Summer is Back: Poem Number 81

May 17, 2012

As spring turns into summer, I thought this poem seemed really appropriate and a great topic for discussion:

ほととぎす Hototogisu
鳴きつる方を nakitsuru kata wo
ながむれば nagamureba
ただ有明の tada ariake no
月ぞ残れる tsuki no nokoreru

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

The hototogisu:
when I gaze out towards where
he was singing,
all that remains is the moon,
pale in the morning sky.

This poem was composed by Fujiwara no Sanesada (1139-1191) who was the first cousin of Fujiwara no Teika, who compiled the Hyakunin Isshu anthology and author of poem 97, as well as the nephew of Shunzei (poem 83). He was ranked as the Tokudaiji Minister of the left in the Heian Court, and left behind an extensive poetry collection and his personal diary.

According to Professor Mostow, the poem was composed on the topic of staying up all night, to hear one cry.

The hototogisu (ホトトギス), or “lesser cuckoo”, in Japan is a famous bird known for its early summer call. You can see this video below:

So, as Professor Mostow explains, the author is waiting all night to hear the first call of the hototogisu as the first sign of summer.

One other note is the term 有明 (ariake), which is one of many poetic terms for the moon. Specifically it means the moon that remains in the morning, after daybreak. This normally occurs on the 16th day of the lunar cycle according to the old Japanese calendar.

P.S. Like the title, I’m back too. 😉

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4 Responses to “Summer is Back: Poem Number 81”

  1. Glad to have you back! And how nice to link the poem with the actual birdsong. Much appreciated.

    • Doug 陀愚 said

      Thanks very much. It’s rare that I can post actual media into this blog since most of it is historical. I was happy to see so many YouTube videos of Hototogisu calls. 🙂

  2. Murasaki Lynna said

    Nice post! It was cool to be able to hear the hototogisu sing 🙂

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