards. 




よをこめて

Yo wo komete
とりのそらねは

Tori no sorane wa
はかるとも

Hakaru tomo
よにあふさかの

Yo ni Osaka no
せきはゆるさじ

Seki wa yurusaji

26 July 2018

Hyakunin Isshu: poem 40 (Taira no Kanemori・shinoburedo)

Since I could not hide my love, people would ask if I was pining for someone.
しのぶれど

Shinoburedo
色に出にけり

iro ni idenikeri
我が恋は

wa ga koi wa
ものや思ふと

mono ya omou to
人の問ふまで

hito no tou made

 

The poet Kanemori…

Taira no Kanemori 平兼盛 (d. 990) is yet another Heian period (平安時代 794-1192) poet who is known precisely as a poet and not a political figure of great importance. 

Kanemori was a descendant of Emperor Kōkō (光孝天皇 Kōkō tennō; 830-887, poem 46)* but even the date of Kanemori's birth is unknown. During his career, Kanemori rose to Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade (位上 ju goi no jō); he ended his career as a governor of Suruga 駿河

Note his family name of Taira . Like mentioned in the post about Ariwara no Narihira, the family name of Taira, as well as family name of Ariwara 有原, was given to descendants of emperors but those descendants were related to the emperor by family ties further than those of father-son.

However, much more than a politician, Kanemori was a poet and that is how he seems to be remembered. Eighty-seven of his poems appear in imperial anthologies [note, it's the same number of poems that Ariwara no Narihira 有原業平 (825—880; poem 17) has in imperial anthologies, although I believe this is a pure coincidence]. Kanemori has also left a personal collection of poetry (such collections are called kashū 家集) and is one of Fujiwara no Kintō's 藤原公任 (966—1041; poem 55) Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals 三十六歌仙 (Sanjūrokkasen). 

Three anonymous poems from the Gosenshū 後撰集 (後撰和歌集 Gosen Wakashū; "Later Collection of Japanese Poems"; 951) are also considered to be written by Kanemori. 

At least in Heian period Japan, Kanemori's poems seem to have been rather well-remembered, for allusions to them can be found in both Sei Shōnagon's 清少納言 (dates unknown, poem 62) Makura no sōshi 枕草子(The Pillow Book) and in Sarashina Nikki 更級日記 (The Sarashina Diary) by Sugawara no Takasue no Musume 菅原孝標女 (1008-1059; Daughter of Sugawara no Takasue). And I believe more examples could be added to this list.

The allusions in Makura no sōshi and Sarashina Nikki are rather subtle but they also show how knowledge of previously created poems, especially those in Kokinshū 古今集 (Kokin wakashū 古今和歌集; „Collection of Early and Modern Japanese Poetry”; 905) and later Gosenshū, was required, - allusions to those poems could have been anywhere.

In Sei Shōnagon's Makura no sōshi, the allusions can be found in chapter 173 and 176 [translation by Meredith McKinneysee references section for exact book information]*. The chapter 176** reference is particularly beautiful, with Fujiwara no Teishi 藤原定子 (976-1000; sometimes also read as Fujiwara no Sadako), who was a wife of Emperor Ichijō (一条天皇 Ichijō tennō), making an allusion and her brother, Fujiwara no Korechika 藤原伊周 (974-1010), picking up on it:

"…it was Grand Counsellor Korechika who arrived, his cloak and violet gathered trousers glowing most beautifully in the light from snow. He settled himself at the food of a pillar. 'I've been kept away by an abstinence these last two days', he said, 'but with this heavy snowfall I decided to call and see how you were.'

'I feared that "the path is gone", with all this snow," came Her Majesty's reply. 'How did you get here?"

