Thursday, June 29, 2017

Carpe Diem's Time Travel, Ancient Japanese Poetry To Inspire You #3 Hyakunin-isshu, A Hundred Verses From Old Japan

!! Open for your submissions next Sunday July 2nd at 7:00 PM (CET) !!

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome at a new "weekend-meditation". This time I love to inspire you through the ancient Japanese poetry. Haiku is a very classical (and ancient) Japanese poetry form, but before haiku became renown in ancient Japan it was mostly the "waka" that was used as The poetry form. The "waka" is the pre-ancestor of what we now know as Tanka, a 5 lined Japanese poetry form following the syllables count 5-7-5-7-7. What we call syllabes however are "on" or "onji". These are the "sounds" of the Japanese language.

For this "Time Travel" episode I have chosen an anthology which was translated by William N. Porter back in 1909, the Hyakunin-isshu, A Hundred Verses From Old Japan. The Hyakunin-isshu is a collection of 100 specimens of Japanese Tanka poetry collected in the 13th Century C.E., with some of the poems dating back to the 7th Century. This edition was illustrated with Japanese woodblock prints of an unknown artist. I hope to share a few of these woodblock prints here too.

This woodblock print is titled "seashore" and was used as a kind of cover for this anthology. All the Tanka in the Hyakunin-isshu are on themes such as nature, the round of the seasons, the impermanence of life, and the vicissitudes of love. There are obvious Buddhist and Shinto influences throughout.

An example of the Tanka in Hyakunin-isshu created by Emperor Tenchi (7th century):

Aki no ta no
Kari ho no iho no
Toma wo arami
Waga koromode wa
Tsuyu ni nure-tsutsu.

OUT in the fields this autumn day
They're busy reaping grain ;
I sought for shelter ’neath this roof,
But fear I sought in vain,—
My sleeve is wet with rain.

A very nice Tanka I would say. It's written in a very sophisticated style that fits the Emperor. I especially like the rhyme in the last two lines. As you all know (maybe), it is "not done" to use rhyme in Tanka, but in this one it seems that it had to be that way. It gives the Tanka "style".

Pheasant woodblock print (found on Pinterest)
I found an other nice Tanka, this time created by the Nobleman Kaki-no-Moto (7th century):

Ashibiki no
Yamadori no o no
Shidario no
Naga-nagashi yo wo
Hitori ka mo nemu.

LONG is the mountain pheasant's tail
That curves down in its flight;
But longer still, it seems to me,
Left in my lonely plight,
Is this unending night.

As I read this Tanka another nice poem came in mind, the following haiku by Buson:

osokihi ya kiji no oriiru hashi no ue 

In these lengthening days
Pheasants settle
Upon the bridge.

In the Tanka the theme is the longest night (the winter solstice) and in the haiku, Buson refers to the longest day (the summer solstice). Both poems are beauties.

Yamato Province is renown for its cherry blossoms
Why this image of cherry blossoms in Yamato province? Well it has to do with the verse (tanka) I extracted from Hyakunin-isshu to inspire you, maybe the image will help you to imagine the Tanka written by Korenori Saka-no-Uye a not so well known poet from the 10th century.

Ariake no tsuki to
Miru made ni
Yoshino no sato ni
Fureru shira yuki.

SURELY the morning moon, I thought,
Has bathed the hill in light
But, no; I see it is the snow
That, falling in the night,
Has made Yoshino white.

And here is my response, maybe also to help you a little bit to imagine the scene:

on the mountain slopes
fragile cherry blossom petals fall
it seems to snow

© Chèvrefeuille

To conclude this episode "in style" here is another woodblock print from this classical anthology full of beautiful Tanka.

Moon Viewing 
Well ... I hope you did like this new episode of "Time Travel" and I hope to have inspired you to create haiku, tanka or other Japanese poetry form.

More from The Hyakunin-isshu? HERE

This episode is open for your submissions next Sunday July 2nd at 7:00 PM (CET) and will remain open until July 7th at noon (CET). Have a great weekend!

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