This is a line from poem 37 in the book of the Hundred Poets. In part two of our discussion of these poems, we will highlight nature poems, which is a very popular topic for poetry generally in East Asia.
Here are our four highlighted poems from this section of the anthology:
The Priest Nōin:
The storms, which round Mount Mimuro
Are wont to howl and scream,
Have thickly scattered maple leaves
Upon Tatsuta’s stream;
Like red brocade they seem. (11th Century)
The Priest Jakuren:
The rain, which fell from passing showers,
Like drops of dew, still lies
Upon the fir-tree needles, and
The mists of evening rise
Up to the autumn skies. (12th Century)
Between Awaji and the shore
The birds scream in their flight;
Full oft they’ve made the Suma Guard
Toss through a sleepless night,
Until the morning light. (12th Century)
The Assistant Imperial Adviser Masafusa:
The cherry trees are blossoming
On Takasago’s height;
Oh may no mountain mist arise,
No clouds so soft and white,
To hide them from our sight. (12th Century)
The historical backdrop of the Hundred Poets is explored with some modern twists in the anime series “Utakoi,” which can be streamed here (viewer discretion advised):
This anime features historical figures like Murasaki Shikibu, Sei Shonagon and Ono no Komachi and shows the contexts in which many of these poems were written. It is very helpful in making the poems and their authors vivid and interesting.
Returning to Susan Matisoff’s study of blind poet Semimaru of Poem 10 of the Hyakunin Isshu, Semimaru is said to have written 7 classical waka (31 syllable) poems. This attribution is hard to verify, however. The poems appear in various compilations including the Gosenshū (10th c.), the Shinkokinshū (13th c.), the Toshiyori zuinō (12th c.), the Kokinshū (10th c.), the Shinkokinshū (13th c.), and the Shokukokinshū (13th c.). Matisoff takes some time to analyze his poetry in detail.
Semimaru’s legend has changed and been built up over the centuries through various literary works, including the Konjaku monogatari (12th c.), the short story “Hakuga no Sammi Studies the Lute” in the Gōdanshō (11th or 12th c.), the Tōkan kikō (13th c.), the Heike monogatari (13th c.), the Gempei jōsuiki (14th c.), the Mumyōshō (13th c.), and the Tōzai zuihitsu (15th c.). The details of Semimaru’s blindness and his connections to the court began to appear in the Konjaku monogatari, and he becomes a prince in the Tōkan kikō. Some of his legend appears to be rooted in India and China, particularly in the tale of Prince Kuṇāla, son of King Aśoka, the first Buddhist ruler of India (Matisoff p.68-69). The latter story impacted Nō plays written about Semimaru.
The last section of the book reproduces many of the poems reportedly written by Semimaru and excerpts of the literary works where he was mentioned, including the Nō plays by Zeami (Ausaka Madman and Semimaru from the 15th century) and the Tokugawa urban theater play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (Semimaru from the 17th century). Matisoff also goes into great detail describing and analyzing these works as well as the developments of Jōruri puppet theater and sekkyō itinerant religious storytelling performance styles. It is quite a good resource on the topic.
We will look at other poets included in Hyakunin Isshu in future series, though probably not until 2015. With the coming of 2014, I’m about to start a new cycle in reading East Asian literature, and this time I will begin posting what I will call English capsules of books that are in one of the region’s foreign languages that may not now or ever be translated into English. Some of them may have even been translated partially or in whole, are hard to find or quickly went out of print. This will require a different sort of review and may contain many spoilers since my English-speaking readers probably will never get the chance to read the book themselves. So let’s begin our little adventure in uncharted territories together next year.
Part two of a two part series.
Next time we return to South Korea with a modern novel, Minyeong Lee’s romantic comedy Flower Boy Ramen Shop.