Autumn Sunset: Poem Number 70

October 14, 2012

Avenue of trees against autumn sunset, Bosley Fields Farm - geograph.org.uk - 559377

My favorite poem related to fall in the Hyakunin Isshu is this one:

寂しさに Sabishisa ni
宿を立出て Yado wo tachi idete
ながむれば Nagamureba
いづこもおなじ Izuko mo onaji
秋の夕暮 Aki no yugure

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

When, from loneliness
I stand up and leave my hut
and look distractedly about:
everywhere it is the same
evening in Autumn.

The author of this poem is a monk named Ryosen Hōshi (良暹法師, “Dharma Master Ryosen) who supposedly composed it while doing austerities in a remote hut outside the capitol.

The notion of “Autumn Sunset” appears a lot in Japanese poetry, but apparently its meaning differs depending on the time and place. Ryosen Hoshi gives a more melancholy, almost Buddhist, tone implying that the world around him is declining into winter and possibly, metaphorically declining in a general Buddhist sense. However, Sei Shonagon (poem 62) also wrote about Autumn Sunset in her Pillow Book, but used it to describe crows and wild-geese flying

An Autumn Sunset means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but it still is significant one way or another. For me, I tend to like Ryosen’s imagery the best, and it’s the one I imagine whenever I read this poem.

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