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

January 22, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 5 (Sarumaru Dayu)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 5

okuyama ni
momiji fumiwake
naku shika no
koe kiku toki zo
aki wa kanashiki


When I hear the voice
of the crying stag 
stepping through the autumn leaves
deep in the mountains -
then I really feel the sadness of autumn

Sarumaru Dayu (late 9th c.?)

[Deer in the Kasuga Shrine, Nara]

The acute sadness of autumn when one hears the cry of deer deep in the mountains.

When the poet hears the stag crying for its mate, deep in the mountains in autumn, he really feels how sad autumn is, for he, too, is separated from his beloved. This situation (the deer crying for its mate as a symbol for the poet calling for his beloved) occurs often in poetry since the Manyoshu.

A straightforward poem, without any kakekotoba etc., but there are nevertheless some difficulties in interpretation. The first point is: who is stepping through the autumn leaves? Modern commentators of the poem take this to be the poet, and that also seems to be the meaning in the Shinsen Manyoshu (and Kokinshu) in which it is first collected, but the traditional interpretation (also of Teika) is that it is the deer - and that is the one I have followed in my translation.

The second point is: what type of autumn leaves? As Mostow remarks, in another edition of this poem, "momiji" is written with characters that mean "yellow leaves" rather than "scarlet leaves," so originally the yellow leaves of the bushclover may have been meant. But in the medieval and early modern period, it was believed to be set in late autumn and the momiji to refer to fallen maple leaves.

Finally, it should be remarked that the view that autumn is a season of sadness is a typical view of city dwellers. For peasants it is a season of harvest and gladness; one has to live at a remove from the agricultural cycle to be able to see autumn as a season of decay and so as a symbol of the transitoriness of human existence.

About the poet, Sarumaru Dayu (Dayu is an official title, "Senior Assistant Minister") nothing further is known and he is probably a fantasy figure, although counted as one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. Some believe him to have been the son of Prince Yamashiro (who was the son of Prince Shotoku) but there is nothing to substantiate this. Significant is that the present poem is included in the Kokinshu as an anonymous poem. Also, no other poems have been ascribed to Sarumaru Dayu. From the headnote in the Kokinshu we know that this poem was written "at the poetry contest at Prince Koresada's house," which puts it in the late 9th c.

[Also included in: Kokinshu, Autumn Part A, 215]

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).