Iyagatani-Ryujuin (伊屋ヶ谷龍樹院) Waterfall, a popular destination for mountain ascetics

As Summer starts to wind down, I thought this would be a good poem. In fact, it’s one of the few about Summer in the Hyakunin Isshu:

風そよぐ Kaze soyogu
ならの小川の Nara no ogawa no
夕ぐれは Yugure wa
みそぎぞ夏の Misogi zo natsu no
しるしなりける Shirushi narikeru

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

In the evening
when the wind rustles the oaks
at Nara-no-Ogawa,
it is the ablutions that are
the only sign it’s still summer!

The author of this poem is “Ietaka of Second Junior Rank” who was the son-in-law of Jakuren (poem 87) and studied poetry under Shunzei (poem 83).

The notion of ablution or misogi (禊ぎ) is a Shinto ritual involving purification through cold water, prayer, etc. The practice is still alive and well today, and is often done in the summer months, but it varies depending on the particular Shinto shrine. In Shinto, people accumulate impurities through bad actions or traumatic events, and have to expunge them through ritual to balance their lives. As Professor Mostow explains, it was also popular in the author’s time as a well of making up for carrying on illicit affairs too. 😉

Another concept in late summer is the notion of zansho (残暑) which is the long, hot, humid summer that comes after the monsoon season in June-July. Speaking from first-hand experience, it’s stifling hot, but here the poem implies that the summer is nearly over, and only the ablutions remain.

For those who are stuck in the dead of winter (or for readers in the Southern Hemisphere), I thought a Summer-type poem would be appropriate:

夏の夜は Natsu no yo wa
まだ宵ながら mada yoi nagara
明けぬるを akenuru wo
雲のいづくに kumo no izuku ni
月やどるらむ tsuki yadoruran

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

The short summer nights
while it seems yet early evening,
it has already dawned, but
where in the clouds, then,
does the moon lodge, I wonder?

The author of the poem, Kiyohara no Fukayabu, was a relatively well-known poet in his time, but it also turns out he is the grandfather of Motosuke (poem 42) and great-grandfather of Sei Shonagon (poem 62), so it seems poetry and literature run in the family. 😉 Then again, to be fair, the Hyakunin Isshu is full of poems involving members of the same family across multiple generations.

Anyhow, as Mostow explains, this poem was highly regarded at the time, but for readers in the 21st century, it has so many hidden cultural allusions, that it’s hard to see the significance at first.

As he summarizes, summer nights are short, and Fukayabu is saying that he is surprised that the moon is already dawning in the western sky. Since it’s cloudy, he asks where the moon might be lodging since it’s hard to imagine that it is already setting. It’s a clever, light-hearted poem exploring brief summer, moonlit nights in other words.

Interestingly, Mostow points out that despite the praise on this poem from antiquity, Fukayabu was not included among the Thirty Six Immortals of Poetry and his reputation suffered a major blow that didn’t recover until it was included in later anthologies.

It’s pretty amazing to think how a poem can really make or break a person in that era.

As spring turns into summer, I thought this poem seemed really appropriate and a great topic for discussion:

ほととぎす Hototogisu
鳴きつる方を nakitsuru kata wo
ながむれば nagamureba
ただ有明の tada ariake no
月ぞ残れる tsuki no nokoreru

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

The hototogisu:
when I gaze out towards where
he was singing,
all that remains is the moon,
pale in the morning sky.

This poem was composed by Fujiwara no Sanesada (1139-1191) who was the first cousin of Fujiwara no Teika, who compiled the Hyakunin Isshu anthology and author of poem 97, as well as the nephew of Shunzei (poem 83). He was ranked as the Tokudaiji Minister of the left in the Heian Court, and left behind an extensive poetry collection and his personal diary.

According to Professor Mostow, the poem was composed on the topic of staying up all night, to hear one cry.

The hototogisu (ホトトギス), or “lesser cuckoo”, in Japan is a famous bird known for its early summer call. You can see this video below:

So, as Professor Mostow explains, the author is waiting all night to hear the first call of the hototogisu as the first sign of summer.

