Sunday, May 15, 2011

Today's post is actually from a paper I wrote in graduate school about the Kin'yo wakashu and Minamoto Toshiyori.  I've included the introduction and the first three spring poems (the first three poems of the anthology).

Compiled by Minamoto Toshiyori (源俊頼) at the behest of Retired Emperor Shirakawa, the Kin'yô wakashû is designed to be an intentional departure from the typical imperial anthology, varying in both structure and aesthetics. As Toshiyori is one of the few non-Fujiwara editors of the chokusenshuû, it is clear that Shirakawa chose him as much for politcal reason (to help break the hold on power that the Fujiwara had) as for poetic reasons. Comprised not of the typical twenty-two books, but of ten, the compilation includes the following books: spring, summer, autumn, winter, congratulatory poems, poems of separation, two books of love poetry, a book of miscellaneous poetry, and a book of both miscellaneous and travel poetry. One of the major difficulties in studying this collection, however, is the three textual lines: Toshiyori submitted three different drafts before Shirakawa accepted one, but it is the second, not the third, that is generally recognized as the definitive Kin'yô wakashû.1 In any case, the Kin'yô wakashû is the shortest of all imperial anthologies.
As Donald Keene mentioned in Seeds in the Heart, this collection is interesting in the editor's approach to both poetics and the compilation of the Kin'yô wakashû. Minamoto Toshiyori was considered a radical in his time, and his radicalism can be seen in the selection of poetry for the anthology. The most striking aspects are Toshiyori's emphasis on contemporary poets and his appreciation for rustic and natural imagery over more emotional poetry. However, as Keene also points out, Toshiyori was also original in his use of waka to express “grievances”, going so far as to include a headnote indicating his bitterness over “not having obtained office until the age of seventy”.
As the collection does not contain a preface, it is difficult to guess what, exactly, Toshiyori's intentions were in the compilation process. However, as poems by Toshiyori himself are the greatest in number (thirty-seven poems out of about six-hundred fifty total), and as Toshiyori was the sole compiler, we can assume that his poetic vision and aesthetics were the primary factor, despite requiring Retired Emperor Shirakawa's final decision for approval.
Minamoto Toshiyori (sometimes read as Shunrai), despite maintaining a low standing in terms of court rank, was somewhat of a revolutionary in terms of poetics. He had no problem with poems dealing with “vulgar” topics, going so far as to include poems riff with 'vulgarities' in a collection submitted to Emperor Horikawa2, included below:
Is it because
To be love's coolie has become
A habit I am stuck with
That even on a journey it wells up,
This day's-end clatter banging in my breast?

This poem was obviously startling for a courtly audience, where elegence was the rule, as it deals so directly and coarsely with “relations”.
However, Toshiyori was not limited to vulgarities, or he surely would not have been selected to compile the collection by Retired Emperor Shirakawa. Looking at his own poems he chose to include in the selection, we can see a powerful ability to provoke emotion with concrete images. Turning to poem 51 of the Kin'yô wakashû, we can see an elegent demonstration of Toshiyori's descriptive abilities:
Even though the wind blows in the treetops, it can't be seen; the lucious
beauty of sakura flowers: the wind has become clear

In this poem, Toshiyori creates a unique spring poem—while it is a common trope to mistake sakura flowers for other things, such as clouds, here he's taken that trope and inverted it, by using sakura as an illuminating image. Though we cannot “see” the sakura, their scent allows us to detect the wind with our other senses. In a way, this poem is creating a new way of looking at the world—while our eyes may fail us, if we use our various senses thoughtfully, we can find a way to approach things difficult to “see”.
Despite being the shortest imperial anthology, the Kin'yô wakashû is of great importance, as Toshiyori's asthetic vision has a great influential power on what eventually becomes the dominate vision of Japanese poetics in the the following eras. While Retired Emperor Shirakawa was not himself an complete advocate of Toshiyori's renegade style, he was lucky in his selection of Toshiyori, as his name is now forever associated with one of the most influential anthologies of Japanese poetry.
1Keene, pg 307
2Brower and Miner, pg 244

yoshino yama mine no shirayuki itsu kiete kesa ha kasumi no tachikawaruran

Composed on the appearance of the first day of spring
The white snow of the summit of Mount Yoshino—when will it vanish?
and when will the first spring morning mist swell with magic?
Minamoto no Shigeyuki (????-1000)
uchi nabiki haru ha kinikeri yamakawa no iha ma no tsurara kefu ya tokuran

