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.

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