Skip to main content

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

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

iro ni idenikeri
wa ga koi wa
mono ya omou to
hito no tou made

Taira no Kanemori 平兼盛 (died 990) was a middle-rank courtier, a descendant of Emperor Kōkō (光孝天皇 Kōkō tennō; 830–887, poem 15). It is believed by some that he was the biological father of Akazome Emon 赤染衛門 (dates unknown; poem 59).

As a courtier, Kanemori was not particularly successful, only rising to Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade (従五位上 ju goi no jō) and ending his career as a governor of Suruga 駿河, modern-day Shizuoka 静岡.

As a poet, however, Kanemori is considered a representative poet of Gosenshū 後撰集 (Gosen wakashū 後撰和歌集; Later Collection of Japanese Poems, 951) period 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).  

84 of his poems are officially included in imperial anthologies: 38 in Shūishū 拾遺集 (Shūi Wakashū拾遺和歌集; Collection of Gleanings, 1005–1007), 46 in the later collections. Another three poems of his are included in Gosenshū as “anonymous”, bringing his tally to 87 poems in imperial anthologies. A personal collection of his poetry also survives.

…and love that shows through
Poetry Contest at the Inner Palace
Shinoburedo poem is presented under a headnote From a Poetry Contest of the Tenryaku Era, in the first book of love poems (book 11 n total) of Shūishū, together with koi su chō 恋すてふ poem by Mibu no Tadami 壬生忠見 (dates uncertain), which is poem 41 in Hyakunin Isshu 百人一首

There might have been a mistake in the Shūishū headnote, as the poems were matched against each other not during the Tenryaku 天暦era (947–957) but in the fourth year of Tentoku 天徳 (957–961), in a contest known as Poetry Matches at the Inner Palace in Tentoku 4 (天徳四年内裏歌合 Tentoku yo’nen dairi uta-awase). It was held by Emperor Murakami (村上天皇 Murakami tennō; 924967) in 960 and after nearly a month of preparation, with some of the finest poets of the day present, it was an event “to be remembered as an outstanding example of the courtly poetry match” (Shirane 2007, 594). Today four different records of the said poetry contest remain. 

The match consisted of twenty rounds with shinoburedo (right) and koi su chō (left) [sides were assigned to poems in a match] being the closing poems of the competition. The set topic was love concealed (忍ぶ恋 shinobu koi). The judge was minister of the left, Fujiwara no Saneyori 藤原実頼 (900–970), whom, according to records, found both poems outstanding, so he yielded to Minamoto no Taka’akira 源高明 (914–983) but he too was unable to decide. The shinoburedo poem was declared winner only because the emperor seemed to have recited it to himself quietly. 

The poem does not use any of the often-encountered poetic devices, such as prefatory statements (jokotoba 序詞), pivot words (kakekotoba 掛詞) and so on, but it does use inversion, just like the chihayaburu ちはやぶる poem (number 17).

This case is a little different, though, as the beginning remains the same, while the second line moves to the end. It gives the poem a multi-layered quality but this inversion is so tightly connected to the original grammar that it hardly affects our understanding or translation of the poem. It can only be appreciated in the original.

Shinoburedo 忍ぶれど of the first line translates as although I hide it. The second line, iro ni ideni keri 色に出でにけり, roughly translates into it ended up showing on my face

The basic meaning of iro  is colour, but it can also mean complexion or expression on one’s faceIdenikeri 出でにけり combines the continuative form (ren’yōkei 連用形) of izu 出づ  (to reveal externally) with an auxiliary verb nu , which emphasizes the inability to control something – hence ended up is used in the rough translation. Auxiliary nu is also used in ren’yōkei and becomes ni , so that it can be connected with keri けりKeri is used final form (shūshikei 終止形), which signifies end of a phrase or sentence, while keri itself is one of probably a million ways of indicating a past tense in classical Japanese. With keri used in final form, the sentence ends and hence the line actually fits at the end of the poem.

Wa ga koi wa 我が恋は of the third line is rather straightforward and can be translated simply as my love. The truly interesting part is the second half of the poem.

The lower half or shimo no ku 下の句 has a distinct conversational quality, for which it has been highly praised (Mostow 1996, 260). This quality comes from a question in the fourth line – mono ya omou ものや思ふ, which means what are you thinking of? but also – whom are you in love with?

Mono もの means both things and a person, although clearly the second meaning is more fitting. Ya directly follows the noun (mono in this case) and indicates a question, like a modern ka  at the end of the sentence would. Omou 思ふ means to think of something or someone, but also to think fondly of someone, to love. This second meaning tends to be forgotten but is actually often used in classical poetry.

The questions – what are you thinking of / whom are you in love with? – are not merely an inside monologue, they are asked by others, as hito , used in the last line hito no tou made人の問ふまで, always implies others, not oneself. Finally, tou 問ふ means to ask, while made まで shows how unexpected these questions are.

Although I hide it, it showed on my face, that love of mine, and even people are asking: "Whom are you thinking of?"   

Poems in Chihayafuru
Shinoburedo poem figures rather prominently in Chihayafuru. Although it is the name poem of Wakamiya Shinobu 若宮詩暢, it is also used throughout the first season of the animated series to show Taichi’s feelings towards Chihaya. 

Episode 9 (S1) is called shinoburedo しのぶれど, which means Although I hide it. It is the episode about Mizusawa training camp but a couple of moments in the episode indicate Taichi’s romantic feelings towards Chihaya. Firstly, him stopping her from even trying to go into his room; secondly, him stealing a piece of her birthday cake in a very visually telling manner.

This theme of shinoburedo is returns in episode 23 (S1), when Kanade brings up the poem, this time together with koi su chō (Hyakunin Isshu 41) and their background story. Both poems – written on the same occasion, on a topic love concealed, both considered outstanding – through those poems Kanade puts Taichi’s feelings into words. Although not before he puts it into words himself – earlier in the same episode in his internal monologue he does say he is in love. The poems brought up in Kana’s internal monologue, however, highlight both the unchanging nature of human feelings and the power of expression that waka 和歌 lends. 

In episode 24 (S1), during the Queen match, shinoburedo is introduced as a card Shinobu is particularly good at. This card, however, is shown twice – the second time in a flashback, when little Shinobu’s classmates hide her cards everywhere. Shinoburedo is the last card she finds, the card shown being blown into her hands by the wind, as if showing the poem is part of her essence and she might as well be a character who hides something truly important.