Momiji Gate Kyoto

The fourth poem in our series dedicated to women is by the author of the famous diary, The Gossamer Years, or kagerō nikki (蜻蛉日記):

なげきつつ Nageki tsutsu
ひとりぬる夜の Hitori nuru yoru no
明くる間は Akuru ma wa
いかに久しき Ikani hisashiki
ものとかは知る Mono to ka wa shiru

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

The span of time
that I sleep alone, sighing,
until night lightens—
can you at all know
how long that is?

The name of the author is unknown. She is only known as “The Mother of Michitsuna” (c. 937-995) in this and the Gossamer Years, with Michitsuna being a Court official who held the holding the post of Major Captain of the Right udaishō (右大将). She was the second wife of the power and ambitious Fujiwara no Kaneie, and her diary, like this poem, reflects her pain and frustration as her husband slowly slips away from her and into the arms of other woman. As the diary goes, at times they reconciled somewhat, but overall they became more and more estranged, and the author thus felt more depressed and abandoned as the years wore on.

This poem actually from the Gossamer Years itself, book 1, when her husband Kaneie is spending his nights in a back-alley with a low-class woman in a short-lived affair (Kaneie soon abandoned that woman even after she bore him a son). As she writes:

Two or three days later I was awakened toward dawn by a pounding on the gate. It was he, I knew, but I could not bring myself to let him in, and presently he went off, no doubt to the alley that interested him so.

I felt that I could not let things stand as they were. Early the next morning I sent, attached to a withered chrysanthemum, a poem written with more care than usual. (translation by Edward Seidensticker, pg. 38)

This poem above was what she sent him. Fujiwara no Teika, no doubt impressed with the poem and the story behind it, included it in the Hyakunin Isshu centuries later.

Anyhow, it’s a reminder to all those husbands and men with a wandering eye of the pain they cause those around them, even if they think no one is looking.