Friday, April 24, 2009

The snow still falls...

Today, we'll be looking at a "simple", as the editors refer to it, poem.

dai shirazu
haru gasumi tateru ya itzuko mi-Yoshino no Yoshino no yama ni yuki ha furi-tsutsu
yomihito shirazu

Topic unknown
Where could it be that / the spring mists are rolling in? / On Mount Yoshino, / in beautiful Yoshino, / winter snows, alas, still fall
poet unknown


This is an extremely simple example of waka. There's only one possible kakekotoba (or pivot word)--between いづこ and みよしの (where and beautiful Yoshino, an area in Western Japan--more on this later)--こみ (komi) can mean "to fill up", as in mist filling a valley. However, that's the limit of linguistic play in this poem. For this poem, the beauty is not in it's structure, but in it's utamakura--its pillow words. I am referring, in specific, to Yoshino.

In his book Utamakura, Allusion, and Intertextuality in Traditional Japanese Poetry, Edward Kamens describes utamakura as words that act as "pillows" (makura) for poems (uta). He cites Keichu in the preface of his book as presenting the idea that writing poetry is like dreaming, and utamakura (like a real pillow) provides a place for the poem (or dream) to develop. In the poem we're looking at today, Yoshino is an utamakura--in specific, it is a meisho (a famous place). The point of Yoshino as an utamakura in this poem is to provide a place for the poem to develop. By place, I do not mean a literal place. While the poem is set in Yoshino, it's entirely likely that it was actually written in some other place, like the capital. Yoshino was (and still is) known for it's beautiful cherry blossoms and, as such, is often associated with spring (when the cherry trees bloom and the entire country side turns pink-white). As the contemporary editors of the collection point out, the poem can be read as wondering what it's like at Yoshino mountain when the calendar says that spring has come, but the snow still fall. So, Yoshino is less a literal setting, and more a metaphor for spring.

By setting the poem in Yoshino, the poem in imbued with all the poetic associations that come with Yoshino. We immediately think of green mountains covered in snow, impatiently waiting for the first thaw and the spring mists. At the same time, it has a sense of longing. Yoshino is a way off from the capital and, as such, could be taken as a place of distant desire. By setting the poem in Yoshino, the poet imagines the longing for spring felt in a distant place, far from the world he or she knew and experienced on a daily basis (if the poet is actually from the capital).


Thanks for reading today! Look for another poem on Monday!

Preston From

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