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Authors born between 200 and 800 CE

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On the Sovereign's Visit to the Palace in Yoshinu

Prince Karu's Retreat To Remember His Father 

On Leaving His Wife in Ihami (I) 

On Leaving His Wife in Ihami (II) 

On the Death of His Wife (I)

On Seeing a Corpse on the Shore

On the Death of His Wife (II)

On His Approaching Death




Kakinomoto no Asomi Hitomaro (about 660-708) served under the Mikado Temmu, Queen-Regnant Jito and the Mikado Mommu. Of the offices he held, nothing is clearly known, although it appears that he functioned as a court poet, praising the reigning sovereigns and writing odes for them. He also traveled widely—through Kii, Ise, Kaminwoka, Yoshinu, Afumi, Ihami, and Tsukushi—composing poems on each place. He lived in Ihami (or Iwami, now the Shimane prefecture) at the close of his life and died there. He is one of the four principal poets of the earliest anthology of Japanese poetry, the Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), which may have been put together in 760. 


 Hitomaro is a lyric poet with a deep feeling for the beauty of mountains—with their streams and flowers—and for the beauty of the seascape and sea shores. He also expresses with great poetic skill the intensity of feeling that comes with loss of a loved one.


In the two poems on the death of his wife, the first wife was probably living with her parents after the marriage and was childless. Under these conditions, the husband may have been required, by custom, to visit his wife secretly. In addition, there was a special procedure for exchanging messages with each other. The second poem remembers a true wife who has borne a child. The final poem indicates he had a third wife who was living some distance from him.


On the Sovereign's Visit to the Palace in Yoshinu

Peacefully, our Sovereign rules all 

beneath the sky, but over no land fairer 

than mountain studded Kafuchi.

There Yoshinu's streams delight the heart

and Akitsu's moor is white with fallen flowers,
and there, high on stately pillars, stands

the royal palace of Yoshinu.

On early morning waters 

palace servants scull their boats;

by evening countless craft sail to and fro.

Oh may those rivers never cease to flow,

the mountains never cease to climb the sky!

Amid the roiling streams let Royal City 

flourish still, a place of joy for ever!

Although one gazes on and on, one never tires

of gazing on Yoshinu, where gliding waters flow

in unceasing surge—a land to gaze upon for ever.



Prince Karu's Retreat To Remember His Father

Leaving Royal City far behind, 

the prince makes for the wilds of Hatsuse

enclosed by rugged hills.

Climbing trackless slopes 

on foot, among tall trees

he goes past rocks and bushes  

into thick jungle as birds sing

  at the start of day.

When in the west the burning sunglow fades

and evening darkens on Aki's vast moor,

still white with snow, he brushes 

down tall plumed grasses growing there,

and lies down on a rustic bed

to meditate on days gone by.



On Leaving His Wife in Ihami (I)

On Tsunu's coast close by the waters of Ihami

where men say there is no sheltering bay

or salty flats that furnish shell fish,

there by the shore of  whale-embracing waters,

close by the sands of Watadzu's border,

the green, green seaweeds—

shore-weeds and mermaid's hair—

shaken up by morning surge,

fall, and seek a new repose.

Once wind and wave-tossed

they grow calm at last.

So, in my arms, you came to rest,

dear, whom I leave sadly.


Ten thousand times,

on every winding corner

of my lengthening way

I turn myself around and

let my wistful eye look homewards.

While ever farther recedes our home,

I journey on and climb

the steepening mountain way.

I climb away.


As a herb droops in summer

so love's burden bows me down.

O hills dissolve your massiveness

that I may see our home!


From inside the wildwood

on Takatsunu that over hangs Ihami

I wave my sleeve in farewell.

Ah, will she see my sign?

Disturbed by soft winds

the small bamboo leaves

rustle on unmoving hills

and the murmur reminds me of

the deep distress of leaving you.


On Leaving His Wife in Ihami (II)                                                           

By Kara's cape

(what sea-babble Kara hears)

the seaweed rises

from the ocean floor

by ivy-clothed Ihami,

and all along the sea sands

float fine sea-tangles.

So, far within me, floats

love deep as anchored kelp

for her who sleeps by me,

like a plant at rest upon the shore.

Alas, our days of joy have not been many.

Each time we're torn apart

it is as cruel as ripping clinging ivy

from the trunk it shelters on.

. . . .

Now all my heart,

chief ruler of my being,

is filled with sorrow,

as casting long looks backwards

to our home-place, dear,

I find the ruddy shower of autumn leaves,

with which Watari Mountain glows,

hides from my eyes the waving of your sleeve

bidding me farewell,

while on the waters of Yakami

infrequent rifts in scudding clouds allow

moon beams to shimmer—

sad moon, drawing up sad thoughts—

and the sun barely lingering

ends its course far in the west—

I can be resolute in battle

yet now my fine silk sleeves

are drenched with dew of tears.


