miercuri, 31 august 2022

"One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each" -Fujiwara no Teika


"One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each (Hyakunin isshu) is a private compilation of poems dating to around 1230-40 and assembled by the renowned poet and scholar Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241). The best-loved and most widely read of all Japanese poetry collections, it was also the first work of Japanese literature to be translated into English -by Frederick Victor Dickins (1838-1915) -in 1866. There are three main reasons for its popularity. Firstly, its compiler, Teika, a scholar, theoretician and philologist, was the most admired poet of his time. Secondly, as a collection of one hundred of the best poems by one hundred representative poets, it provides a convenient introduction to the finest Japanese poetry from the late seventh to the early thirteenth centuries. Finally, it has endured thanks in part to the countless paintings, illustrated editions, commentaries and even a card game that have been inspired by it."

"All of the poems [...] are waka, the most ancient and prestigious of the traditional poetry genres. Waka serves as a general term for classical Japanese poetry in all its forms -except renga (linked verse) and haiku- as opposed to foreign verse, especially Chinese poetry. However, in the more usual, restricted sense, waka designates Japanese poetic forms pre-dating renga and haiku, namely choka, sedoka and especially the thirty-one-syllable tanka. Since the Meiji period (1868-1912), the ancient term tanka has been revived and the form updated, replacing waka as the preferred term for poems in the classical thirty-one-syllable form. The poems are arranged in five lines in an alternating pattern of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. In this volume, the majority of the translations are laid out over five lines."

"Although the exact circumstances of the compilation of the One Hundred Poets are unknown, some facts are well established. In 1235 Teika was asked by his son’s father-in-law, Utsunomiya Rensho (or Yoritsuna), to select a hundred poems to appear on the sliding doors of his country villa on Mount Ogura, west of Kyoto. […] 
In Teika’s Kindai shuka, the arrangement of the poems is marked by his predilection for love poetry, especially the darker aspects of love, such as betrayal, abandonment, bitterness and despair. The same is certainly true of the One Hundred Poets, whose treatment of love tends to focus on its more sombre, unhappy aspects, though in a sense this is true of all waka poetry, which does not celebrate happy or fulfilled love. "

"I have loved in vain 
and now my beauty fades 
like these cherry blossoms 
paling in the long rains of spring 
that I gaze out upon alone. 

Many commentators have written of it as the cri de coeur of an old woman who was in her heyday a very great beauty, blessed with exceptional talent, sensually alive, and feted and loved by many. Now her beauty has faded, her lovers are dead or gone, and her poetic talent is weakening. I do not disagree with this interpretation, but additional considerations must also be taken into account. Ono no Komachi is like many Japanese women of talent. In Japanese culture, women have traditionally taken roles subservient to men, which has meant that they have had less freedom and have had to overcome greater challenges in expressing themselves. One of the principal modes of expression employed by women was negation. When praised, the first response was (and to some extent still is) to negate. In this poem, Ono no Komachi employs the classical device of negation to produce what is ostensibly a lament for her fading beauty and talents. But it is important to see what the poem affirms. It is hard to imagine that Komachi was unaware of her achievement and stature as a poet. In other words, the poet is saying something like: “Yes, I am growing old and am less beautiful than I once was. Maybe you superficial (especially male!) readers will no longer find me attractive, but if you have a minimum of discernment, you will be able to see under my disguise and realize that the sadness of life has only sharpened my genius. Fade away, those of you who can only see the surface; and even those of you who can see beyond the surface, approach gingerly, for the profundity of my emotion has made me as formidable as ever” "

"One of the great strengths of classical Japanese waka poetry is that it can express deep emotion and refinement of sensibility in images of profound simplicity, and the “One Hundred Poets” is an exemplary work in this regard. Its poems contain rich and original images that still seem fresh a thousand years later. The collection shows how Teika defined himself in relation to the poetic tradition that he both inherited and promulgated. […] 
The primary aim in this book is to provide an enjoyable and poetic translation, and I hope that readers will find in these pages something of the depth and beauty of the original magical collection, which is notable for the great subtlety and allusiveness of the poems, their incomparable visual imagery and the profound emotion that they express. 
Haiku is widely known in the West, but it is originally developed from waka. Haiku, a relatively recent word, was originally known as hokku and was the opening stanza in Japanese linked verse, renga. Haiku came into being when the opening stanza came to exist independently from the rest of the linked verse. Formally, it is the equivalent of the upper strophe of waka, namely having seventeen syllables of 5-7-5. Though haiky developed in a completely different way to waka, a study of Japanese waka can help readers in understanding more about haiku and how to write it. […] Thus, if one wants to understand the heart of the Japanese it could be argued that it is found not only in haiku, but also -or even more- in waka."

Oshikochi no Mitsune 

To pluck a stem 
I shall have to guess, 
for I cannot tell apart 
white chrysanthemus 
from the first frost. 

Fujiwara no Sadayori 

As the dawn mist 
thins in patches 
on the Uji River, 
in the shallows appear 
glistening stakes of fishing nets. 

Inpumon-in no Taifu 

How I would like to show you – 
the fishermen’s sleeves of Ojima 
are drenched, but even so 
have not lost their colour, 
as mine have, bathed in endless tears. 

Fujiwara no Kintsune 

As if lured by the storm 
the blossoms are strewn about, 
white upon the garden floor, 
yet all this whiteness is not snow – 
it is me who withers and grows old

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