He Spurned Me: Poem Number 19

March 3, 2012

Reed Warbler

This is the second poem in “women only” theme for March, and another classic:

難波潟 Naniwa gata
みじかき芦の Mijikaki ashi no
ふしのまも Fushi no ma mo
あはでこの世を Awade kono yo wo
過ぐしてよとや Sugushite yo to ya

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

To go through this life, not meeting
for even as short a time as the space
between two nodes of a reed
in Naniwa Inlet—
is that what you are telling me?

Lady Ise (伊勢, c. 875- c. 938) is another celebrated female poet from antiquity. Her sobriquet comes from her father’s position as governor of the prosperous Ise Province, but she earned a name for herself through her extensive poetry both in her private collection, the Ise Shū and through Imperial anthologies where her poetry is both frequent and prominent.

As Professor Mostow explains, the poem has two possible interpretations: one where she has been spurned by a cold lover, and the other where she cannot reveal her hidden love.

Naniwa Inlet is the bay of what is now the famous city of Osaka, though back then it was a far smaller city, with many waterways, streams and such. Naniwa (Osaka) is often associated with reeds at the time as other poems of the time show, and is mentioned in two other poems in the Hyakunin Isshu (poem 20 and poem 88).

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