Composed on the heart of moved by New Years day, upon reading the Hundred Poem collection from the reign of Retired Emperor Horikawa
The plants' branches have grown long, spring has come; the mountain rivers are yet
frozen between the rocks, but will they, perhaps, thaw today
Official In Charge of Palace Repairs Fujiwara no Akisue (1055-1113)
kurahashi no yama no kahi yori haru kasumi toshi wo tsumite ya tachi waruran

Composed at the Emperor's palace at the poetry meet of the fourth year of Tentoku
From within the narrows of Yamato's mountains, the spring mists seem to
accumulate the years, swell, and spill out over the land
Middle Counsellor Fujiwara no Asatada (910-966)
furusato ha haru mekinikeri miyoshino no mikaki no hara mo kasumi kometari

Same as previous poem
Since the ancient times treasured Yoshino that seemed like spring
even the Imperial villa filled with mist
Taira no Kanemori (????-990)
asa midori kasameru sora no keshiki ni ya tokiha no yama ha haru wo shiruran
Same as previous poem
From the hue of the pale green of the misty sky about the mountains,
who live eternally, cannot one see that spring draws nigh?
Major General Kinnori's mother4 (????-????)
toshigoto ni kaharanu mono ha harugasumi tatsuta no yama no keshikinarikeri

Same as previous poem
Each and every year, completely without fail, the spring mists do swell,
seeming to have risen up around Tatsuta Mountain
Courtier Fujiwara no Akisuke (1090-1155)
aratama no toshi no hajime ni furishikeba hatsu yuki to koso ifu bekaruran

On honorably watching the snow fall in the first month of the year
As it is falling all about at the beginning of the new year
is it not right for us to call it the “the first snow”?
Official In Charge of Palace Repairs Fujiwara no Akisue (1055-1113)
asa to akete haru no kozue no yuki mireba hatsu hana tomo ya ifu bekaruran

Upon opening the door in the morning and seeing spring treetops
covered in snow could not one say, “Indeed! The first flowers!”
Steward to the Crown Prince Fujiwara Kinzane (1043-1107)
1A makurakotoba for spring
2A makurakotoba for the first state of Japan (Yamato)
3A makurakotoba for mist
4The Kin'yô wakashû is the only anthology to contain her work

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Leaves of Autumn Past

Today's poem is number 252 from the second book of autumn poems of the Kokin wakashuu.



kiri tachite kari zo nakunaru kataoka no ashita no hara ha momidi shinu ran

yomibito shirazu

Topic unknown

As the mist rolls in/ and the cries of the wild geese/ echo, I wonder/ if the leaves have changed color/ on Kataoka plateau

poet unknown


Today's poem is a bit simpler than most, as there is not any clever word use.  Instead, the beauty of the poem lies with the utamakura "Kataoka no ashita no hara" which refers to an area in Nara prefecture.  It is a lovely area with beautiful mountains covered with trees, and was reminiscent of the previous capital in Nara.  Additionally, it was quite a distance south from Kyoto (the capital at the time).  By wondering about the leaves of the Kataoka plain, the poet actually asking two questions.  First, he or she is wondering how far along autumn has progressed, not an altogether poetic question.  But, second, as autumn and spring both roll north through Japan, he or she is wondering how much farther into the season the area of the old capital was.  One feels as if one is somehow looking back into time and comparing the seasons of the different capitals.  If the leaves of Kyoto were already turns red and gold, how much deeper might be the colors of Nara?  How might the poets of the past felt at seeing those changing colors?

