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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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