One other note is the term 有明 (ariake), which is one of many poetic terms for the moon. Specifically it means the moon that remains in the morning, after daybreak. This normally occurs on the 16th day of the lunar cycle according to the old Japanese calendar.

P.S. Like the title, I’m back too. 😉

Moon over cumulus

The Moon is not surprisingly one of the most powerful images in the Hyakunin Isshu anthology, but the myriad ways it is used as imagery shows a remarkable variety and depth. There are 43 poems in the Hyakunin Isshu that cover topics of love and romance, but only 12 that pertain to the Moon. However, within those twelve poems, and in Japanese Waka poetry as a whole, the moon itself is a very popular subject and expressed in many ways. As one book on the subject points out, the Moon expresses different themes depending on the situation:

  • Being separated from home (poem 7)
  • Waiting for one’s lover (poem 21)
  • Melancholy (poem 23)
  • Parting one’s lover (poem 30) in the morning
  • The cool moon in Summer (poem 36)
  • The moon on a clear, beautiful Autumn night. (poem 79)
  • Two people passing in the night (poem 57)
  • Loneliness of a heart-broken women (poem 59)
  • The effervescence of life (poem 68)
  • Early dawn moon and the cuckoo’s call (poem 81)
  • Human grief (poem 86)

This is only for the Hyakunin Isshu of course. For larger anthologies like the Kokinshū and the vast corpus of Chinese poetry, the Moon is a persistent symbol of so many aspects of human emotion.

But also in Japanese language, many poetic terms for the moon and its phases have arisen over time:

  • ariake (有明) – moon visible during sunrise, appears in the latter half of the lunar cycle
  • shingetsu (新月) – new moon
  • tsugomori (つごもり) – last day of the moon (i.e. new moon)
  • mikazuki (三日月) – crescent moon (lit. “third-day moon”)
  • mangetsu (満月) – full moon
  • mochiduki (望月) – full moon, 15th day of the old lunar calendar.
  • izayoizuki (十六夜月) – moon on the 16th day, just after full moon.
  • tachimachizuki (立待月) – moon on the 17th day of the cycle.
  • fushimachizuki (臥待月) – waning half-moon
  • nemachizuki (寝待月) – another term for waning half-moon

A lot of these terms are pretty obscure (some I couldn’t find in a common dictionary), while a few like mangetsu and mikazuki are used in standard Japanese.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of my favorite poems in all the Hyakunin Isshu is also one of the first:

春過ぎて Haru sugite
夏来にけらし Natsu ki ni kerashi
白妙の Shiro tae no
衣ほすてふ Koromo hosu chō
天の香具山 Ama no Kaguyama

Which Porter translated as:

THE spring has gone, the summer’s come,
And I can just descry
The peak of Ama-no-kagu,
Where angels of the sky
Spread their white robes to dry.

Empress Jitō (645-702) is the daughter of Emperor Tenji, who wrote poem number 1 in the anthology, but also became the Empress after her husband, Emperor Tenmu died, and reigned for 11 years.

This poem in general causes a lot of headaches for commentators and translators over generations because of the confusing relation between certain lines. Mostow’s translation is:

Spring has passed, and
summer has arrived, it seems
Heavenly Mount Kagu
where, it is said, they dry robes
of the whitest mulberry!

While the pillow words in the third line, mentioned in an older post, are pretty clear-cut according to Mostow, there’s a lot of confusion over generations about what’s being dried, what does it stand for, and either the seen is directly observed or not. On the note about the pillow word, shirotae 白妙, Mostow explains that the word tahe/tae refers to a kind of Paper Mulberry plant.

Also, where this famous Mount Kagu? Mount Kagu is one of three peaks called the Yamato Sanzan (大和三山, Three Peaks of [old] Yamato), which are pictured here. Yamato is among the oldest part of Japan as we know it, so these mountains, while small by standards of Mt. Fuji, or mountains in other places in the world, have held important cultural significance since the beginning. As Mostow explains, Mount Kagu is the site of the famous Shinto myth surrounding Amaterasu Ōmikami, the goddess of the sun, who shut herself in a cave at Mt. Kagu.

The ancient imagery of such a venerable old mountain, couple with such vivid imagery of a sunny, warm summer day are among the reasons why I like this poem so much. 🙂