One other interesting aspect of "Kataoka no ashita no hara" is the ashita which can mean either morning or tomorrow.  While ashita is the place name in this case, it's use suggests a temporal leap forward as well, allowing the poet to hint at a third question.  How might the poets of the future feel gazing upon the autumn colors?

Though this poem is not as linguistically complex as some other poems of the Kokin wakashuu, it's temporal and spatial musings give it a unique flavor...


I hope you've enjoyed today's selection!  Hopefully we'll see you soon!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Eternal Leaves of Tokiwa Mountain

Today's poem is number 251 from the Kokin wakashuu.


aki no utaawase shikeru toki yomeru

momidisenu tokiwa no yama ha fuku kaze no woto ni ya aki wo kikiwataru ran

ki no yoshimochi

Composed at an autumn poetry contest

Upon eternal/ Tokiwa Mountain whose leaves'/ colors do not change,/ cannot one still hear the winds/ that tell of autumn's coming?

Ki no Yoshimochi


Tokiwa Mountain is a mountain in Kyoto, once the location of a retreat owned by the court noble Minamoto no Tokiwa (a son of Emperor Saga).  It's name was thus derived from a play on Minamoto no Tokiwa's name, which further inspires the poetic word play in today's poem.  What I've translated as "eternal Tokiwa Mountain" is actually redundant, as Tokiwa would mean eternal.  As such, we see that the poem uses a place name to comment on the coming of spring.  The poet has set the poem on Tokiwa Mountain, and thus assumed that the leaves would not change colors.  Instead, the poet (and the audience) can only mark the coming of autumn by the sound of its winds.

While the images by themselves are may not be particularly engrossing, their application presents an interesting approach to autumn.  A common motif in waka is the changing colors of the season, whether the white clouds of spring blossoms or the golds and reds of autumn's leaves.  By removing the visual impact of autumn, one has a sense of disorientation--as if blindfolded.  Though one can hear the autumn winds and knows from the calendar that autumn has arrived, one's eyes fail to impart such knowledge.


Ki no Yoshimochi, today's poet, is best know for his contribution to the compiling of the Kokin wakshuu, as well as authoring its kanbun preface.  In addition to Ki no Tsurayuki's kana preface, the anthology features a preface written the Japanese version of classical Chinese, which uses no kana (the Japanese alphabet).  The contents of the kanbun are largely the same as that of the kana preface.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Flowers of Autumn Waves

Today, we'll be looking at poem 250 from the second book of the Autumn poems from the Kokin wakashuu.


草もきも色かはれども わたつうみの浪の花にぞ秋なかりける
kusa mo ki mo irokaharedomo watsu umi no nami no hana ni zo aki nakarikeru

Though the colors of/ the grasses and the trees may change/ with the coming season,/ the sea's waves of flowers are/ not visited by autumn.


Like the previous poem, this one was written by Bunya Yasuhide at the poetry meet at Prince Koresada's house.

There are two interlocking images in this poem, that work together to give it an ephemeral and nostalgic feel. The first image is the changing colors of autumn in the trees and the grasses. This is a common image both in Japan and in the West, and one can immediately visualize the myriad colors of fall. At the same time, we are given the image of flowers floating on the waves of the sea--a metaphor for the turbulent ocean waves. Immediately, we see the contrast between the two images: the grasses and trees are not only changing colors, but also at the whim of the seasons--they mirror the temporal nature of human life. Yet, just off the shore, one can see the veritably eternal waves and their unchanging colors--a reminder of the beauty of the warmer seasons (and, one may hope, their eventual return).

While the autumn colors are indeed beautiful, they are melancholy colors--full of memories of the closing year and the passing of what once was. One is struck with the full weight of the meaning of those beautiful colors, the mono no aware (the beauty of transience) of implicit in the golds and reds of fall, while being mocked by the stability and permanence of oceans unwilting, unyielding flowers.