Lost Without An Oar: Poem Number 46

February 12, 2013

Old rowboat


Continuing our theme for Valentine’s Day, this poem is quite fitting and another example of a “love poem” from the 40’s section of the Hyakunin Isshu:

由良のとを Yura no to wo
わたる舟人 Wataru funabito
かぢをたえ Kaji wo tae
行く方もしらぬ Yukue mo shiranu
恋の道かな Koi no michi kana

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Like a boatman, crossing
the Strait of Yura,
whose oar-cord has snapped,
I’m lost and know not my way
on the road of love!

The author, Sone no Yoshitada (dates unknown), lived toward the end of the 11th century, but as Mostow writes, very little else is known about him. Apparently he was a prolific poet and had his own collection, which was common among the aristocracy of day, but his style was considered unconventional and unappreciated until the time of Fujiwara no Teika, who compiled the Hyakunin Isshu.

The poem is somewhat confusing, Mostow explains, for two reasons. The first is that the location of “Yura” isn’t know, but exists in both Kii and Tango provinces. Since Yoshitada was a secretary in the province Tango, perhaps he meant that Yura, but it’s only speculation on my part. The second is the phrase kaji wo tae (かぢをたえ), the third line. It can either be read as kaji wo tae (to lose an oar), or kaji-o tae (the oar cord snaps). Mostow makes a convincing argument for the latter.

But in any case, I think we all know that feeling when we were young and experienced love for the first time how happy, yet lost we were. Things haven’t changed in 900 years it seems. 🙂

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