A Good Harvest: Poem Number 1

September 14, 2012

Wheat harvest

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.

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6 Responses to “A Good Harvest: Poem Number 1”

  1. i1057 said

    Hello and thank you so much for this page :). Can you, please, make a list of all the poems you have wrote about with its links?. It would be very helpful.

  2. shiroisunlucky said

    Reblogged this on kuuru..

  3. Natalia said

    I have recently become interested in Hyakunin Isshu and was delighted to find this blog. I really enjoy learning about the history and culture behind each poem, and I like how you incorporate images that relate to the poems interpretation in your posts. I had however noticed, the way you have some poems written out differs slightly than the way it is shown on my karuta cards. For example the last line has on it hiragana that looks like わがころもではつゆにぬれつつ, so it’s pronounced differently than what you have up there. I guess my question is…do the traditional poems differ from what they use for Uta-garuta karuta? I am guessing its like a more modern pronunciation, right? I really hope thats the case because If not, I have been reading these poems wrong for a while!

    • Doug said

      Hi Natalia,

      That’s a good question. Pronunciation does differ between classical Japanese and modern Japanese for the same hiragana (which have remained largely unchanged as a writing system). For example the modern おもう (to think) was often written as おもふ though it seems to have been pronounced the same. Also, words ending in む were often pronounced as ん.

      That said I, I just noticed I did have a typo there! It’s corrected now. 😛

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