Japanese Love Poems: Selections from the Manyoshu

Japanese Love Poems: Selections from the Manyoshu

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by Evan Bates

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Known as the "Collection of Myriad Leaves," or the "Collection for a Myriad Ages," the Manyoshu is Japan's most significant early anthology of poetry. The poems date from the eighth century and earlier, and their simplicity and sincerity offer glimpses of a literary culture beginning to define itself.
The Manyoshu is virtually silent on the topics of war and the


Known as the "Collection of Myriad Leaves," or the "Collection for a Myriad Ages," the Manyoshu is Japan's most significant early anthology of poetry. The poems date from the eighth century and earlier, and their simplicity and sincerity offer glimpses of a literary culture beginning to define itself.
The Manyoshu is virtually silent on the topics of war and the martial spirit; explorations of the many forms of love, however, appear throughout the collection's more than 4,000 poems. The poems selected for this volume comprise paeans to conjugal love, celebrations of intense filial piety and the love between brothers and sisters, descriptions of the fierce competition for spouses, and tributes to forbidden attachments. The Manyo poets wrote in a primitively vital and sensuous language as they experimented with form and subject.

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Japanese Love Poems

Selections from the Manyoshu


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14566-2


    Japanese Love Poems


    Your basket, with your pretty basket,
    Your trowel, with your little trowel,
    Maiden, picking herbs on this hill-side,
    I would ask you: Where is your home?
    Will you not tell me your name?
    Over the spacious Land of Yamato
    It is I who reign so wide and far,
    It is I who rule so wide and far.
    I myself, as your lord, will tell you
    Of my home, and my name.


Presented to the Emperor Jomei by a messenger, Hashibito Oyu, on the occasion of his hunting on the plain of Uchi

    From the age of the gods
    Men have been begotten and begetting;
    They overflow this land of ours.
    I see them go hither and thither
    Like flights of teal—

    But not you whom I love.
    So I yearn each day till the day is over,
    And each night till the dawn breaks;
    Sleeplessly I pass this long, long night!


    Though men go in noisy multitudes
    Like flights of teal over the mountain edge,
    To me—oh what loneliness,
    Since you are absent whom I love.

    By the Toko Mountain in Omi
    There flows the Isaya, River of Doubt.
    I doubt whether now-a-days
    You, too, still think of me?


    The Three Hills

    Mount Kagu strove with Mount Miminashi
    For the love of Mount Unebi.
    Such is love since the age of the gods;
    As it was thus in the early days,
    So people strive for spouses even now.


When Mount Kagu and Mount Miminashi wrangled, A god came over and saw it Here—on this plain of Inami!

    On the rich banner-like clouds
    That rim the waste of waters
    The evening sun is glowing,
    And promises to-night
    The moon in beauty!


    Longing for the Emperor Nintoku

    Since you, my Lord, were gone,
    Many long, long days have passed.
    Should I now come to meet you
    And seek you beyond the mountains,
    Or still await you—await you ever?

    Rather would I lay me down
    On a steep hill's side,
    And, with a rock for pillow, die,
    Than live thus, my Lord,
    With longing so deep for you.

    Yes, I will live on
    And wait for you,
    Even till falls
    On my long black waving hair
    The hoar frost of age.

    How shall my yearning ever cease—
    Fade somewhere away,
    As does the mist of morning
    Shimmering across the autumn field
    Over the ripening grain?


    Presented to the Emperor Tenji
    on the occasion of His Majesty's illness

    I turn and gaze far
    Towards the heavenly plains.
    Lo, blest is my Sovereign Lord—
    His long life overspans
    The vast blue firmament.

    [After the death of the Emperor]

    Though my eyes could see your spirit soar
    Above the hills of green-bannered Kohata,
    No more may I meet you face to face.

    Others may cease to remember,
    But I cannot forget you—
    Your beauteous phantom shape
    Ever haunts my sight!

    On the occasion of the temporary enshrinement of the Emperor Tenji

    On the vast lake of Omi
    You boatmen that come rowing
    From the far waters,
    And you boatmen that come rowing
    Close by the shore,
    Ply not too hard your oars in the far waters,
    Ply not too hard your oars by the shore,
    Lest you should startle into flight
    The birds beloved of my dear husband!


