Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fujiwara no Teika: Genius

My next few posts will be dedicated to my favorite waka poet: Fujiwara no Teika. He lived from 1162-1241 A.D. and it is difficult for me to single out a more influential and important poet in the Japanese poetic tradition. He was the son of the illustrious Fujiwara no Shunzei, and he was keen to rebel against the established system, and chart his own poetic course. Teika created his own brand of poetry and utilized completely new and controversial techniques. He also compiled the famous Hundred Poems by a Hundred Poets which inspired the famous Japanese card game karuta.
Can be found here

He was very keen on honkadori which is when a poet uses allusions to previous great works. In essence it is a practice of "cutting and pasting" and I do think it is a bit vulgar, but one of my favorite poems utilizes this technique. He's also famous for using yoen which is a concept similar to Shunzei's yugen but with increased elegance. Teika also used another ideal known as ushin or "sincerity of feeling" which was a style marked with a strongly subjective tone. My understanding of it is that ushin really denotes a sense of poetic honesty combined with mellifluous language.
Overall Fujiwara no Teika was the most compelling waka poet and I think it's fitting that waka essentially declined as an art form after his death. He was the pinnacle and I will explore and translate as many poems from him that I have time for. 



A mere ghost!
I’ll not call it dream,
Idle chatter, and beauty
Faded in ephemerality,
Is what our world is made of.

Fujiwara no Teika

This is a beautiful poem and has an interesting syntax which comes of as adversarial. This was composed when he was younger and a bit of an iconoclast. 

Can be found here



I’ve spent a year
Gazing at the outside world
One morning, I open the door,
The ground is frozen with light snowfall,
The bounds of loneliness...

Fujiwara no Teika

I like the solemness of this poem.

Can be found here.



As I watched the long rains
I became less and less aware
Of my aging body,
I wonder, how many times
Have the blossoms been scattered by the spring wind?

Fujiwara no Teika

This poem is actually and allusion to a famous poem from Ono no Komachi. I translated the Komachi poem on this page.

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