The World Moves On: Poem 93

March 9, 2013

Hachimangu Tree Restoration 2

I was reminded of this poem recently and felt like sharing it with readers. It is one of the most poignant in the anthology, I think:

世の中は Yo no naka wa
つねにもがもな Tsune ni mo ga mo na
なぎさこぐ Nagisa kogu
あまの小舟の Ama no obune no
綱手かなしも Tsuna de kanashi mo

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

If only this world
could always remain the same!
The sight of them towing
the small boats of the fishermen who row in the tide
is touching indeed!

This poem was composed by Minamoto no Sanetomo (1192-1219), who was the third shogun of the new Kamamura Shogunate. Sanetomo even studied poetry under Fujiwara no Teika, the compiler of the Hyakunin Isshu anthology and contributed to many Imperial anthologies as well.

Sanetomo lived at a time when the old Heian court (which included most of the authors in this anthology) had been reduced to a shadow of its former self. The power had shifted away from the Imperial Court to the eastern city of Kamakura, and the country was still rebuilding itself after war. Sadly, the new center of power was unstable, and Sanetomo was assassinated at age 28 by his cousin at the place shown above: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine. A great tree stood at the spot he was supposedly killed, but the tree was blown down in a storm about 5 years ago, and this photo (taken by a good friend) shows the spot where the remains of the tree still exist.

Sanetomo, though Shogun and the most powerful person in Japan at the time, was miserable. He knew people within his own family were plotting against him (obviously his fears were not unfounded), and he lapsed into alcoholism. This poem reflects his melancholy as he views the shores of Kamakura, and wishing this peaceful scene would always remain, in contrast to the troubled life he lived.

Politics and power are a dangerous thing.

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