He smiled. 'Are you "truly moved" to see me then?' he inquired. Could there be anything more splendid? I wondered. As I listened in awe to their elegant exchange, I marvelled that there must surely be nothing more wonderful." (Translated by Meredith McKinney in McKinney 2006, 170)

The allusion that Teishi makes is to a famous poem by Kanemori [Shūishū 拾遺集 (Shūi Wakashū 拾遺和歌集; "Collection of Gleanings"; 1005) 251, book 4 / winter, topic unknown]:

山里は雪降りつみて道もなし今日こむひとを哀とはみむ
Yamazato wa / yuki furitsumite / michi mo nashi / kyō komu kito o / aware to wa mimu

"Here in my mountain home the snow is deep and the paths are buried. Truly would he move my heart - the man who came today." (translation from Shirane 2007, 279 note 285)

Another reference that came to my attention is from Sarashina Nikki. The author of Sarashina Nikki and her stepmother shared interest in romantic tale literature, which made the two close. However, her stepmother had left and the author was longing to see her, especially since the plum tree bloomed and the stepmother had promised to come visit when it bloomed. So the author of Sarashina Nikki sent her stepmother a poem and the answer she received read:

猶たのめ梅のたちえはちぎりをかぬおもひのほかの人もとふなり
Naho tanome / mume no tachi e ha / chigiri okanu / omohi no hoka no / ito mo tofunari

”Still wait, steadfast.
As for the plum's young branch tips,
even with no pledge placed,
I hear that unexpectedly
someone will visit you." (translation by Sonja Arntzen and Itō Moriyuki in Arntzen, Ito 2014, 110)

The that stepmother had sent alludes to Kanemori's poem (Shūishū 15book 1, spring):

わが宿の梅の立ち枝やみえつらむ思の外に君が來ませる
Waga yado no / ume no tachie ya mietsuran / omohi no hoka ni / kimi ga kimaseru

"Is it that
The young branch tips,of the plum tree in my garden
have come to view?
For unexpectedly my lord,
you have been moved to visit" (in Arntzen, Ito 2014, 111, note 94).

The full story from Sarashina Nikki can be found in translation by Sonja Arntzen and Itō Moriyuki (see Arntzen, Sonja, Moriyuki Itō 2014 in the references, pages 110-111). Also in chapter 3 of translation by Ivan Morris (see references for Morris 1975) or without chapter number in Shirane 2007, exact page would be 461.

* McKinney's chapter 176 is chapter 116 in Shirane 2007, exact reference to Kanemori's poem is in page 279, see note 285; the story is also available in Carter 2014, 20 - here the chapter number is 177.
** 116 in Shirane 2007, 177 in Carter 2014. I am refering by chapter number in McKinney's translation as it is the one I quote.

… and the love that shows on one's face

Kanemori's poem in the Hyakunin Isshu 百人一首 comes from the already-mentioned imperial anthology Shūishū. There it comes with a headnote, reading: "Poetry Contest in the Tenryaku Era" (天暦の御時の歌合 Tenryaku no ōntoki no utaawase in Japanese), which refers to a poetry contest held by Emperor Murakami (村上天皇 Murakami tennō924-967) in 960. This headnote reveals a whole lot about the circumstances, in which the poem was created, as the contest "was to be remembered as the outstanding example of the courtly poetry match" (Shirane 2007, 594). 

The mentioned poetry contest consisted of twenty rounds, the last five having the topic of "Love". Kanemori's shinoburedo しのぶれど poem was composed for the last round and was against koi suchō 恋すてふ poem by Mibu no Tadami 壬生忠見 (dates unknown), which also happens to be the 41st poem in the Hyakunin Isshu

Four different accounts of the contest, in both Chinese and Japanese, exist (Shirane 2007, 594) and Shirane's Traditional Japanese Literature gives us a glimpse into one of them. According to this account, in the last round, I would presume the judge Fujiwara no Saneyori 藤原実頼 (900-970) was unable to decide which poem is the winner, as "Both Poems are outstanding" (ibid., 597). Major Counselor Lord Minamoto (Minamoto no Taka'akira 源満仲; 912?-997) "declined to respond" (ibid.) and the winner was decided by Emperor Murakami, who seemed to be reciting the poem of the Right to himself. The poem of the Right was one by Kanemori. (ibid.)

Joshua S. Mostow also gives us a glimpse into the last round of the poetry match but he does that through a collection of anecdotes, called Fukuro Zōshi 袋草紙, which was compiled by Fujiwara no Kiyosuke 藤原清輔 (1104-1177), who lived over a hundred years after the contest. Despite that, Kiyosuke gives pretty much the same account as the one given above.   What is interesting in Mostow's description, however, is that he notes that it was likely not only the poems but also the story related to them that appealed to Fujiwara no Teika 藤原定家(1162-1241), the compiler of Hyakunin Isshu (Mostow 1996, 260).

