Waves and Clouds: Poem Number 76

September 22, 2013

Clouds over the Atlantic Ocean

This is a kind of continuation of the last poem, and is one of the most vivid in the Hyakunin Isshu:

わたの原 Wata no hara
こぎ出でて見れば Kogi idete mireba
久方の Hisakata no
雲井にまよふ Kumoi ni mayou
おきつしらなみ Okitsu shiranami

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

As I row out into
the wide-sea plain and look
all around me—
the white waves of the offing
could be mistaken for clouds!

This was composed by the Regent, Fujiwara no Tadamichi (1097-1164), who was the recipient of the complain in poem 75. As the regent to the Emporor, Tadamichi was a literal king-maker, but got involved with a nasty succession dispute between the future Emperor Go-Shirakawa and the retired Emperor Sutoku (poem 77). This led to the Hōgen Rebellion of 1156, which marked the rapid decline of the Heian Court and the eventual rise of the samurai-led, military-style government for the next 700 years.

The poem itself uses a lot of vivid imagery and pillow words we’ve seen in other poems. For example the phrase, hisakata no was also found in Poem 33. Other notable phrases:

  • wata no hara – field of cotton (the sky)
  • okitsu shiranami – the white waves offshore

It’s an interesting image to imagine: somewhere offshore where the clouds and the white waves blend together in the horizon.

Professor Mostow notes that this poem also has a possible political interpretation by some medieval commentators, because of the allusion “clouds” to “heaven” in the Confucian sense. In such interpretations, it implies that the author is confused by the affairs of the state. However, this interpretation is not shared by other commentators who believe this poem is literal, not allegorical.

In any case, a great poem.

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