Lonely in Winter: Poem Number 28

December 17, 2011

Fall Sunset

Winter’s always a quiet, lonely time:

山里は Yamazato wa
冬ぞさびしさ Huyu zo sabishisa
まさりける Masari keru
人めも草も Hitome mo kusa mo
かれぬとおもへば karenu to omoeba

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

In the mountain village,
it is in winter that my loneliness
increases most,
when I think how both have dried up,
the grasses and people’s visits.

According to Mostow, this poem was composed in answer to the question of whether Fall or Winter was the lonelier season. Obviously the author, Minamoto no Muneyuki, favored winter. Minamoto no Muneyuki was the grandson of Emperor Kōkō and had a large portfolio of poems published in official anthologies, and earned himself a place among the Thirty Six Immortals of Poetry as well.

To me at least, the poem reminds me also of nobleman from the Heian Court who were required to do at least one tour of duty in remote provinces as a provincial governor for 4 years. The more remote the province, the more menial and degrading the task. Very well-to-do men could usually get themselves out of this obligation but most middle and lower ranking officials could not. Being cut off from the Heian Court was often a lonely affair as evinced in the writings of men like Sugawara no Michizane and others so imagine the author was also conveying this familiar sense of the time of loneliness officials stuck in a remote mountain village away from the Court in Winter and from friends.

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