Wishing This Moment Wouldn’t End: Poem Number 73

April 10, 2012

Oyamazaki Kyoto01-r

Cherry-blossom season doesn’t last long, so while there’s still time, I wanted to post one last poem on the subject:

高砂の Takasago no
尾の上の桜 Onoe no sakura
咲きにけり Saki ni keri
外山の霞 Toyama no kasumi
たたずもあらなん Tatazu mo aranan

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Above the lower slopes
of the high mountains, the cherries
have blossomed!
O, mist of the near mountains,
how I wish you would not rise!

The author, Gon-Chūnagon Ōe no Masafusa (権中納言匡房, 1041-1111) was a prolific poet both in Japanese and in Chinese-style, and was a close confidant of Emperor Horikawa after retirement. As Professor Mostow notes, the poem’s meaning is very clear from the headnote, so there’s little if any debate about its meaning (unlike many poems in the Hyakunin Isshu). Masafusa hopes that the mist will not rise and block the view of the blossoms.

This poem brings to mind a time-honored tradition in Japan called hanami (花見) or “cherry-blossom viewing”. This is a tradition you can see alive and well in Japan today, and each year there are plenty of websites and helpful guides for Japanese and foreigners to find a good spot for viewing.

However, during the time of the Heian Court and the poets of the Hyakunin Isshu, it was more of an outing for elite members of the court only. Such excursions, just like now, included lots of music, singing and drinking as well as impromptu poetry. The only difference, really, was that back then it was a very isolated affair between good friends and a private spot, whereas now people really have to fight for a good spot in places like Tokyo or Kyoto, and often times involve one’s boss and associates from work. 🙂

Still, while some things have changed, it’s nice to see such a tradition live on for so many generations.

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