Summer Nights: Poem Number 36

January 28, 2013

Maurice Cullen - Summer Night

For those who are stuck in the dead of winter (or for readers in the Southern Hemisphere), I thought a Summer-type poem would be appropriate:

夏の夜は Natsu no yo wa
まだ宵ながら mada yoi nagara
明けぬるを akenuru wo
雲のいづくに kumo no izuku ni
月やどるらむ tsuki yadoruran

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

The short summer nights
while it seems yet early evening,
it has already dawned, but
where in the clouds, then,
does the moon lodge, I wonder?

The author of the poem, Kiyohara no Fukayabu, was a relatively well-known poet in his time, but it also turns out he is the grandfather of Motosuke (poem 42) and great-grandfather of Sei Shonagon (poem 62), so it seems poetry and literature run in the family. 😉 Then again, to be fair, the Hyakunin Isshu is full of poems involving members of the same family across multiple generations.

Anyhow, as Mostow explains, this poem was highly regarded at the time, but for readers in the 21st century, it has so many hidden cultural allusions, that it’s hard to see the significance at first.

As he summarizes, summer nights are short, and Fukayabu is saying that he is surprised that the moon is already dawning in the western sky. Since it’s cloudy, he asks where the moon might be lodging since it’s hard to imagine that it is already setting. It’s a clever, light-hearted poem exploring brief summer, moonlit nights in other words.

Interestingly, Mostow points out that despite the praise on this poem from antiquity, Fukayabu was not included among the Thirty Six Immortals of Poetry and his reputation suffered a major blow that didn’t recover until it was included in later anthologies. It’s pretty amazing to think how a poem can really make or break a person in that era.

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