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

February 24, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 9 (Ono no Komachi)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 9

hana no iro wa
utsurinikeri na
itazura ni
waga mi yo ni furu
nagame seshi ma ni

花の色は
うつりにけりな
いたづらに
わが身世にふる
ながめせしまに

As the color of the cherry blossoms
has lost its luster
in vain
so I have passed through the world
gazing at the falling rains.

Ono no Komachi (ca. 850)

Zuishinin, Kyoto
[Zuishinin, Kyoto, a temple associated with Ono no Komachi]

Sadness about the decay of human life, symbolized by the fading of the color of the cherry blossoms.

"The color of the cherry blossoms has faded to no purpose, while the long rains of spring were falling. My beauty has also faded, while I was lost in idle thoughts." 

This is a complex poem, rich in puns, all the more so as Ono no Komachi was a symbol for feminine beauty. Of course the cherry blossoms in the first two lines are to be interpreted as symbols for Komachi's decline - her beauty is fading like the color of the blossoms. Moreover, the cherry blossoms - which anyway only bloom a short time before falling off - have faded before their time due to the long rains; in the same way, the beauty of the poetess has faded before reaching fullness. That is why her life has been in vain...

The adverb "in vain" (itazura ni) in the third line modifies both what goes before it as what follows after it. So the blossoms (and her beauty) have faded in vain, and her life has also been in vain. "Furu" in line 4 and "nagame" in line 5 are both pivot words (kakekotoba). "Nagame" means both "long rains" (naga-ame) and "to gaze pensively;" "furu" means "to fall" (of rain) and "to pass time" (or even "to grow old"). 

Zuishinin, Kyoto
[Inscription of the present poem in Zuishinin, Kyoto]

Ono no Komachi (fl. mid 9th c., dates perhaps 825-900) was ranked among the "Six Poetic Geniuses" by Ki no Tsurayuki, the compiler of the Kokinshu. Komachi was probably born in the northern provinces in the first decades of the 9th c. About a hundred poems have been transmitted under her name in various collections, of these only about 20 (those included in the Kokinshu and Gosenshu) can be considered as genuine. Nearly all her poems are about passionate, but unhappy love and the infidelity of men. They are verbally complex and contain difficult to translate puns. Ono no Komachi's life has become the stuff of legends, whereby it is rather convenient that practically nothing is known about her. She is considered to have been very beautiful in her youth, but also haughty and cruel towards her lovers - for that last attitude she was "punished" with an unhappy old age. 

[Ono no Komachi as an old woman]

Most notable among the legends about her cruel treatment of her lovers is the one about Captain Fukakusa, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi promised that if he visited her continuously for a hundred nights, she would become his lover. He visited her every night, regardless of the weather, but died (of exhaustion, or the cold?) on the ninety-ninth night... Another type of legend tells how, as punishment for her mistreatment of her lovers, when her beauty had faded, she was forced to wander around in rags, looking so wretched that all mocked her. There is even a legend about her death: how her skull was left in the fields, the wind blowing through the eye sockets with an eerie sound... (I taste some male revenge in these stories). In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Ono no Komachi of legend became the subject of five Noh plays and even Mishima Yukio continued the tradition by writing a play about her. The present poem fits nicely into that tradition of legends and may in fact have formed the basis of it.

As the pictures show, the Zuishinin temple in Kyoto's Yamashina ward, propagates its association with Ono no Komachi (she presumably found a refuge here later in life; others say it is supposedly the place where Captain Fukakusa visited her), but there is no historical proof for that - just as, for example, the association of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the Genji Monogatari, with Otsu's Ishiyamadera is spurious.  (Another Kyoto temple associated with Ono no Komachi is Onodera (Fudarakuji) near Ichihara Station on the Kurama line of the Keifuku Dentetsu).

[Same poem in Kokinshu 113]
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); 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 (Staford 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).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -