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

March 22, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 12 (Priest Henjo)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 12

amatsukaze
kumo no kayoiji
fukitoji yo
otome no sugata
shibashi todomemu 

O winds from on high,
blow shut
that path through the clouds,
so that I can detain a moment longer
these heavenly maidens' forms!

天つ風
雲のかよひ路
吹きとぢよ
乙女のすがた
しばしとどめむ

Archbishop Henjo (816-890)

[Not the Gosechi dancers, but maiko dancing at the
Miyako Odori performance]

The beauty of the dancing girls performing the Gosechi dance is such that the poet confuses them with heavenly maidens.

"O winds blowing from the heavens, close off  the paths to the clouds, as I want to enjoy a while longer the forms of these heavenly dancers!"

Not a very priestly poem, but Henjo, who later took the tonsure and reached the church rank of archbishop, wrote this presumably during his time at court, between 844 and 849. The Gosechi was a dance celebrating the harvest, performed by four to six young unmarried women from aristocratic families. Those families would compete with each other in having their most beautiful daughters take part. The Gosechi dance was an immensely popular event at court and the beautiful dancers attracted much attention - in The Tale of Genji, Yugiri, the son of Prince Genji, falls in love with a Gosechi dancer.

The custom of performing the Gosechi dance at court presumably originated in the time of Emperor Tenmu (the husband of Empress Jito of Poem 2), who, when on an excursion to Yoshino, played the koto "upon which heavenly maidens appeared dancing in the sky." Henjo praises the (real) dancers by comparing them to those heavenly maidens from the legend (a sort of "angels" in Western terms), and at the same time he praises Emperor Ninmyo by comparing his reign to that of the famous Tenmu. 


Henjo (816-890), originally named Yoshimine no Munesada, was a courtier and waka poet at the court of Emperor Ninmyo, which he entered in 844. Emperor Kanmu was his paternal grandfather and both Ariwara no Narihira and Emperor Ninmyo were his cousins. When the emperor died suddenly in 849, Henjo took vows as a priest of the Tendai school. He studied for two decades at Enryakuji Temple on Mt Hiei with the famous priests Ennin and Enchin. Meanwhile, he also participated in literary activities at the court. He used the temple Unrinin in Murasakino as his residence close to the capital (it occupied much of the terrain which now belongs to Daitokuji). In 885 he attained the rank of Sojo, archbishop. Despite that, he was also rumored to have had a love affair with Ono no Komachi (see Poem 9). Henjo is counted among both the Six and Thirty-six Poetic Immortals and has 35 poems in the Kokinshu and later anthologies.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 872]
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 -