The first three lines (lines in today's world, in reality the poems were not divided into lines) of this poem seem rather straightforward, even though it does seem to include some classical Japanese (I should try to update on this later, when I have studied it more. Nevertheless… I will give interpreting it a try). Shinoburedo could be translated as "although I conceal it", iro ni idenikeri - "it shows in the colour [of my face]", wa ga koi wa - "my love", so we end up with something like: Although I conceal it, my love shows in the colour [of my face]. The real trickery and beauty of this poem, however, seems to lie in the second part of it.

Mostow notes that Kanemori's shinoburedo poem has been highly prized for "the conversational quality of its lower half" that beautifully contrasted with Hyakunin Isshu poem 39, with which poem 40 shares the word shinoburedo. So while both poems share the word shinoburedo, poem 39 has a monologue quality to it, while poem 40 sounds like a dialogue (ibid.).

The conversational quality of Kanemori's poem is not clearly evident in the translation I am using above. However, it is clear in one by Mostow:

Even though I hide it,
it shows all over my face
such is my longing,
so that people ask me
"What are you thinking about?" (ibid.)

Translation by Peter McMillan also reveals the dialogue quality and reading two translations side-by-side beautifully enhances the understanding of how multi-layered Kanemori's poem is:

Though I try to keep it secret,
My deep love
Shows in the blush on my face.
Others keep asking me
— Who are you thinking of? (McMillan 2008, 42)

Meanwhile poem 39 by Minamoto no Hitoshi 源等 (880-951) is translated by Mostow as:

Though I reveal my love
as sparingly as the sparse reeds
that grow in low bamboo fields,
it overwhelms me - why is it
That I must love her so? (Mostow 1996258)

McMillan's translation of Hitoshi's poem also shows this quality, for the poem see McMillan 2008, 41.

As one can see from translations of Kanemori's poem, different translators put emphasis on different parts of the poem. Mostow also chooses "what", while McMillan chooses "who" at the beginning of the last translated line. I believe this is because in Kanemori's poem we see mono もの. Written in kana, it can either mean "thing", hence "what", or "person", hence "who".  

Interestingly, the Japanese transcription of Shūishū from University of Virginia database (it seems like it is down as I am writing this, however :() goes like:

忍ぶれど色に出にけりわが戀はや思ふと人のとふまで

This implies the translation of Mostow is closer to truth, as mono with this particular kanji means "thing". However, as we can see, and as is often the case - different transcriptions in Japanese exist and that makes interpreting poems even trickier. As if they weren't tricky enough.

Hyakunin Isshu in images

Throughout the ages following Teika, Hyakunin Isshu has been one of the most influential collections of Japanese poetry and it has become a topic of many commentaries and other interpretations. The image I am sharing this time is by Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1798—1861). Has he been interpreting the poem here at all? It might take an art expert to analyse the image in relation to the poem and answer that question. The print depicts Kanemori sitting with a Buddhist monk. If we wanted to, we could probably see a very direct depiction of a poem here. People would ask if I was pining for someone…  The person asking might as well be the monk then.

[Image: Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Taira no Kanemori (no. 40). One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets. I am sharing the print from the collection of Museum of Fine Arts Boston, see the full description here. Such a print is also in the collection of the British Museum, read more here.

Karuta

In karuta shinoburedo しのぶれど is one of two shi [] cards, the other being shiratsuyu niしらつゆに, poem 37 by Fun'ya no Asayasu 文屋朝康 (dates unknown). During the game the two shi cards can soon become first-syllable ones because there are only two cards that start with shi and both are recognised by their second syllable.

しのぶれど
Shinoburedo
いろにいでにけり
Iro ni idenikeri
わがこひは
Wa ga koi wa
ものやおもふと
Mono ya omou to
ひとのとふまで
Hito no tou made


Chouyaku Chihayafuru


In Chihayafuru poem 40 is especially important since it is the favourite one by Chihaya's main rival, the queen, Wakamiya Shinobu. The beginning of poem 40, shinoburedoしのぶれど, shares the first three syllables with Shinobu's name (like Chihaya's name can be seen in first three syllables of poem 17, chihayaburu ちはやぶる; Kana's last name, Ōe, can also be heard in the opening syllables of poem 60, Ōe-yama おほえやま; and Sumire's last name, Hanano, can be heard in the opening line of poem 9, hana no iro wa はなのいろは). 

