Getting Exiled Isn’t Fun: Poem Number 11

July 12, 2012

Matengai of Kuniga Coast in Oki Island Shimane pref600

Another random poem I found lately. Interesting enough, it has some relation to the much later poem by Emperor Gotoba (poem 99):

わたの原 Wata no hara
八十島かけて Yasoshima kakete
こぎ出ぬと Kogi idenu to
人には告げよ Hito ni wa tsugeyo
あまのつり舟 Ama no tsuri no bune

To which Professor Mostow translates:

O tell her, at least,
that I’ve rowed out, heading towards
the innumerable isles
of the ocean’s wide plain,
you fishing boats of the sea-folk!

The poet, Sangi Ono no Takamura (802-852), was one of the premiere poets of his time, particularly with Chinese poetry, which was very popular in that era. People considered him a rival to the famous Chinese poet Bo Juyi, which was quite a compliment. Bo Juyi’s poetry is frequently recited or mentioned in many works from the Nara and Heian periods (such as the works of Lady Murasaki, poem 57).

For his talent with Chinese, Takamura was selected to be part of the 837 embassy to Tang Dynasty China. Such trips were incredibly perilous, because Japanese ships were not designed to cross deep sea, and withstand frequent typhoons. Plus ambassadors had to stay for 10+ years at a time, and some never returned from China at all, as we see in poem 7. It was probably for these reasons and more that Takamura refused to go, but as punishment he was exiled to Oki Island and sent this poem back home as he headed for exile.

Oki Island shown above, as you may recall, is where Emperor Gotoba was also exiled centuries later and stayed there for 20 years before he died. It is a lonely island facing the cold, windy Japan Sea/East Sea and far removed from the Court. Noble-born members of the Court were often exiled here, among other locations (see poem 100) for some length of time until they either died, or the reigning Emperor granted clemency. Fortunately, Takamura was pardoned a year a later though and allowed to return home.

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