Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Eternal Leaves of Tokiwa Mountain

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

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秋の歌合しける時よめる
aki no utaawase shikeru toki yomeru

もみぢせぬときはの山は吹くかぜのをとにや秋をききわたる覽
momidisenu tokiwa no yama ha fuku kaze no woto ni ya aki wo kikiwataru ran

紀淑望
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

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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.

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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.

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