The poems that have connotations with names of characters also tend to tell something about them. As one can see, Chihaya is incredibly passionate, almost to the point where the gods had not seen it yet (see poem 17). But what is Shinobu then? Though she may hide it, her love is evident, we might say. Her love for what? Possibly playing with others, as we often see her playing alone yet longing for the old days when she was able to play with others. 

21 July 2018

Hyakunin Isshu: poem 17 (Ariwara no Narihira・chihayaburu)

Impassionate gods have never seen crimson that lies in the Tatsuta River.
ちはやぶる chihayaburu
神代も聞かず kamiyo mo kikazu
竜田川 tatsutagawa
からくれなゐに karakurenai ni
水くぐるとは mizu kuguru to wa

Narihira…

If you asked me, I would say Ariwara no Narihira 有原業平 (825—880) is quite a legend. Maybe it is just an image I have but surely, he is someone worth telling about.

Narihira lived in the early Heian period (平安時代 794—1192). So early that he lived before the compilation of Kokinshū 古今集 (Kokin wakashū 古今和歌集; „Collection of Early and Modern Japanese Poetry”; 905) and before the Ise monogatari 伊勢物語 (Tales of Ise). Both of those pieces of literature surely are among the most representative of Heian period and classical Japanese literature in general. And so because Narihira lived before those pieces of literature were created, he ended up making his mark in both Kokinshū and Ise monogatari. But who was the man, you might ask?

Narihira was a descendant of the imperial family, with Emperor Heizei (平城天皇Heizei tennō ;773—824) as his paternal grandfather and Emperor Kanmu (桓武天皇Kanmu tennō; 735—806) as his maternal grandfather. The last name Ariwara 有原 indicated him being not a son of an emperor but still being of imperial descent and having further family ties to the emperor*. In Narihira’s case, both his father, Prince Abo (阿保親王 Abo shinnō; 792–842), and his mother, Princess Ito (伊都内親王 Ito naishinnō; died 861), were respectively son of Emperor Heizei and daughter of Emperor Kanmu. Ariwara no Yukihira 有原行平 (818—893; poem 16) was Narihira's half-brother, whose father was also Prince Abo.  

* Another similar case is the last name of Taira . The last name of Minamoto  or Genji 源氏, however, was given to sons of the emperor.

Nevertheless, despite Narihira being a descendant of the imperial family, his political career was far from spectacular. Actually, it was so bad that most history books don’t even mention it. Narihira only held Junior Fourth Rank, Upper Grade (従四位上 ju shii no jō).  But he „enjoyed great esteem as a poet and a reputation as an erotic adept” (Shirane 2007, 164, note 113), which could precisely be what puts him in the spotlight of literary history of early Heian period.

Narihira was nothing short of an exceptional poet. Eighty seven of his poems can be found in imperial poetry anthologies and Narihira is included in both Ki no Tsurayuki 紀貫之 (866?–945?; poem 35) list of Six Poetic Immortals 六歌仙 (Rokkasen) and in Fujiwara no Kintō's 藤原公任 (966—1041; poem 55) Thirty-six Poetic Immortals 三十六歌仙 (Sanjūrokkasen). Even if you have no idea who the compilers of those lists are or who else is in those lists, the titles imply Narihira must have been a pretty good poet.

And yet, when one reads the Kana (Japanese) preface (仮名序 kanajo) to Kokinshū, Tsurayuki’s description is seemingly beyond pleasing. Regarding Narihira, he said:
„The poetry of Ariwara Narihira tires to express too much content in too few words. It resembles faded flower with a lingering fragrance.” (translated by Helen Craig McCullough, in McCullough 1985, 7)
But if one looks closer, they might see a compliment in it and feel the scent of Narihira’s poetry revealed in those lines — for some, the poetry of Narihira might [have] be[en] overly emotional. As Leonard Grzanka notes, Narihira’s poetry is of highly subjective nature, with the frequent use of subjective, emotional diction and verb aspects; the most common themes being those of unrequited love and the ephemerality of life (Rodd, Henkenius 2004, 383, note 24). 

