Monday, May 11, 2009

Mist lingering about Heavenly Kagu Mountain

Today we'll be continuing with the Shinkokin wakashuu (新古今和歌集) and moving on to the very next poem: poem 2 in the book of spring poems.


haru no hajime no uta
honobono to haru koso sora ni kinikerashi ama no ama no Kaguyama kasumi tanabiku
Daijou tennou

A verse on the beginning of spring

Faintly, in the dawn, / spring has arrived from the sky / and from the peak of / Heavenly Kagu Mountain / mist descends, hangs in the air

Retired Emperor Gotoba


Taken from the personal collection of waka by Retired Emperor Gotoba (who ordered the compilation of the Shinkokin wakashuu after abdicating the throne [from The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature]), this poem paints a beautiful image of the beginning of spring. It also suggests the image of spring (embodied in the mist) descending from the heavens and slowly settling over the land as a gift from the deities to the Japanese people. (And, for me at least, brings to mind the Man'youshuu poem of the Emperor surveying the land to bring good fortune to his people in the coming year.)

This poem contains some interesting rhetorical language that I would like to look at. In addition to its beautiful images, this poem contains an allusion a Man'youshuu poem which I have quickly translated as: "It seems certain that / spring will come flowing in on / this night as fine mist / lingering about ancient / Heavenly Kagu Mountain." (As I don't have a copy of the Man'youshuu with me right now, I'm offering this an approximation of the meaning only.) I would also like to explain my use of "mist descends, lingers in the air". かすみたなびく (kasumi tanabiku) literally means "mist hangs/lingers in the air". However, the editors have pointed out that 天の (ama no; "heavenly"), coupled with 空にきにけらし (sora ni kinikerashi; "came from the sky") has a nuance of mist falling from towering heavens.

Yesterday, I mentioned some differences between the Shinkokin wakashuu and the Kokin wakashuu in terms of poetic thought. Today, I'd like to discuss Retired Emperor Gotoba's role in the compilation of the Shinkokin wakashuu. He reigned as emperor from 1183 to 1198 (the beginning of the Kamakura period, which directly follows the Heian period) until he abdicated to have more political power. At the time, the power of the Imperial Court was in decline and the power of the military leaders was rising. (If you'd like to read more about the rise of the military powers in the period, I would recommend Karl F. Friday's Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan.) However, there was an even older trend whereby the Fujiwara regents ("advisors") to the emperor had essentially taken control of power by putting younger and younger emperors on the thrown and then forcing them to abdicate before they grew old enough to develop any power of their own. As such, many retired emperors eventually realized what they had missed out on and began attempting to consolidate power in their homes outside the capital. While this more an issue of political history than of poetry, I mention it to give you an idea of the type of man Retired Emperor Gotoba was. In addition to spending much of his life struggling for political power, he was also very dedicated to the arts--hence his command to compile the Shinkokin wakashuu. While he was characterized as being strong headed (and arguing with Fujiwara Teika, chief comiler of the anthology), his poetry, as we've seen today, had an incredible beauty to it.


I hope you've enjoyed today's poem! I'll be back on Wednesday with more poetry from the Shinkokin wakashuu!

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