I wonder what it’s like to be like you, an author, a poet, and a courtier of the Heian period in Japan. I always wonder what it’s like to be like you—still famous after more than a thousand years because of your literary works. To be honest, I want to be like you, and I want to learn from your craft. How can my works last as long as yours? How can my works be inspiring like yours? How can I express my thoughts as well as you? Oh well, I wish that I can develop my writing voice the way that you were able to.
Envy is not the word I feel towards you. In contrast, I admire your capacities for being such a literary genius. You are a poet of waka, short poems composed in Japanese, it is now included as one of the most important Japanese poetry anthologies. Did you know? You are admired by many people! You are quite famous for being the compiler of the Kokin Wakash–known as the first imperially-sponsored anthology and for being the possible author of the Tosa Diary. Did you really wrote that Diary? Please tell me if you did. Dozo! (Please in Japanse) I will not tell a living soul if you do so.
I have already actually read Japanese poetry and each of them gave me a resonant emotion filled with natural imagery and spiritual meaning. I will now give you an account of my favourite ones with my own recollections if you do not mind.
Your poetry about Spring was lovely, it said that it was composed on the first day of spring: “sode Fidite/musubisi mizu no/koForeru wo/Faru tatu keFu no/kaze ya tokuran” or “Once I wet my sleeves/Scooping water/It’s frozen now/On this first day of spring,/Will the wind melt it, I wonder?” (KKS I: 2). It seems to me that your poem is more than just about the arrival of spring. For me, it has a metaphorical view, that it speaks of new beginnings as you question the upcoming change of the elements through time. Change, yes, that is what pops in my mind upon reading this poetry of yours. Time comes to my mind as well, and how each passing season creates a different story.
The Japanese poetry about summer all seemed sorrowful to me. One poetry in particular made me reflect on my observation: “natu yama ni/naku Fototogisu/kokoro araba/mono’omoFu ware ni/kowe nakikaseso” or “In these summer mountains,/Oh, singing cuckoo,/Take pity on me-/So melancholy-/And shut up!” (KKS III: 145). At first, to be honest, I was confused as to why the cuckoo was mentioned in almost all of the summer poems. It just became clear to me when I found out that the cuckoo was a Japanese symbol associated with the coming of the summer months. I also learned that it is associated with the longing of the spirits of the dead to return to their loved ones. This is when I understand why I felt the mourning, longing, and melancholy in this summer passage, “Take pity on me/So melancholy” was a line that made me imagine on being alone on a summer mountain as I await for a lover who will never come back. Oh, how desolating!
For the Autumn poetry I noticed the theme of maidenflowers and hunting. Animals such as the goose, deer, and stag became imminent as I read selected passages.“akiFagi wo/sigaramiFusete/naku sika no/me ni Fa miezute/woto no sayakesa” or “In Autumn bush clover/Entangled and trampling,/The bugling stag/Is out of sight;/How clear the sound, though.” (KKS IV: 217). I understand that Autumn is the season for hunting. To be frank, I am a vegetarian, and this poem made me feel disturbed, if not depressed. However, I choose this poem for its precise imagery captures the horror of a helpless creature in captivity.
Winter, ah winter! I always wanted to know what winter feels like as I have never experienced it myself. As I read aloud several passages, I found the poetry by Minamoto no Muneyuki, it is the one that appeals most to my imaginary senses: “yamazato Fa/Fuyu zo sabisisa/Masarikeru/Fitome mo kusa mo/karenu to omoFeba” or “In a mountain home/Winter is when loneliness/Overwhelms me;/The bustle of/folk and the grasses, too,/Have withered away, I feel.” (KKS VI: 315). This one was particularly composed as a Winter poem, and it gives out the essence of everything slowing down. It seems like a Eulogy as one says its good bye to the bustle of life and natural pleasures such as plants. It is a time of partings, a time of saying farewells to some good things. For me, the poem also alludes the temporal elements in this world.
The poems for Felicitations I find very lively and expressive. Each speaks of boundless time or prolonged years as they praise someone who is worthy of such lasting devotion. I choose this poem because it speaks of good wishes and eternal life. It gives out a positive vibe.“wata tu umi no/Fama no masago wo/kazoFetutu/kimi ga ti tose no/arigazu ni semu” or “By the great sea’s/Shore, grains of sand/I tally constantly./May my Lord a thousand years/Live for each and every one!” (KKS VII: 344).
The poems for Partings all spoke of arduous and indecisive emotions linked to being separated from a beloved. My favorite Parting Kokinshu is this one: “Kagirinaki/kumowi no yoso ni/wakaru to mo/Fito wo kokoro ni/wokurasamu ya Fa” or “Beyond beyond,/The clouds’ far side/May part us, yet/Within my heart,/Shall I carry you?” (KKS VIII: 367). It sounded bittersweet as the speaker suffers from the parting while pondering the effectiveness of bringing the memory of the beloved. This, I found beautiful and melancholic.
The poems about Travel were all colourful and exciting as I envisioned the experiences of the authors. However, my favourite is the one by Ariwara no Narihira, as he writes about his encounter with the capital bird in Sumira River as he asks a question about what matters to him: “na ni si oFaba/iza koto toFamu/miyakodori/wa ga omoFu Fito Fa/ari ya nasi ya to” or “If your name fits you,/There’s something I would ask,/O, Capital bird:/Is the lady in my thoughts/Still quite safe?” (KKS IX: 411).
The poems for Love are my favourite. Ah love. Why is it so beautifully burdening? Why does some find it renewing and destructing at the same time? I was able to see this sense of contradiction in this poem: “ture mo naki/Fito wo ya netaku/siratuyu no/oku to Fa nageki/nu to Fa sinobamu” or “For a cold and heartless/Love, should I long:/With the white dew/Fall arising with a sigh,/Lying down to sleep with her in my thoughts?” (KKS XI: 486). This is evocative poetry as it brings strong imagery and memory to me.
The poems about Laments were full of grief, sadness, and sorrow. The one that gripped me the most was written by you, Tsurayuki. They said you wrote it when someone you knew well died. ‘‘Tis but a dream,’/I should say; yet/In the world of men/There is reality/I feel.” (KKS XVI: 834). I almost cried upon reading this because it brings me back to the time when a beloved passed away. It does indeed feel unreal when faced with the tragedy of such a great loss. This is one of your best works. You really are an amazing poet.
Ki no Tsurayuki was a poet as well as a prose writer, well versed in Chinese. He was the chief compiler of the first Anthology of Japanese poetry Kokinshu (905), and the writer of its preface. The Kokinshu consisted of approximately 1,111 poems.