My favorite season, Autumn, is fast approaching so I thought this would be a good poem:
あらし吹く Arashi fuku
三室の山の Mimuro no yama no
もみぢ葉は Momijiba wa
龍田の川の Tatsuta no kawa no
にしきなりけり Nishiki nari keri
Which Professor Mostow translates as:
It’s the autumn leaves
of the hills of Mimuro,
where the tempests blow,
that are the woven brocade floating
on the waters of Tatsuta River!
The author, Nōin Hōshi (“Dharma Master” Nōin, b. 988) was originally Tachibana no Nagayasu until the age of 26 when he took tonsure. From there, he traveled the provinces, composing poetry and contributed to various anthologies at the time. Because he was not tied to a politically prominent temple, he had more freedom than other monks in the Capitol to roam the countryside and write in his travels.
Professor Mostow notes that this poem is unusual because it’s very straightforward with no hidden wordplay or anything. It’s just a nice, solid poem about Autumn.
As for the geography, Mimuro Mountain is in Nara Prefecture in Ikoma-gun, Ikaruga Village, while Tatsuta River. It was said in the old days that the gods would dwell at the mountain from time to time, and since antiquity. In fact, you might recall hearing this river mentioned before in Poem 17. 😉
In those days, travel to places like Mimuro Mountain were generally hard to do for people, even the nobility. A day-hike into the mountains to see such a river was an expensive and exhausting affair as one had to bring their retinue, plan for food and supplies, etc.
So, many poems in the Hyakunin Isshu express famous places like this even though few people from the Court actually went there. It allowed people in those days to at least imagine what it would be like to visit even if they couldn’t afford to actually see it in person. Like a poetic “guidebook” in a sense. Hence, while the description may be vivid and perhaps a little exaggerated, it helped to stir the imagination, just as it does for people living outside Japan. 🙂
P.S. For some reason, the last part of the Hyakunin Isshu has a lot of poems about Autumn in particular, so expect to see these soon amidst other things.