Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ono no Komachi: Fiery Lady

For this post I thought I would write about the most famous poetess, aside from Murasaki Shikibu, in Japanese history. Ono no Komachi is featured extensively in the Kokinshuu. Her background has fallen into legend and so it is difficult to know the facts. She lived from 833-857 A.D. so she was one the real classical poets in the Japanese tradition. Her personage has been used several times in later Noh dramas and she is usually depicted as a bitter, spiteful lady. We don't know truth of all of this but we do know about her poetry.

Can be found here
If we judge by her poetry, she was a passionate lady. The Kokinshuu has mainly love poems from her so we can assume that was her forte. Her poems are fiery and intense but her diction is quite sophisticated. She used a lot of kakekotoba (pivot word) which make her poetry difficult to translate. I get the feeling that she was a lady endowed with a great deal of intelligence balanced with extreme emotions. Her poetry reflects that.
Can be found here

I chose three poems to translate; all love poems and all from the Kokinshuu



As I yearned for him
I closed my eyes and there he was!
Standing before me,
If I’d known it was a dream
 I wouldn't have awoken...

Ono no Komachi



I never cease
To follow you in my dreams,
In my fantasies...
Yet, we haven’t met
Not even acquainted.

Ono No Komachi

I like the two preceding poems because of their use of dreams and juxtaposition of dreams and reality. 



I’d meet him tonight
But there’s no moon, no path.
My yearning for him,
Smoldering ember in my breast,
Burns my heart to ash!

Ono no Komachi

This is one of her more passionate poems and it shows just how emotional she was. I do like Ono no Komachi even her poems are kind of girly. I give her a lot of respect for writing emotionally charged poems while also using complex poetic language.

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