Rustling of the Grass: Poem 58

March 13, 2012

Austrostipa ramosissima 2

The next poem in our series devoted to women was composed by the daughter of Lady Murasaki, Daini no Sanmi:

ありま山 Ariyama
猪名の笹原 Ina no sasawara
風吹けば Kaze fukeba
いでそよ人を Ide soyo hito wo
忘れやはする Wasure ya wa suru

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

When the wind blows
through the bamboo-grass field of Ina
near Arima Mountain
soyo—so it is:
how could I forget you?

Daini no Sanmi (大弐三位), which is not her real name, but rather her position in the Heian Court, similar to the sobriquet used by other women in the Hyakunin Isshu. She was the daughter of Lady Murasaki (poem 57) and was an accomplished poet as well. As the wet-nurse for Emperor GoReizei, she achieved the prestigious Third Rank in the Court hence her name.

This poem seems simple at first, which Professor Mostow explains as a poem composed about a man who had grown distant toward Daini no Sanmi, and that he was uneasy because he believed her feelings for him had changed. However, the poem contains some clever word-play too. The first three lines lead up to the word soyo which is an otomatopeoia for the sound of rustling grass, but also means “so it is!”. Professor Mostow explains that this is meant to convey to the man that she was the one was uneasy (because he was uneasy?). In other words, she was worried about his feelings because she cared about it. It’s amazing how one word can make all the difference like that when the context is just right.

Also, as a bit of reference, Arima Mountain, or arimayama (有馬山) is in the northern part of the city of Kobe, and boasts one of the most famous and oldest hot-spring resorts in all of Japan called Arima Onsen (有馬温泉).

One interesting aspect about the Hyakunin Isshu as a collection of poems is its tendency to have poets related to other poets in the anthology. The poems are not necessarily close to one another numerically, but quite a few poets in the anthology are related to another poet either as the child, parent, siblings, etc. You can see it through the women poets, but also through many of the male poets as well: Kiyohara no Motosuke (poem 42) is the father of Sei Shonagon (poem 62) and grandson of Kiyohara no Fukayabu (poem 36).

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