Once Was Enough: Poem Number 44

A woodblock print of the Tale of Genji by Toyokuni Utagawa, Utagawa Kunisada, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Although I have been posting love poetry from the Hyakunin Isshu all week in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I felt like posting this poem for all those who don’t like Valentine’s Day, or had a lousy time:

JapaneseRomanizationTranslation
逢ふことのAu koto noIf there were no such things
絶えてしなくはTaete shi nakuwaas ever having met her, then,
中々にNakanaka nicontrary to all expectations,
人をも身をもHito wo mo mi wo moneither her coldness nor my pain
恨みざらましUrami zaramashiwould I have to resent!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

According to commentators, this poem was part of the same poetry contest as poems 40 and 41 and implies frustration that a woman has not consented to a visit by her presumed lover. Life would have been easier if they simply hadn’t bothered to try and meet.

However, Mostow also points out that the interpretation by Fujiwara no Teika (who compiled the Hyakunin Isshu), was different, and implied that they had met, and she wouldn’t meet him again. It didn’t end well, in other words, and the lover is bitter over it.

Fujiwara no Asatada, the author, was the fift son of Fujiwara no Sadataka (poem 25) and one of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry. I happen to consider this one of my favorite poems in the entire anthology, so I think it’s a fair ranking. 🙂

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