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Hyakunin Isshu: poem 77 (Retired Emperor Sutoku・se wo hayami)

Swift waters parted by the jagged rocks are joined at river’s end.


se wo hayami


iwa ni sekaruru


taki-gawa no


warete mo sue ni


awan to zo omou

Retired Emperor Sutoku 

Emperor Sutoku (崇徳天皇 Sutoku tennō; 1119–1164)  was born as Imperial Prince Akihito (顕仁親王 Akihito shinnō), son of Emperor Toba (鳥羽天皇 Toba tennō; 1103–1156, reigned 1107–1123) and Fujiwara no Tamako 藤原珠子 (also read Shōshi, later 待賢門院 Taikenmon’in; 1101–1145), although there were rumours in the palace that his real father was Toba’s grandfather Emperor Shirakawa (白河天皇 Shirakawa tennō; 1053–1129, reigned 1073–1087).

Emperor Sutoku reigned as the 75th sovereign from 1123 to 1141, right after Emperor Toba. He was made to abdicate at the end of 1141, in favour of his younger brother Imperial Prince Narihito (体仁親王 Narihito shinnō; 1139–1155), who became Emperor Konoe (近衛天皇 Konoe tennō; reigned 1142–1155), while the emperor became Retired Emperor Sutoku (崇徳院 Sutoku-in) 

When Konoe died at the age of sixteen, instead of Sutoku’s son, Toba placed another one of his own sons on the throne and this led to an armed conflict known as Hōgen Disturbance (保元の乱 Hōgen no ran) of 1156. Sutoku’s side lost and the retired emperor was exiled to Sanuki 讃岐 (modern-day Kagawa 香川prefecture) in Shikoku 四国, where he lived until his death.

He was, however, a respected poet and sponsored many hundred-poem competitions, as well as ordered the 6th imperial anthology Shikashū 詞花集 (詞花和歌集 Shika wakashū in full; Collection of Verbal Flowers; 1151), which was compiled by Fujiwara no Akisuke 藤原顕輔 (1090–1155; Hyakunin isshu 79). Starting with Shikashū, Emperor Sutoku has 78 poems in imperial anthologies.

, they will meet in the end

The poem was included in 10th book of Shikashū (Love 1), its exact topic stated as unknown. It is, however, a love poem that employs an image of river rapids parted by the rocks to symbolise lovers, who like water in the river, although separated, will surely meet again.


The poem starts with a dynamic image of a swift river current:


Se wo hayami iwa ni sekaruru taki-gawa no

Because the current is swift, like rapids held back by the rocks…

Looking more closely, se wo hayami uses a structure womi (を〜み) , which expresses reason – because the rapids (se ) are swift (haya はや, which is stem of adjective hayashi はやし, meaning swift). At the same time, the phrase also implies intense passion.


Iwa that starts the second line means a boulder, a rock, while sekaruru is a classical passive of a verb seku – to obstruct, to hold back. Sekaruru is formed by adding a particicle ru  to seka – mizenkei 未然形 or impefective form of seku, hence forming sekaru せかるBut the verb is modifies taki-gawa 滝川, the waterfall-like river, translated above as rapids. Because sekaru modifies a noun, it is used in rentaikei 連体形 or attributive form, sekaruru せかるる. In the taki-gawa no line, no  shows likening of the river and separated lovers, thus continuing on the theme of intense passion.


The first half of the poem is a preface (jokotoba 序詞)  describes warete mo sue ni awan われても末にあはむ – although divided, (we) will meet in the end, thus making it the focal point of the poem. 


Warete mo われても can be understood straightforwardly as even though it is parted, while sue ni 末にmeans in the end. Awan あはむ of the last line implies both the coming back together of the parted stream (which would have been written as 合はむ) and meeting of separated lovers (which would have been written as  逢はむ). Grammatically, awan combines the awa – mizenkei of au – with auxiliary verb mu  (used in final form or shūshikei 終止形)which indicates future tense, hence will meet. Additional emphasis is put on awan by incorporating zo , while omofu 思ふ means to think, but can also express hope, as is does here.


As the current is swift, 


are held back by the rocks, – 

although separated, 

they will meet in the endand so will we.


This poem, playing the dynamic image of swift current of a river, is Emperor Sutoku’s most famous composition. That is largely because of its inclusion in the the Hyakunin Isshu 百人一首, but it is also included in many other collections, the imperial anthology Shikashū being just one of them.


The version that we know so well, however, is not the original. The poem was originally written for the Kyūan Hyakushu 久安百首  (One Hundred Poem Sequences of the Kyūan Era; 1150), sponsored by the author himself. The same poem then read:

iwa ni sekaruru
tani-gawa no
warete sue ni mo
awan to zo omou

Unable to move, river of the valley held back by the rocks, – separated, but in the end, will meet again.

Most notably, the original lacks the image swift current. Opposite to the dynamic se wo hayami, the poem starts with yukinayami, implying inability to move. The river in the poem as well, is not the waterfall-like taki-gawa but a river of a valley, tani-gawa.


It is uncertain when the poem was reworked, but the fact that later version was selected for multiple collections, including Shikashū – the imperial collection ordered by author of the poem himself, – suggests that the second version was considered better. 

Swift waters parted by the jagged rocksChihayafuru
The first card Chihaya has taken in a karuta match started with the decisive syllable se and it told of lovers, separated, but sure to meet again.

This card makes an appearance in the very first chapter of Chihayafuru manga as well as in the first episode of season 1 of animated series. It becomes the first card Chihaya targets in a match against Arata, which might as well be the author implying that they are to be separated but united in the end. And they do get separated, as Arata moves back to Fukui later that year.

(Chapter 14 / animated series season 1episode 10) This symbolism regarding the two characters is continued, however, when, during one of the breaks between games at the Tokyo qualifier for the All Japan Senior High School Karuta Championship, Kanade first learns of Arata – the person whom Chihaya is now separated from. She immediately mumbles the first half of this poem. Hence, at least at the beginning of the story, this poem can likely be taken as symbolising Chihaya and Arata – the stream separated but sure to meet again.