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October 31, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 21 (Sosei Hoshi)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 21

ima komu to
ihishi bakari ni
nagatsuki no
ariake no tsuki wo
machi-idetsuru kana


just because you said 
"I'll come right away"
I have ended up waiting
for the wan crescent of the moon
in the morning sky of the Ninth Month

The Buddhist Priest Sosei (c. 844-910)

Sosei Hoshi by Kano Tan'yu, 1648

The complaint of a woman who has waited a long night for her lover who didn't show up. 

Although the writer is a man, this poem has been written from the point of view of a woman. That is clear from the fact that in the Heian-period women almost never left their houses; it were the men who came visiting, also in the case of (secret) love affairs. As her lover has told her he will come soon, she keeps waiting for him during a long, autumnal night, hoping that he will appear, but all she finally sees is the "ariake no tsuki," the moon that it left in the sky while it is already getting light in the early morning. Ironically, this was the time that lovers usually would leave and head for home.

Such a "morning moon" only appears after the sixteenth day of the lunar month, when the moon is waning - so it is not a full moon but a crescent. "Nagatsuki" refers to the Ninth Month of the lunar calendar (mainly our August), when the nights are long and the moon is beautiful. 

The only point where interpretations may differ in this poem, is how long the woman has been waiting. Kokinshu scholars agree that the woman has been waiting one night, as in my translation above; but Teika, the compiler of the Hyakunin Isshu may have read it more narratively, in the sense that she has waited several months.

Sosei, who had the title "hoshi," Buddhist Priest (lit. "Master of the Law"), was the son of Archbishop Henjo, the author of Poem No. 12 in the Hyakunin Isshu. He is one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals and is well-represented in the Kokinshu and other imperial anthologies.

[Kokinshu 193]
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 -