A Good Harvest: Poem Number 1
September 14, 2012
This is another iconic poem about Autumn and also happens to be the first poem in the Hyakunin Isshu:
秋の田の Aki no ta no
かりほの庵の Kariho no io no
苫のあらみ Toma no arami
わが衣出は Waga koromo de wa
露にふりつつ Tsuyu ni furitsutsu
Which Professor Mostow translates as:
In the autumn fields
the hut, the temporary hut,
its thatch is rough
and so the sleeves of my robe
are dampened night by night with dew.
This, the opening poem of the Hyakunin Isshu, was composed by Emperor Tenji (626-671) who was also helped oversee Taika Reforms as Crown Prince. This poem is unique in the anthology because it deals with subjects that related to peasant life, rather than life in the Court, and later commentators explain that this was because of Emperor Tenji’s image as a benevolent ruler. It’s also possibly because of this image, that Fujiwara Teika chose this as the first poem.
In any case, the poem gives a window into the life of the peasants in Japan during this era. Like elsewhere in the world, the harvest was a very important time of the year, and in each village, someone had to guard the grain overnight from theft or from animals. They would often stay in small thatched huts, and stay awake overnight. As night fell, the temperatures would get cold and their sleeves wet with dew, while the smell of dried grains permeated the air.
Outside the aristocratic court, this was the life that many led to feed their family and it was this labor that Emperor Tenji sought to praise.