Monday, July 9, 2012

Six Best Waka Poets

In Ki no Tsurayuki's preface to the Kokinshuu he listed six waka poets that he considered to be the best in history. They are Kisen, Ono no Komachi, Archbishop Henjo, Ariwara no Narihira, Fun'ya no Yasuhide, and Otomo no Kuronashi
The old geezer himself

Ki no Tsurayuki had a unique critique for each of these poets: 
Kisen: "The priest of Mt. Uji, Kisen, is obscure, and his beginnings and endings do not chime; he is like an autumnal moon, bright in the evening, dim at dawn."
Ono no Komachi: "As to Ono no Komachi, she has pathos but lacks power, like a fair but feeble woman."
Archbishop Henjo: "Sojo Henjo, whose manner is successful, but his work is deficient in truth, like the picture of a beautiful woman that excites emotion, but to no avail."
Ariwara no Narihira: "Arihara Narihira, very full of feeling but poor in diction; his poetry reminds one of a faded flower that yet preserves some of its perfume."
Fun'ya no Yasuhide: "Funya no Yasuhide, on the other hand, is an artist in words; with him form is better than substance. He is like a peddler dressed up in fine silks."
Otomo no Kuronashi: "Otomo no Kuronushi, lastly, has a pretty turn for verse, but his form is poor; he is like a faggot-bearing boor resting under a blossom-filled cherry-tree."

I don't entirely agree with all of what Ki no Tsurayuki says but you have to listen to him since he is the authority on this stuff. I think it's funny that Ki no Tsurayuki lists these guys as the Six Best Waka Poets and then ridicules them in preface and gives only lack-luster compliments. Maybe it's an extension of Japanese modesty. 
I translated one poem from each of the six poets. I'm not sure they all represent what Ki no Tsurayuki described but who really cares about that old geezer. 

Can be found here


My hermitage lies
Southeast of the capital,
I dwell with the deer
On this mountain and yet
I still feel sadness for the lives of men.


Kisen is a poet I know very little about but I have always enjoyed poetry from Buddhist monks. This poem is not bad and some interesting wordplay around the Japanese word for deer: "shika". 


Can be found here

The flower’s beauty
Has passed already,
Vacantly I gaze
At the unending spring rain
As my life vainly drips by.

Ono no Komachi

I really like this poem because Ono no Komachi really hits that note of transience the Japanese are so big on. Withering flowers or falling cherry blossoms are the images used so much by Japanese poets to express their sadness with the ephemeral world while simultaneously basking in its beauty.

Can be found here


The heavenly winds
Push drifting clouds across the sky,
Let the gale cease
So I might get a few more moments
With that celestial maiden.

Archbishop Henjo

Henjo is being his majestic self again. I do disagree with Ki no Tsurayuki in saying that Henjo's poetry is "deficient in truth". I would say Henjo's poetry has the depth and truth of other great poems. 

Can be fouund here


在原 業平

From the age of Gods
When the Earth was torn asunder
I never heard of
Tatsuta River gleaming
With this deep, crimson hue.

Ariwara no Narihira

The first line of this poem is a reference to the Manyoushuu which is the first and quite ancient, famous Japanese poetry anthology. The Tatsuta River is depicted to the right and Tatsuta (the place) is famous for its autumn landscapes. During autumn this tree usually was red with the falling leaves but this poem uses a bizarre word for red or crimson. The term "karakurenawi" which is the fourth line in the Japanese, refers to a hue of crimson that had to be imported from continental Asia. So perhaps he is lamenting the influx of foreign influences in Japan.

Can be found here


The trees and grasses
Have changed color and yet,
The bright, white blossoms
Of the ocean’s waves remain
Unchanged, as if autumn’ll never come.

 Fun'ya no Yasuhide

I like this poem because it is kind of cute. In this case I think Ki no Tsurayuki might be right when he says Fun'ya no Yasuhide "is an artist in words; with him form is better than substance. He is like a peddler dressed up in fine silks."


Can be found here

She combs the beach
Looking for precious seaweed,
Waist deep in the sea,
She humbly scavenges,
Why do I love her so?

Otomo no Kuronashi

This poem was particularly difficult for me to translate and is more of a work in progress.

No comments:

Post a Comment