Such nature of Narihira’s poetry, combined with his „extensive use of parallelism and rhythm — and his fame as a lover” (Shirane 2007, 185), might have led to him becoming the implicit protagonist of Ise monogatari — a piece of literature that deserves an article of its own (hopefully in the future!), as it stands right beside creations such as already-mentioned Kokinshū, as well as Genji monogatari 源氏物語 (The Tale of Genji), Ogura Hyakunin Isshu 小倉百人一首 and many others. 

Ise monogatari is what makes Narihira a legend in a sense. As is noted in Shirane’s Traditional Japanese Literature, the original core of Ise monogatari was likely „an early version of Narihira’s personal collection of waka” (ibid.) and later versions expanded it by adding Kokinshū poems ascribed to Narihira (ibid.). Ise monogatari itself, however, never explicitly mentions Narihira as the protagonist — the closest call can be found in Chapter 63, where „Ariwara middle captain”, a position that Narihira held at the end of his career, is mentioned (ibid., 194). 

And yet, despite no explicit mentions, Narihira’s name has largely become associated with Ise monogatari.  The association is so strong, in fact, that some scholars have even considered Narihira to be the author of Ise monogatari; such a claim is no longer accepted (McMillan 2008, 135) but the associations between Narihira and Ise monogatari remain strong. 

Those associations mostly stem from Narihira’s poems included in Ise monogatari but in reality they also shape the image of Narihira. For example, the narrative about the affair between Narihira and Fujiwara no Takaiko 藤原高子 (842—910; also known as Fujiwara no Kōshi or  Empress from the Second Ward (二条の后 Nijō no kisaki))  who went on to become junior consort (nyōgo 女御) of Emperor Seiwa (清和天皇 Seiwa tennō; 850—880) and bore Emperor Yōzei (陽成天皇 Yōzei tennō; 868—949), can be found in the 6th chapter of Ise monogatari. This, and many other stories from Ise monogatari, create an image of Narihira that can even be seen in the popular culture. 

For anyone interested in the Ise monogatari narrative about Narihira and Takaiko, I am including the last paragraph of Helen Craig McCullough’s translation of Chapter 6. The full version can be found in any translation of Ise monogatari. For the one I am citing here, please see the references section.
„It is said that while the future Empress from the Second Ward was in attendance upon her cousin, the imperial consort, someone was fascinated by her beauty and carried her off on his back. Her brothers, Mototsune and Kunitsune, who were minor officials then, happened to be on their way to the imperial palace. They heard someone wailing, halted the abductor, and took the lady back. <…> The lady was still very young and had not yet ceased to be a commoner.” (translated by Helen Craig McCullough, in McCullough 1968, 73)

...and his poem of a secret love 


Scholars would probably say that interpreting the chihayaburu ちはやぶるpoem as one about love is an exaggeration or an overstatement. So how do they interpret the poem?

Originally, the poem was included in Kokinshū. It was poem number 294, included in the second book of autumn poems, which also implies it was read as an autumn poem in Tsurayuki’s time. The poem has been read as an autumn poem ever since, although I believe some have heard about the love poem interpretation from Sugita Kei's Chouyaku Hyakuninisshu: Uta Koi.

The poem begins with a pillow word or makura kotoba, which is an epithet or a fixed expression. Meanings of pillow words have largely been lost but Haruo Shirane explains chihayaburu ちはやぶる[千早ぶる] as „to exhibit (furu) power (chihaya)” (Shirane 2005, 365). In this poem chihayaburu modifies kamiyo 神代/神世, which means „age of the gods”. That action that chihayaburu kamiyo does is „also not hear” — mo kikazu も聞かず/もきかず. Hence the first part of the poem, or kami no ku 上の句 (remember the first Chihayafuru live action movie?), could be rendered into something like the mighty age of gods has also not heard.  

Before we move on to the second part of the poem, let’s look at Tatsuta gawa たつたがわ part. To a modern reader seeing たつたがわ means reading it as Tatsuta gawa. However, it might as well have been pronounced as Tatta gawa たったがわ, because the old Japanese language did not make a distinction between written large tsu and small tsu , hence you might see translations that render Tatsuta as Tatta. The river itself still flows in what today is Nara Prefectural Tatsuta Park in Nara prefecture.


The second part of this poem, or shimo no ku 下の句, is the part that shows how the poem has been interpreted in different ways because it has been read differently.This is also where the interpretation of the poem as a love poem comes from. 

