A Deer’s Cry in Autumn: Poem Number 5

Photo by David Selbert on Pexels.com

This is a very iconic poem about Autumn from the Hyakunin Isshu:

JapaneseRomanizationTranslation
奥山にOkuyama niWhen I hear the voice
紅葉ふみわけMomiji fumiwakeof the stag crying for his mate
鳴く鹿のNaku shika nostepping through the fallen leaves
声きく時ぞKoe kiku toki zodeep in the mountains—this is the time
秋は悲しきAki wa kanashikithat autumn is saddest.
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The poem was composed by one mysterious figure named Sarumaru, whom we know nothing about. Even in the kokinshū where this poem is first found, it is listed as anonymous, according to Professor Mostow, but seems to have been composed for a poetry contest in 893 hosted by Prince Koresada. Whoever Sarumaru was though, it earned him a place among the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry.

Mostow explains that this poem is surprisingly tricky to interpret: who is walking through the leaves, the deer or the author?

Speaking of deer, deer have been an integral part of Japanese poetry since early times. This and poem 83 show how the deer’s cry is a popular poetic symbol of sadness or melancholy.

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