Thursday, June 1, 2017

Carpe Diem's Time Travel, Ancient Japanese Poetry To Inspire You #1 little I should grieve

!!! Open for your submissions next Sunday June 4th 7:00 PM (CET) !!!

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome at a completely new feature for our "weekend-meditation". As you maybe remember, last month I announced to end the "Universal Jane" feature, not to forget her, but to create space for a new feature. Of course I will create another special feature to honor Jane Reichhold here at Carpe Diem Haiku Kai.

This new feature for our "weekend meditation" I have titled "Time Travel, Ancient Japanese Poetry To Inspire You" and in this new feature I will take you on a trip back into time, a time in which poetry was only an art for the higher classes of Japan. A lot of those poems were gathered in several anthologies like the Kokinshu (or Kokin Wakashu - 920 AD) or the Man'yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves - 745 AD). In these anthologies the "editors" have gathered long poems (like Choka) and short poems (like Waka).

In this new feature I will try to tell you a little bit background on these anthologies and will give you a few examples. Than I will introduce the poem which you have to use for your inspiration.

For this first episode of "Time Travel" I have made a nice choice from the Man'yoshu, but let me first tell you a little bit about the background.

The Man'yoshu or 'Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves' is an anthology of ancient Japanese poems compiled c. 759 CE during the Nara Period but including many earlier works. The most likely person to have assembled the collection is Otomo no Yakamochi, himself a prolific poet who included nearly 500 of his own works in the Man'yoshu. The Man'yoshu is regarded as a literary classic and high point of Japanese poetry.

Otomo no Yakamochi

Many scholars consider the Man’yoshu to have been compiled by the poet Otomo no Yakamochi (c. 718-785 CE)

On an evening when the spring mists
Trail over the wide sea,
And sad is the voice of the crane,
I think of my far-off home.

© Otomo no Yakamochi

The Man'yoshu collection contains poems which were all written in the Japanese of that time, i.e. using Chinese characters phonetically. The work consists of 4,496 poems organized into 20 books, the vast majority being in the waka (aka waku) style, that is each poem has precisely 31 syllables in five lines (5+7+5+7+7). 262 poems, in contrast, are written in the longer nagauta style, which can have up to 200 lines. There are also 62 sedoka poems (six-line poems of 38 syllables) and four poems written in Chinese. The poems come in three broad thematic categories; zoka (miscellaneous), somon (mutual inquiries or love poems), and banka (elegies). The poems cover a period of four centuries and it is likely they were intended to be sung.

A few examples of the poems in the Man’yoshu:

Countless are the mountains
in Yamato,
but perfect is
the heavenly hill of Kagu:
When I climb it
and survey my realm,
Over the wide plain
the smoke wreaths rise and rise,
over the wide sea
the gulls are on the wing;
a beautiful land it is,
the Land of Yamato.

© Emperor Jomei 

Cherry Blossoms (image found on WP)

There I found you, poor man! - 
Outstretched on the beach,
On this rough bed of stones,
Amid the busy voices of the waves.
If I but knew where was your home,
I would go and tell;
If your wife but knew,
She would come to tend you.
She, not knowing the way hither,
Must wait, must ever wait, 
Restlessly hoping for your return -
Your dear wife - alas!

© Kakinomoto Hitomaro 

Two wonderful poems from this very ancient anthology of Japanese poetry. All poems I have read so far are even more beautiful as if they were selected to overrule each other ...

For this first episode of "Time Travel, Ancient Japanese Poetry To Inspire You" I have chosen a "waka" written by Princess Kagami (7th century):

Even a breeze may fail me
When I desire it.
Little I should grieve,
If only, sure of its coming,
I could await even a breeze.

© Princess Kagami

This "waka" was written in response on a sedoka written by her younger sister Princess Nukada, the most famous female poet of her time.

Well ... I hope you did like this new feature and I hope I have inspired you to create your haiku, tanka or other Japanese poetry form inspired on that sad sounding "waka" by Princess Kagami.

Here is my attempt to create a haiku inspired on this "waka":

through tears
cherry blossoms scattered
by the breeze

© Chèvrefeuille

This "weekend-meditation" is open for your submissions next Sunday June 4th at 7:00 PM (CET) and will remain open until June 9th at noon (CET). Have fun! I will try to publish our new episode, Om Mane Padme Hum, later on. Have a great weekend!

PS. The Solution to our Haiku Puzzler of May 2017 you can find HERE


  1. You do such a superb job on this blog.

  2. I'm curious...what is the meaning of the Japanese calligraphic character you displayed in this post?

    1. Sorry I don't know the meaning. I made my choice just of the beauty of it. Maybe one of our other participants knows the meaning.