April 6, 2013
A poignant poem that also provides insight into culture at the time:
ほさぬ袖だに Hosanu sode da ni
あるものを Aru mono wo
恋に朽ちなん Koi ni kuchinan
名こそ惜しけれ Na koso oshikere
Which Professor Mostow translates as:
Although there are
my sleeves that never dry,
bitter and sad,
what I really regret is
my name, made rotten by love!
The author is “Lady Sagami” (dates unknown), whose father was the governor of Sagami Province at one point, hence this was the name she used as her sobriquet.
The poem is somewhat typical of the era, a woman is jilted and because of the public scrutiny her reputation is ruined. Because the Court life was so closed and small, rumors and reputation were a big part of the social life there. This is expressed in other poems in the Hyakunin Isshu, such as poem 18 or in the Gossamer Years. A woman who’s reputation was marred by an embarrassing incident, bad fashion choice or an unfaithful spouse would lose her standing in the court, and may not recover. She couldn’t really go pick up and start a new life either.
The motif tear-soaked sleeves was a popular poetic device, and you can find it in other poems in the Hyakunin Issue, poem 42 for example. Sleeves in general are featured in a surprising number of poems from the Hyakunin Isshu:
- Sleeves covered in dew from the overnight watch (poem 1)
- Sleeves of a Buddhist monk, shielding the world (poem 95)
- Pollen covered sleeves (poem 15)
Fashion in this time was somewhat different than the photo above (showing fashion centuries later during the medieval era), but it’s not hard to imagine a broken-hearted woman with tear-soaked sleeves nevertheless. But it’s interesting how sleeves were such an important expression of Japanese sentiment in the Court at the time.