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April 22, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 17 (Ariwara no Narihira)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 17

kamiyo mo kikazu
karakurenai ni
mizu kuguru to wa


Not even heard of
in the legendary age
of the mighty gods:
the River Tatsuta in scarlet
and the water flowing under it.

Or, when kuguru is read as kukuru, the last two lines become:
the waters of the River Tatsuta
tie-dyed in scarlet.

Ariwara no Narihira (825-880)

[Scarlet autumn leaves]

The beauty of the red maple leaves in autumn at the River Tatsuta.

The River Tatsuta flows through the lowlands east of the Ikoma Mountains south of Nara City. The area is famous for its maple trees and its autumn foliage and figures prominently in classical poetry.

The present poem was not actually written at the River Tatsuta, but on a screen painting of that river. The custom to write poems on screens with paintings in Yamatoe-style came up at the end of the 9th c. and was quite common in the 10th c. This is made clear by a head-note in the Kokinshu which reads: "Composed on a the topic of autumn leaves flowing down the Tatsuta River, as painted on a screen belonging to the Nijo Empress when she was still called the Mother of the Heir Apparent." In other words, the poem celebrates the success and glory of the Nijo Empress in giving birth to the Heir Apparent, with its reference to the Age of the Gods. The present poem is one of the first such "screen poems" (byobu uta); in the 10th c. both Yamatoe screens and accompanying poems were produced in large numbers.

"Chihayaburu" is a makurakotoba for the Age of the Gods. "Karakurenai" is scarlet, literally "Chinese scarlet," as this particular color nuance probably came from China.

The meaning of the last two lines changes depending on whether one reads the verb as kukuru or kuguru. Kukuru is probably the original reading, meaning "to tie-dye." So the waters of the Tatsuta look as if they have been tie-dyed in scarlet - tie-dyeing was a technique that came up in the 8th c., in which cloth was bound, folded or compressed to achieve different colored patterns. This is quite a complex and refined comparison (mitate). But in later centuries (and also in the time of Hyakunin Isshu compiler Fujiwara Teika) the verb was read kuguru which means "to pass under," resulting in the interpretation of blue water flowing under the surface covering of the fallen red foliage. And that is also beautiful.

[Narihira looking for the ghost of Ono no Komachi,
by Yoshitoshi (Photo Wikipedia)]

The courtier and poet Ariwara no Narihira (825-880) was counted both among the Six and Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. He was also thought to be the protagonist of the mid 9th c. Ise Monogatari (The Ise Stories), which formed around a collection of his poems, and was inspired by his many renowned love affairs. The grandson of two emperors (Heizei and Kanmu), he was a model of the handsome, amorous nobleman. Various imperial anthologies contain almost 90 of his poems. Donald Keene has remarked about him: "Narihira combined all the qualities most admired in a Heian courtier: he was of high birth, extremely handsome, a gifted poet, and an all-conquering lover. He was probably also an expert horseman, adept in arms, and a competent official. These aspects of his life are not emphasized in the Tales of Ise, but they distinguish Narihira from other heroes of Heian literature, including Prince Genji." But because of his many love affairs he was also criticized in contemporary records as "unrestrained in self-indulgence." He would perhaps have been the perfect lover for Ono no Komachi, but there is no indication that they ever met, although speculation has always been rife.

[Also included in Kokinshu 294]
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). 
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 -