A Broken Thread: Poem Number 89

White pearl necklace

For our fourth poem in honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought this was an excellent choice:

玉の緒よ Tama no o yo
絶えなば絶えね Taenaba taene
ながらへば Nagaraeba
しのぶることの Shinoburu koto no
よはりもぞする Yowari mo zo suru

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

O, jeweled thread of life!
if you are to break, then break now!
For, if I live on,
my ability to hide my love
will most surely weaken!

The author of this poem, Shokushi Naishinnō (式子内親王) was the daughter of Emperor Go-Shirakawa and was high-priestess of the Kamo Shrine near Kyoto. Because the Kamo Shrine was so central to the spiritual protection of the capitol, the high-priestess could only be the daughter of an emperor, and was expected to be a vestigial virgin. She would serve as the high-priestess until such time as a new emperor was enthroned.

The daughter of Emperor Go-Shirakawa received a world-class education in poetry from none other than Shunzei, author of poem 83, who also happens to be the father of Fujiwara no Sadaie, the compiler of the Hyakunin Isshu, and had a considerable poetry collection in her own right. This poem belonged to another anthology under the subject of “hidden love”, according to Mostow. This was a popular subject of poetry contests and similar poems can be found in the Hyakunin Isshu as well.


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