Poetry as Wordplay: Poem Number 22

A completely different “Arashi”, photo by Japanese Station, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The twenty-second poem in the Hyakunin Isshu is a brilliant example of word-play:

JapaneseRomanizationTranslation
吹くからにFuku kara niAs soon as it blows,
秋の草木のAki no kusaki nothe autumn trees and grasses
しをるればShiorurebadroop, and this must be why,
むべ山風をMube yama kaze oquite rightly, the mountain wind
あらしといふらむArashi to iuranis called “the ravager.”
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

Here, from the English translation, it’s hard to see what is so clever about this poem, so let’s look at the last two lines.

The fourth line talks about mountains and wind , but the fifth line mentions the word arashi which means “storm” and whose kanji is composed of both mountain and wind . Pretty clever, really.

But also, as Mostow points out in his book, the word arashi also has a double-meaning. The basic meaning is “storm”, but it is also the noun-form of the verb arasu meaning to ravage, hence the translation above.

Amazing what people could do with a few lines of verse and some Chinese characters. It’s no surprise that the author, Fun’ya no Yasuhide, was counted among the original Six Immortals of Poetry and later the Thirty-Six Immortals.

P.S. Kind of been a while, good to be back. 🙂

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