Even At Low Tide: Poem 92

February 23, 2014

Offshore rock - geograph.org.uk - 1244159

Another poem dedicated to those who were lonely for Valentine’s Day recently:

わが袖は Wa ga sode wa
潮干に見えぬ shiohi ni mienu
沖の石の oki no ishi no
人こそしらね hi koso shirane
かはくまもなし kawaku mamo nashi

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

My sleeves are like
the rock in the offing that
can’t be seen even at low tide,
unknown to anyone, but
there’s not a moment they are dry.

The author of this poem was “Nijōin no Sanuki” who’s real name and dates aren’t well-understood. It is known that she was a daughter of famous warrior/poet Minomoto no Yorimasa and served the retired Emperor Nijō, hence her name nijōin (Imperial House of Nijō). The “Sanuki” part comes from Sanuki Province where her father was once posted on assignment.

Sanuki, like Sokushi, was a leading female poet of her day, and this poem helps illustrate why. As we discussed recently in poem 90, the image of sleeves wet with tears was a popular poetic technique used at the time for unrequited love (again, see poems 42, 65, and 72) but the idea of such sleeves being hidden like a submerged rock offshore was a novel, new way of expressing this.

Indeed, Sanuki became so famous for this verse, she herself was often referred to as oki no ishi no Sanuki (沖の石の讃岐) by later poets and authors. It was pretty rare for a poet to receive such a name for a famous verse they composed but a few other examples exist. Another female poet named kunaikyō (宮内卿) was called wakakusa no kunaikyō (若草の宮内卿) because of a famous verse she wrote regarding young grass (wakakusa, 若草) from the Shin Kokin Wakashū:

薄く濃き Usuku koki
野辺のみどりの Nobe no midori no
若草の Wakakusa no
あとまで見ゆる Ato made miyuru
雪のむら消え Yuki no muragie

Which translates as:

Light and dark:
the green of the field’s
young herbs
distinct in
patches of fading snow.

Pretty awesome when you can make a name for yourself that way.

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