In Kokinshū the poem is preceded by a headnote, which is translated by McCullough as:
„Composed when the Nijō Empress [Kōshi] was still called the Mother of the Crown Prince. Topic set: a folding-screen picture of autumn leaves floating on the Tatsuta River.” (McCullough 1985, 72)
Here I must add that the Nijō Empress [Kōshi] is the same Fujiwara no Takaiko, and Kōshi is another reading of her name. The Crown Prince here is the same person who later goes on to become Emperor Yōzei (poem 13).

The poem is also included in Ise monogatari (Chapter 106), but with a very different headnote: 
„A certain man, off on an exclusion with some imperial princes, once composed this poem on a bank of the Tatsuta River” (translated by Helen Craig McCullough, in McCullough 1968, 106).
This headnote reminds of an Edo period (江戸時代 1603—1867) print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1798—1861), which you can see on the right side. I believe this exact print is the one from theBritish Museum collection. Please refer to the link here.[Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Ariwara no Narihira Ason (no. 17). One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets.] 

While the headnotes differ, they imply the view of scenery and it would seem that in both cases the poem is read as:
ちはやぶる神代も聞かず竜田川からくれなゐに水くくるとは 
Chihayaburu / kamiyo mo kikazu / tatsutagawa / karakurenai ni / mizu kukuru to wa
While you can find different transcriptions of kanji, mizu kukuru to wa 水くくるとは is always the same. This is the agreed reading of Kokinshū and the one believed to be Narihira’s original. But look at the poem at the beginning of this post. Written there is mizu kuguru to wa 水くぐるとは. Such an occurrence is possible because the old Japanese did not have a differentiation of written ku  and gu  — both were written as a modern ku . Because the historical kana writing is also preserved on the karuta cards, if you look below to the karuta part, you will see kukuru to wa くくるとは, but in theory it could be pronounced as kuguru to wa.

The reading and writing differences that were historically present allowed Teika to read the last part of the poem, or the last line, if we divide it into lines (it was originally not divided and this division is a modern thing), as mizu kuguru to wa. We know that Teika read it as mizu kuguru to wa from his 1212 commentary of Kokinshū called Kenchū mikkan 顕註密勘 (Mostow 1996, 45). Effectively, this changes the meaning of the poem from Kokinshū’s „the water tie-dyed” (kukuru to wa) to „the water flowing under” (kuguru to wa). And the correct translation at the beginning of this post would then go as: 
Impassionate gods have never seen such Tatsuta River, crimson that flows above, the water below. 
If one takes into account the story from Ise monogatari, that I have cited at the end of the first part, the headnote to the poem from Kokinshūand finally, Teika's reading, the poem can be interpreted as a love poem - as Narihira saying to Takaiko, that while his love is hidden, it is still there, hiding like „the water flowing under” the leaves.

As you may have already understood, karakurenai からくれなゐ means crimson. And before someone bashes me for writing it incorrectly in kana, I have to note that the historical kana also includes signs such as wi , which is read as i and hence written today as . Hence karakurenai からくれなゐ is just the historical writing.

Could this poem have been understood as a love poem? I believe it could have been. After all, a context and knowing the person, who is writing or reciting the words, can give it a whole new meaning. But to most people, this is a poem about the iconic autumn scenery. So iconic, in fact, that the combination of water and red leaves immediately suggests Tatsuta River. 

Could have Narihira hidden a message of undying love in this poem? It might have been but we have no Narihira to ask.

Chihayaburu poem in prints

Famous ukiyo-e artist Hokusai 北斎 has also interpreted the Hyakunin Isshu poems in a very liberal way, creating a series of prints called One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse (百人一首姥がゑときHyakunin isshu uba ga etoki). The series was left unfinished, however the print for Narihira’s poem exists. Hokusai's print can be seen on the website of Honolulu Museum of Art, please take a look here. Another print, one by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, is already mentioned above, please see there.

Karuta

In karuta ちはやぶる poem is one of the three poems that start with . It is recognised by the first two syllables chiha ちは. Also note how the transciption of mizu in the first line is みづ instead of みず. This is due to historical use of kana.


ちはやぶる Chihayaburu
かみよもきかず Kamiyo mo kikazu
たつたがわ Tatsuta-gawa
からくれなゐに Kara kurenai ni
みづくくるとは Mizu kukuru to wa

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