In headlong gallop

on his gray horse he hurries

beyond all knowing

and far beyond he leaves

her home-place whom he loves.


High hill of Autumn

delay the falling

of your so ruddy leaves.

A little longer let me

gaze at what she gazes on,

gazing towards me.


On the Death of His Wife (I)

By the Karu road,

under the mallard’s flyway,

my love, my sister,

lived in her small town,

and deep desire

to see her filled my soul.

But people all around with curious eyes

prevented constant visits,

and few private meetings 

were granted us.

Yet I always trusted

the way would be clear,

though endless as the wild vine,

at last to meet my dear,

like a hopeful sailor

trusting on his tall ship.



while our ways of love we still kept secret,

secret as pool sheltered in warm rocks,

my world a sunless waste became,

and clouds snuffed out the moon that lit my heaven.

For she, my love—as graceful as deep kelp fronds—

has faded from my days like autumn's glory.

Such is the news the running messenger brings.

Like the clang of the bow-string on

a whitewood bow they hit my ear,

but I find no word to answer

or means to offer solace,

any words are aching pain.


Yet I would assuage my sorrow

by even its smallest part—

so towards Karu where she always watched

my coming, I go on my way listening,

listening for her voice, but only hear

the screams of wild fowl flying

across a sullen landscape.

I meet and scan the faces

of folk along the soldier’s road

but no face like hers I see.

So nothing is left—

I can but call her name

and wave my sleeve in vain.


I would gladly follow

the wandering spirit of my love

through precipitous ways

hidden by autumn's red leaves,

but cannot tread those unknown mountain trails

That lie beyond my ken.


In autumn’s fall of scarlet forest leaves

I see the message coming for me

and think of one day of love

that never more shall be.



On Seeing a Corpse on the Shore

On the sands of Sanuki's shore

folk gather fine seaweed,

and the eye never wearies of this fair land,

a divine land, most excellent, exalted.

Of Iyo's faces it's the one,

as our fathers always said,

for ever perfect— 

as earth and sky, 

and sun and moon.


And now from Naka's harbor

the ship is under way,

and over sea I sail,

blown by timely breeze towards

the cloudy margin of the sea.

Amid the waters I watch 

the ever restless waves,

and on the shore-sands

hear the whitening breakers;

the whale-embracing sea

is vast and awe inspiring.

Now here, now there

I wander with each shift of helm,

and pass many an island

crowding the waters.


Of all islands Samine is fairest,

upon whose pebbled shore I step.

On it I build a scanty shelter,

and gaze around, hearing only

the ceaseless rumble of the waves,

beating on the sandy shore.

I see someone has come to rest

on a couch of rough stones

made by him lying there,

flung prostrate on the beach.


If I knew where his home was,

I would take the sad news there.

If his wife knew what

way to go to seek him out,

she would surely come,

but the sea’s highway she does not know,

and so must wait anxiously, 

yearning for his coming home.

His lovely wife is waiting still.


If his wife lived near, on Samine's hill,

she could gather him fresh wild herbs,

for they are growing still.

Upon the shore-sands where the waves 

are rolling, ever rolling, 

his pillow he has made,

and there has come to rest.



On the Death of His Wife (II)


When we two went along

the ways of life together,

and hand in hand together gazed

upon the elm trees crowding

the dike's rising ridge

close by our cottage,

thoughts of love arose as frequently

as leaves in spring

upon thick intertwining branches,

and leaning on you

my soul found rest.


But there is a grievous doom

none may escape;

across the moorland,

where a single candle glows from afar,

your bier is borne,

amid white funeral banners.

One who rose at break of dawn,

as morning fowl fly,

must now be hidden

like fading day by sunset hills.

A little son is your memorial,

he weeps and begs

and seeks comfort from me.

But I can give him nothing,

no toy can cheer him,

I can but clasp him to me

and fondle him ungently

as a man will do.


How desolate our room

where once our pillows 

lay so close together;

from dawn to darkness

the day is full of sorrow,

from dusk to day-break

I sob and sigh unsleeping,

and know not where

to turn to in my misery.

I'll love you ever

though I may never see you.


I know you sleep on high Hakahi,

although it’s known as cock-crow hill,

for men brought me the news.

I climb the steep and stony heights

with painful effort—

such useless toil,

for the living you I loved

I may not see,

not even for a moment dimly

may my eyes rest on you.


It is the same moon

illuminates this autumn night

that shone a year ago,

but that year gone by divides

us by a year's expanse.


A week of mourning past,

I go back home,

And peering round our room

from outside the alcove,

my eyes rest upon your pillow,

and linger there,

upon your pillow.                                   



On His Approaching Death.

I feel my body must soon rest

among the rocks of Kamo's hill.

Not knowing my sad fate, alas,

my wife will still await me!




Adapted from Primitive and Mediaeval Japanese Texts, translated by Frederick Victor Dickins, Clarendon Press, Oxford, England, 1906.

                                Selection and Adaptation © Rex Pay 2001