Thanks, But No Thanks: Poem Number 67

May 6, 2013

Ryokan-hakone-en-4

This clever little poem shows the battle of the sexes as it existed 1,000 years ago:

春の夜の Haru no yoru no
夢ばかりなる Yume bakari naru
手枕に Tamakura ni
かひなく立たむ Kainaku tatan
名こそ惜しけれ Na koso oshikere

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

With your arm as my pillow
for no more than a brief
spring night’s dream,
how I would regret my name
coming, pointlessly, to ‘arm!

The author, known as the Suō Handmaid (dates unknown), was so named because her father was governor Suō Province. As mentioned before, this was a common sobriquet used by female authors, so their real names are rarely known. This is another poem that speaks to the importance of a woman’s reputation in the ancient Court of Japan, just like the last poem, Poem 65. However, this one is much more playful and shows a lot of wit.

According to the back-story, there was a social gathering at the Nijō-In (二条院), the woman’s quarters at the palace. The woman there were relaxing, and the author of this poem said, “I wish I had a pillow”. At that moment, one Fujiwara no Tadaie happen to walk by, and hearing this stuck his arm through the curtains and said, “Here, takes this as your pillow!”.

In reply, the author composed this poem. As Professor Mostow points out, the word for arm here (kaian) is a pun for pointless (kainaku).

People flirted pretty clever back in those days. 🙂

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