Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Few Tanka Verses

Some interesting Tanka verses from the book, A Hundred Verses from Old Japan (Hyaku nin ishiu - translated by William Porter)

1. The first one to catch my attention was a verse written more than a thousand years ago about the beauty of Mt. Tsukuba and its surrounding areas. It was composed by the retired Emperor, Yozei In (AD 877-884).

Tsukuba ne no
Mine yori otsuru

Mina no gawa

Koi zo tsumoirite

Fuchi to nari nuru

The Mina stream comes tumbling down
From Mount Tsukuba's height;
Strong as my love, it leaps into
A pool as black as night
With overwhelming might


The mountain village solitude
In winter time I dread;
It seems as if, when friends are gone,
And trees their leaves have shed,
All men and plants are dead.

- The Minister, Muneyuki Minamoto

Poet was grandson of Emperor Kwoko and a part of the Minamoto family which ruled Japan between 856-877, and produced many famous men including Yorimoto, the great founder of the Shogunate.

The Taira famly and the Minamotos were the Yorks and Lancasters of medieval Japan. After Yorimoto defeated the Tairas at the battle of Dan-no-ura, in the straits of Shimonoseki, the entire Taira family was exterminated, including women and children.The Manamoto's themselves became extinct in 1219, when Sanetomo was murdered at Kamakura.


Ariake no
Tsurenaku mieshi

Wakare yori

Akatsuki bakari

Uki-mono was nashi

I hate the cold unfriendly moon,
That shines at early morn;
And nothing seems so sad and grey,
When I am left forlorn,
As day's returning dawn.

-Mibu no Tadamine (AD 900)


Hito wa iza
Kokoro mo shirazu
Furu sato wa
Hana so mukashi no
Ka ni nioi keru.

The village of my youth is gone,
New faces meet my gaze;
But still the blossoms at thy gate,
Whose perfume scents the ways,
Recall my childhood days.

- Ki no Tsurayuki

Shira tsuyu ni
Kaze no fukishiku

Aki no no wa


Tama zo chiri keru

This lovely morn the dewdrops flash
Like diamonds on the grass -
A blaze of sparkling jewels! But
The autumn wind, alas!
Scatters them as I pass.


Morotomo ni
Aware to omoe
Yama zakura
Hana yori hoka ni
Shiruu hito mo nashi.

In solitude i dwell,
No human faces I see;
And so we two must sympathise,
Oh mountain cherry tree;
I have no friend but thee.

This was composed by Daisojo Gyoson aka Archbishop Gyoson , who died in AD 890, at the age of 70, from being buried, at his own wish, in a small tomb covered with soil, with only a small pipe leading from his mouth to the open air; he remained thus, until hunger and exhaustion put and end to his life.

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