Into night’s dark field
I stare, and I imagine
standing near Mount Mikasa,
lit by this same rising moon.
Autumn mountain wind—
the grass knocked flat, the trees whipped,
their branches broken.
The brush strokes meaning storm,
read aloud, can mean destruction.
30. Mibu no Tadamine
Now, in the sunrise,
alone, I watch the moon set—
a cold, cold parting.
Daybreak has brought me nothing
but your absent affection.
35. Ki no Tsurayuki
People change, it’s true.
One can’t know a heart’s drift.
Still, I return here
to find the old plum blooming,
the air full of its perfume.
On this short spring night
a dream almost came to pass—
my head on your arm.
But it would have been pointless
to risk my reputation.
Given enough time,
all these troubles may become
like those of the past—
all those mean, hard, fear-filled days,
remembered with nostalgia.
7. Abe no Nakamaro (701-770):
At age sixteen Nakamaro went to study in China. Working in the Chinese court of emperor Hsūan-tsung, he rose to a high position. In 753, he had the opportunity to return to Japan. This poem, it is said, was written at his farewell party. Unfortunately, the ship on which he traveled was wrecked in what is now Vietnam. He survived, returned to China, and remained there the rest of his life. There was a custom among those going overseas to visit Kasuga Temple and pray for a safe return.
22. Fun’ya no Yasuhide (9th century):
Originally a provincial official, Yasuhide was later given a position at court, possibly because of his poetic skills. Six of his poems are in the imperial anthologies. This poem is based on wordplay which is untranslatable. Despite the harsh subject matter, the original is considered witty.
30. Mibu no Tadamine (late 9th-10th centuries):
Tadamine was a significant poet and worked on the first imperial anthology, Kokinshū. Eighty-two of his poems are in the imperial anthologies. This poem is in a woman’s voice.
35. Ki no Tsurayuki (c. 870-945):
Tsurayuki was a major literary figure and the chief compiler of the early imperial anthology, Kokinshū. Over 450 poems appear in the different imperial collections. The story behind the poem is Tsurayuki went to visit a friend after a long absence. Uncertain of his reception, he presented his friend with a flowering plum bough and this impromptu poem.
67. Lady Suō no Naishi (11th-early 12th centuries):
Her given name was Nakako. The name she is remembered by comes from her father’s position, governor of Saō Province, in what is now the eastern part of Yamaguchi Prefecture. She was handmaiden to four emperors, and thirty-five of her poems appear in imperial anthologies.
84. Fujiwara no Kiyosuke (1104-1177):
Kiyosuke was an important literary figure. He edited an anthology, the Shoku Shinashū, for the Emperor Ninjō. But because the Emperor died before it was complete, it was never officially recognized as an imperial collection. Ninety-four of Kiyosuke’s poems are in the imperial anthologies.
ama no hara furisake mireba Kasuga naru
Mikasa no yama ni ideshi tsuki kamo
fuku kara ni aki no kusaki no shiorureba
ube yama kaze o arashi to iuran
ariake no tsurenaku mieshi wakare yori
akatsuki bakari uki mono wa nashi
hito wa isa kokoro mo shirazu
furusato wa hana zo mukashi no ka ni nioi keru
haru no yo no yume bakari naru tamakura ni
kainaku tatan na koso oshi kere
nagaraeba mata konogoro ya shinobaren
ushi to mishi yo zo ima wa koishiki