    Seeing the mountains when the Emperor Jomei sojourned in Aya District, Sanuki Province

    Not knowing that the long spring day—
    The misty day—is spent,
    Like the 'night-thrush' I grieve within me,
    As sorely my heart aches.
    Then across the hills where our Sovereign sojourns,
    Luckily the breezes blow
    And turn back my sleeves with morn and eve,
    As I stay alone;
    But, being on a journey, grass for pillow,
    Brave man as I deem me,
    I know not how to cast off
    My heavy sorrows;
    And like the salt-fires the fisher-girls
    Burn on the shore of Ami,
    I burn with the fire of longing
    In my heart.


    Fitful gusts of wind are blowing
    Across the mountain-range,
    And night after night I lie alone,
    Yearning for my love at home.


    Yearning for the Emperor Tenji

    While, waiting for you,
    My heart is filled with longing,
    The autumn wind blows—
    As if it were you—
    Swaying the bamboo blinds of my door.


    On the occasion of his marriage to Yasumiko, a palace attendant

    Oh, Yasumiko I have won!
    Mine is she whom all men,
    They say, have sought in vain.
    Yasumiko I have won!


Two poems said to have been composed by the Empress after the death of the Emperor Temmu

    Even a flaming fire can be snatched,
    Wrapt and put in a bag—
    Do they not say so?
    But they say not that they know
    How I may meet my Lord again!

    Above the north mountain-range
    That rims the blue firmament
    The stars pass on,
    The moon passes on—


    Waiting for you,
    In the dripping dew of the hill
    I stood,—weary and wet
    With the dripping dew of the hill.—By the Prince

    Would I had been, beloved,
    The dripping dew of the hill,
    That wetted you
    While for me you waited.—By the Lady


    Upon the departure of Prince Otsu for the capital after his secret visit to the Shrine of Isé

    To speed my brother
    Parting for Yamato,
    In the deep of night I stood
    Till wet with the dew of dawn.

    The lonely autumn mountains
    Are hard to pass over
    Even when two go together—
    How does my brother cross them all alone!

    On her arrival at the capital after the death of Prince Otsu

    Would that I had stayed
    In the land of Isé
    Of the Divine Wind.
    Why have I come
    Now that he is dead!

    Now that he is no more—
    My dear brother—
    Whom I so longed to see,
    Why have I come,
    Despite the tired horses!


Composed when Prince Hozumi was despatched by imperial command to a mountain temple of Shiga in Omi

    Rather than stay behind to languish,
    I will come and overtake you—
    Tie at each turn of your road
    A guide-knot, my lord!

Composed when her clandestine relations with Prince Hozumi during her residence in the palace of Prince Takechi became known

    Because of the slanderous tongues,
    The busy mouths abroad,
    Now I cross the morning river
    I have never crossed in my life before.


    At the burial of Prince Kauchi in the Mirror Mountain in Toyo

    Was it pleasing to my prince's soul?
    This Mirror Mountain in Toyo
    He chose for his eternal palace.
    In the Mirror Mountain in Toyo,
    With its rock-doors shut,
    Has he hidden himself?
    However long I wait, he never returns.

    O for strength to break the rock doors!
    Weak woman that I am,
    I know not what to do!


    On leaving his wife as he set out from Iwami for the capital

    Along the coast of Tsunu
    On the sea of Iwami
    One may find no sheltering bay,
    One may find no sequestered lagoon.
    O well if there be no bay!
    O well if there be no lagoon!
    Upon Watazu's rocky strand,
    Where I travel by the whale-haunted sea,
    The wind blows in the morning,
    And the waves wash at eve
    The sleek sea-tangle and the ocean weed,
    All limpid green.

    Like the sea-tangle, swaying in the wave
    Hither and thither, my wife would cling to me,
    As she lay by my side.
    Now I have left her, and journey on my way,
    I look back a myriad times
    At each turn of the road.
    Farther and farther my home falls behind,
    Steeper and steeper the mountains I have crossed.
    My wife must be languishing
    Like drooping summer grass.
    I would see where she dwells—
    Bend down, O mountains!


    From between the trees that grow
    On Takatsunu's mountain-side
    In the land of Iwami
    I waved my sleeve to her—
    Did she see me, my dear wife?

    The leaves of bamboo grass
    Fill all the hill-side
    With loud rustling sounds;
    But I think only of my love,
    Having left her behind.

    In the sea of Iwami,
    By the cape of Kara,
    There amid the stones under sea
    Grows the deep-sea miru weed;
    There along the rocky strand
    Grows the sleek sea-tangle.

