Summer Weather: Poem Number 2

June 20, 2011

Sky Washington DC 2007 005

One of my favorite poems in all the Hyakunin Isshu is also one of the first:

春過ぎて Haru sugite
夏来にけらし Natsu ki ni kerashi
白妙の Shiro tae no
衣ほすてふ Koromo hosu chō
天の香具山 Ama no Kaguyama

Which Porter translated as:

THE spring has gone, the summer’s come,
And I can just descry
The peak of Ama-no-kagu,
Where angels of the sky
Spread their white robes to dry.

Empress Jitō (645-702) is the daughter of Emperor Tenji, who wrote poem number 1 in the anthology, but also became the Empress after her husband, Emperor Tenmu died, and reigned for 11 years.

This poem in general causes a lot of headaches for commentators and translators over generations because of the confusing relation between certain lines. Mostow’s translation is:

Spring has passed, and
summer has arrived, it seems
Heavenly Mount Kagu
where, it is said, they dry robes
of the whitest mulberry!

While the pillow words in the third line, mentioned in an older post, are pretty clear-cut according to Mostow, there’s a lot of confusion over generations about what’s being dried, what does it stand for, and either the seen is directly observed or not. On the note about the pillow word, shirotae 白妙, Mostow explains that the word tahe/tae refers to a kind of Paper Mulberry plant.

Also, where this famous Mount Kagu? Mount Kagu is one of three peaks called the Yamato Sanzan (大和三山, Three Peaks of [old] Yamato), which are pictured here. Yamato is among the oldest part of Japan as we know it, so these mountains, while small by standards of Mt. Fuji, or mountains in other places in the world, have held important cultural significance since the beginning. As Mostow explains, Mount Kagu is the site of the famous Shinto myth surrounding Amaterasu Ōmikami, the goddess of the sun, who shut herself in a cave at Mt. Kagu.

The ancient imagery of such a venerable old mountain, couple with such vivid imagery of a sunny, warm summer day are among the reasons why I like this poem so much. 🙂

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