Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

January 10, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 3 (Kakinomoto no Hitomaro)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 3

ashibiki no
yamadori no wo no
shidari-wo no
naga-nagashi yo wo
hitori kamo nemu


Must I sleep alone
through the long night,
long like the dragging tail
of the copper pheasant
in the foot-wearying mountains?

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (fl ca 685-705)

[Kakinomoto Shrine in Akashi (Hyogo Pref.)]

Love poem set on an autumn night. The poet, unable to meet his beloved and having to sleep alone, complains of the length of the night. 

Ashibiki is a pillow word for mountain. The meaning is not clear; it may mean something like "with abundant trees," but as it is most commonly written with characters meaning "foot pulling," it is often translated as "foot wearying" in English. Paraphrases in modern Japanese usually omit it.

As the long-tailed copper pheasant (yamadori, Syrmaticus soemmerringii) was believed to sleep apart from its mate, in a separate ravine, the bird with its long tail is not only symbolic for the long night, but also for the loneliness of the poet, separated from his beloved. 

Note the repetition of no and wo to suggest the length of the night. 

Besides employing a makura-kotoba, the poem is also a good example of the use of a jo-kotoba or preface: the entire first three lines are a preface for the adjective naga-nagashi, "long."

[Kakinomoto no Hitomaro
by Utagawa Kuniyoshi]

The poet, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (660?-720?; fl ca 685-705) was a court poet serving Emperor Tenmu (r. 672-686), Empress Jito (r. 686-697) and Emperor Monmu (r 697-707). As the most representative Manyoshu poet, he has been worshiped in Japan as the "saint of poetry." He was also counted as one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. It is fitting that Teika puts him near the beginning of his anthology. Among the poems ascribed to Kakinomoto, about 18 choka and 60 tanka are considered as genuine. Hitomaru's art is both natural and complex. Many of his poems were of a public nature, praising the imperial house, but he also wrote work of a more personal type, such as an elegy on the death of his wife. With Saigyo and Basho, Kakinomoto has been called one of the three most esteemed poets in Japanese history. He is honored in the Kakinomoto Jinja in Akashi, where poetry steles are scattered around the grounds, also with the present work.

[Poem stone with the Hyakunin Isshu poem
by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro in the
Kakinomoto Shrine in Akashi]

[Also included in: Suiishu 778]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).