Feeling Like Late Fall: Poem Number 29

November 19, 2011

Chrysanthemum aka white mums

November marks the last throes of Fall, and so with the recent cold here in Seattle, I thought this poem seemed really fitting:

心あてに Kokoroate ni
折らばや折らむ Orabaya oran
初霜の Hatsushimo no
おきまどはせる Oki madowaseru
白菊の花 Shiragiku no hana

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Must it be by chance,
if I am to pluck one, that I pluck it? —
white chrysanthemums
on which the first frost
lies bewilderingly.

Ōshikōchi no Mitsune was a very prodigious poet and his works appear in many later anthologies in Japanese history, and is also one of the compilers of the famous Kokinshū anthology. Not surprisingly he is among the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry too. Professor Mostow notes that this poem is subject to many different interpretations ranging from simple word-repetition, to rhetorical questions or the speaker’s mental debate.

In any case, the imagery of white frost on white chrysanthemum’s is in large part why this poem is so highly prized and made it into the Hyakunin Isshu anthology.

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