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!

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