A Cold Mat: Poem 91

February 19, 2014

White (3235665151)

A fitting poem for winter and those who somehow missed out on Valentine’s Day recently:

きりぎりす Kirigirisu
鳴くや霜夜の Naku ya shimoyo no
さむしろに sa mushiro ni
衣かたしき koromo katashiki
ひとりかも寝む hitori kamo nen

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

When the crickets
cry in the frosty night,
on the cold reed-mat,
spreading out my robe just for one,
must I sleep all alone?

This sad, miserable poem was ironically composed by a famous poet of his era named Fujiwara no Yoshitsune (1169-1206) whose grandather was Jien (poem 95). He was another member of the elite poetry family, the Mikohidari (see Jakuren poem 87) and was very well-represented in the Shin Kokin Wakashū poetry anthology which he was an editor. Elsewhere, as a scion of the Fujiwara family, he served as regent to the young Emperor Tsuchimikado.

Astute readers may have noticed that this poem sounds similar, especially in Japanese, to a very early poem in the anthology by Hitomaro (poem 3). Even the last line is the same.

But part of the poem also seems similar to another poem in the Shin Kokin Wakashū according to Professor Mostow, which relates to cold reed-mats and waiting alone. So, in a sense, this poem blends two famous poems and adds the novelty of crickets.

But as we’ve seen with poem 90, it was an accepted practice at the time to write poetry which allude to older poems in the poems. Indeed, as the author of the blog, I admit I kind of enjoyed this poem more when I noticed the final line and realized I had heard it before.

Yoshitsune certainly never had to spend a night in the cold as a member of the elite Fujiwara family, but his ability to weave old poetry verses together and paint such a sad picture help explain why he was such a famous poet.

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