Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Archbishop Henjo: The Majestic

Archbishop Henjo (name at birth: Yoshimine no Munesada: 良岑宗貞) lived during the ninth century and is mentioned in the preface of the Kokinshuu (written by Ki no Tsurayukias one of the Six Best Waka Poets and one of the Thirty Six Poetry Immortals. 
Can be found here

The details of his life are pretty much unknown aside from the historical annals listing his positions at court. Since he was an "Archbishop", he did move up in the religious clergy. He was a priest at the Tendai school and lived just outside Kyoto. One interesting thing about him is that he apparently had a love affair with Ono no Komachi. They supposedly had lively exchange of of love poems which I will translate in the coming days.
As little as we know about Henjo, I think his poetry speaks for itself and he is one of my favorite waka poets. Here are only a few examples and as always these are all my translations. Enjoy!



My dear mother,
Surely she wouldn’t have caressed
My long black hair,
If she had known
It would all be chopped off.


I like this poem because he is recognizing the pain associated with becoming a Buddhist monk, not just for him but for his loved ones.



The hues and shades
Of the flowers are obscured
By the heavy mist,
The spring breeze of the mountains
Allow me to steal a scent.

I like the combination of imagery in this poem. He includes the colors of the flowers with the hazy mist, and the breeze from the mountains bringing the fragrance of the blossoms.


はちす-蓮, Lotus Flower

Petals of lotus
Untainted, still pure,
Still have their hearts.
So then why do drops of dew
Pretend to be jewels?


This poem was a bit harder to understand and it is surely metaphorical. There is a canonical understanding of what this poem means but it is important for you to come up with your own understanding for what a poem means. In my opinion, this poem could just be a nice image (it also helps that the Japanese word for "dew" : 露 can also mean "tears", it adds another layer of interpretation) or it could be a social commentary. 


くたに=苦丹=牡丹 Peony

After the blossoms
Have fallen and scattered
They’ll become mere dust,
Yet it will never know,
That fluttering butterfly.


This poem is interesting and was difficult to translate. I don't completely understand the subtleties of it since there seems to be a word play around "kuta ni". I think this poem is really a homage to a certain kind of peony but also comparing it to garbage. I need somebody to explain this to me.  


おみなえし-女郎花-Golden Lace

In the autumn fields,
Golden lace, the maiden blossoms,
How lively they are!
They compete with beauty itself,
Even if for only a moment.


This poem is nice because it seems like a spring poem but is not at all. I get the feeling that Henjo liked to write poems about particular flowers...

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