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

March 12, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 11 (Ono no Takamura)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 11

wata no hara
yaso shima kakete
kogi-idenu to
hito ni wa tsugeyo
ama no tsuribune


That I have rowed out
over the broad sea plain,
heading towards the innumerable isles,
please tell my beloved one,
you fishing boats of the sea-folk!

[The sea off Shimane Pref., leading to the Oki Islands - photo Ad Blankestijn]

A poem about the sadness, loneliness and worries of an exile. 

"That I have rowed out with the innumerable islands on the wide sea as my target, please, fishing boats, tell that the one left behind in the capital!"
[Cliffs in the Oki Islands - photo Wikipedia]

Yasoshima (lit. "eighty isles," in the sense of "innumerable islands") stands for the Oki Islands., an archipelago of about 180 islands 50 to 90 kilometers north of the Shimane Peninsula. The two main islands are Dozen and Dogo. From an early time the islands were used as a place of exile for political prisoners, of whom the most famous ones were the emperors Gotoba (who died there) and Godaigo, a few centuries after Ono no Takamura. There are therefore many historical remains. The isles are now part of the Daisen-Oki National Park. The inhabitants live mainly from fishing and cattle raising. Lafcadio Hearn visited the islands in 1892, spending a month there, and wrote about his experiences in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

[The Oki Islands are known for bull fights, not between an armed man and an animal, but much fairer, between bull and bull - photo Ad Blankestijn]

The "person" (hito ni wa) to whom the message of the poet about his indeed having left in exile has to be given, has been a matter of speculation. Some believe this to have been the poet's aged mother, taking the poem in the Confucian sense of filial piety, but more popular is the idea that it refers to a woman at court with whom Takamura had an affair (it is then also thought that that affair was in fact the main reason for his exile - just as Prince Genji in The Tale of Genji had to go into exile to Suma because of his affair with Oborozukiyo).

Note that the "fishing boats of the sea-folk" (ama no tsuribune) have been personified in what can only be an ironic fashion, for these fishermen will - in contrast to the poet - soon return to their safe harbor. 
The courtier and scholar Ono no Takamura (802-853) was in the first place famous for his poetry in Chinese (of which however very little has been preserved). Because of his knowledge of Chinese, he was asked by the government to join the 837 embassy to Tang China, but as he refused (such trips were dangerous and like Abe no Nakamaro of Poem 7, many never returned) he was exiled to the lonely Oki Islands off the coast of present-day Shimane Pref. - this is the official explanation for his exile. Two years later he was allowed to return to Heiankyo and he eventually reached the court position of imperial adviser (sangi). Twelve of his Japanese poems are extant, among which six in the Kokinshu. Takamura was known for his love of archery and horsemanship and became the subject of various romantic tales, including a romance about his love life. He also played a role in a number of odd legends, such as that every night he would climb down a well to visit Hell and help King Enma to judge sinners.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 407]
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 (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).
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 -