Hello, I Love You: Poem Number 51

February 13, 2012

The Tale of Genji

This is the final poem in our series dedicated to Valentine’s Day:

かくとだに Kaku to dani
えやはいぶきの Eyawa ibuki no
さしも草 Sashimogusa
さしも知らじな Sashimo shiraji na
もゆる思ひを Moyuru omoi wo

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Can I even say
“I love you this much”?—No, and so
you do not know of it
anymore than of the sashimo grasses of Ibuki,
my burning love for you!

Fujiwara no Sanekata, the poem’s author, was the grandson of Fujiwara no Tadarahia, author of poem number 26. True to his heritage, Sanetaka had an impressive record as a poet as well, and his poetry was frequently included in official anthologies such as the Shūishū among others.

According to Mostow, this poem was sent to a woman he was first starting to court, so the poem is an introduction of sorts to her, since she probably didn’t know who he was. The poem is as technically strong as it is bold, as Professor Mostow explains in detail. The reference to “Ibuki” is probably to a famous mountain in Japan called Mount Ibuki which has a variety of wildlife, including a kind of grass called sashimogusa or mogusa and is part of the Mugwort family. Mugwort was used in moxibustion, so it was burned, and this poem uses this as a symbol of his burning love.

According to Mostow, there is further word-play in the poem as sashimo can be read as sa shimo meaning “that much”, while the words mogusa and omohi reinforce each other to emphasize the passion of his burning love.

If Sanetaka wanted to introduce himself to a lady, he sure did a fine job of it!

P.S. Another poem about mugwort.

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