Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto, Japan - facade detail

This poem goes along with the previous one in our theme on the end of the Heian Court era:

百敷や Momoshiki ya
古き軒端の Furuki nokiba no
しのぶにも Shinobu ni mo
なほあまりある Nao amari aru
むかしなりけり Mukashi narikeri

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

The hundredfold palace!
even in the shinobu grass
on its old eaves
I find a past for which
I long yet ever more.

This poem was composed by Emperor Juntoku (順徳天皇 1197 – 1242) who’s father, Emperor Go-toba (poem 99) led the famous Jōkyū Disturbance in a last-ditch effort to wrest back power from the Samurai class in 1221. Like his father, Juntoku was exiled after the rebellion was crushed, but he was sent to Sado Island instead, and lived there for 20 years before his death.

This poem apparently was composed in 1216, five years before the war though, and recalls the glory days of the Imperial Court before the downfall in the late 12th century. As Professor Mostow points out, it’s a stark contrast to the bright and optomistic poetry in the early Hyakunin Isshu, written 400+ years earlier. Emperor Juntoku is reminiscing about the decline of the Imperial Family and the fall of the Court culture that once flourished around it.

Also, the phrase momoshiki is an interesting one. Apparently it’s borrowed from a much earlier poem in the Manyoshū:

ももしきの Momoshiki no
大宮人は Ōmiyabito wa
暇あれや Itoma areya
梅をかざして Ume wo kazashite
ここに集える Koko ni tsudoeru

This poem colorfully describes how people in the palace are decorating their hair with plum blossoms they’ve collected, and playfully suggests that life at the palace is well and carefree.

So, it’s really interesting to see how Emperor Juntoku revives this ancient phrase in a poem that conveys the opposite meaning. The sun has set on the Imperial Court, and the palace looks tired and worn now.

Also, even the phrase momoshiki is really interesting. Professor Mostow translates this as the Hundred-fold Palace which is as good a translation as any in English. But the kanji (chinese characters) are 百敷 or “hundred [something] laid out”, but alternatively, the characters are 百石城 meaning “100-stones castle”. Both meanings refer to the Imperial Palace or kyūchū (宮中) in Japanese, so either character is valid. The first word refers to a hundred mats laid out for sitting (i.e. many people attending the court), while the latter means 100 stones, implying a palace with firm foundations.

But it’s a poignant reminder that even mighty castles decline some day.

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Photo of Victor Hugo Brooding

Another patron of the arts, Victor Hugo, brooding in this photograph from 1853. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Since I touched upon the end of the Court-era in Japanese history, I thought it would be fitting to post this poem:

人も惜し Hito mo oshi
人も恨めし Hito mo urameshi
あぢきなく Ajiki naku
世を思ふゆゑに Yo wo omou yue ni
もの思ふ身は Mono omou mi wa

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

People seem dear and
people also seem hateful
when vainly
I brood about the world—
this self who broods about things.

The author of this poem was Emperor Go-toba (後鳥羽天皇 1180 – 1239), one of the most noteworthy Emperors in medieval Japanese history. Gotoba was responsible for a revival in Waka poetry. He commissioned Fujiwara Teika (poem 97), who compiled the Hyakunin Isshu, among others to make a new official anthology after the Kokin Wakashū centuries before, and this new edition became the Shin Kokinshū which is still an important part of Japanese literature.

Gotoba was a bold character, and sought to restore power which had recently been wrested from the Imperial family by the new Samurai class based in Kamakura, Japan. So, he and his son (Emperor Juntoku, poem 100), organized a rebellion in 1221 called the Jōkyū Disturbance where he called all samurai back to his banner. Unfortuantely, most didn’t want to lose their recent gains, and sided with the Kamakura government instead. The Jokyu Disturbance was a disaster and the Emperor’s forces were quickly destroyed. The young firebrand of an Emperor was then exiled to the Oki Islands (more photos here) and lived their for another 18 years.

This poem though, predates the rebellion and exile. According to Professor Mostow, it was composed as part of a series in 1212, which included Fujiwara no Teika, with the topic of “personal grievance”.

As to “who” he was referring to in the poem, that’s tricky. The word hito means “person or persons”, so it’s pretty generic. Mostow suggestions some traditional interpretations, such as those who oppose the Kamakura government, and those who uphold it (whom he detests), or another traditional interpretation was the common folk vs. those who opposed the rebellion (whom he obviously didn’t like).

We will never really know. But certainly after his exile, we can be sure he was a little bitter toward the victors.