    Like the swaying sea-tangle,
    Unresisting would she lie beside me—
    My wife whom I love with a love
    Deep as the miru-growing ocean.
    But few are the nights
    We two have lain together.

    Away I have come, parting from her
    Even as the creeping vines do part.
    My heart aches within me;
    I turn back to gaze—
    But because of the yellow leaves
    Of Watari Hill,
    Flying and fluttering in the air,
    I cannot see plainly
    My wife waving her sleeve to me.
    Now as the moon, sailing through the cloud rift
    Above the mountain of Yakami,
    Disappears, leaving me full of regret,
    So vanishes my love out of sight;
    Now sinks at last the sun,
    Coursing down the western sky.

    I thought myself a strong man,
    But the sleeves of my garment
    Are wetted through with tears.


    My black steed
    Galloping fast,
    Away have I come,
    Leaving under distant skies
    The dwelling-place of my love.

    Oh, yellow leaves
    Falling on the autumn hill,
    Cease a while
    To fly and flutter in the air
    That I may see my love's dwelling-place!

    * * *

    Presented to Princess Hatsusebé and Prince Osakabé

    Dainty water-weeds, growing up-stream
    In the river of the bird-flying Asuka,
    Drift down-stream, gracefully swaying.
    Like the water-weeds the two would bend
    Each toward the other, the princess and her consort.

    But now no longer can she sleep,
    With his fine smooth body clinging
    Close to hers like a guardian sword.
    Desolate must be her couch at night.
    Unable to assuage her grief,
    But in the hope of finding him by chance,
    She journeys to the wide plain of Ochinu,
    There, her skirt drenched with morning dew
    And her coat soaked with the fog of evening,
    She passes the night—a wayfarer with grass for pillow—
    Because of him whom she nevermore will meet!


    Her lord and husband with whom she had slept,
    The sleeves of their robes overlapping,
    Has passed away to the plain of Ochinu.
    How can she ever meet him again!

    * * *

    On the occasion of the temporary enshrinement of Princess Asuka

    Across the river of the bird-flying Asuka
    Stepping-stones are laid in the upper shallows,
    And a plank bridge over the lower shallows.
    The water-frond waving along the stones,
    Though dead, will reappear.
    The river-tresses swaying by the bridge
    Wither, but they sprout again.

    How is it, O Princess, that you have
    Forgotten the morning bower
    And forsaken the evening bower
    Of him, your good lord and husband—
    You who did stand handsome like a water-frond,
    And who would lie with him,
    Entwined like tender river-tresses?

    No more can he greet you.
    You make your eternal abode
    At the Palace of Kinohé whither oft in your lifetime
    He and you made holiday together,
    Bedecked with flowers in spring,
    Or with golden leaves in autumn-tide,
    Walking hand in hand, your eyes
    Fondly fixed upon your lord as upon a mirror,
    Admiring him ever like the glorious moon.

    So it may well be that grieving beyond measure,
    And moaning like a bird unmated,
    He seeks your grave each morn.
    I see him go, drooping like summer grass,
    Wander here and there like the evening-star,
    And waver as a ship wavers in the sea.

    No heart have I to comfort him,
    Nor know I what to do.
    Only your name and your deathless fame,
    Let me remember to the end of time;
    Let the Asuka River, your namesake,
    Bear your memory for ages,
    O Princess adored!


    Even the flowing water
    Of the Asuka River—
    If a weir were built,
    Would it not stand still?

    O Asuka, River of To-morrow,
    As if I thought that I should see
    My Princess on the morrow,
    Her name always lives in my mind.

    * * *

    After the death of his wife

    Since in Karu lived my wife,
    I wished to be with her to my heart's content;
    But I could not visit her constantly
    Because of the many watching eyes—
    Men would know of our troth,
    Had I sought her too often
    So our love remained secret like a rock-pent pool;
    I cherished her in my heart,
    Looking to after-time when we should be together,
    And lived secure in my trust
    As one riding a great ship.
    Suddenly there came a messenger
    Who told me she was dead—
    Was gone like a yellow leaf of autumn.
    Dead as the day dies with the setting sun,
    Lost as the bright moon is lost behind the cloud,
    Alas, she is no more, whose soul
    Was bent to mine like the bending seaweed!

    When the word was brought to me
    I knew not what to do nor what to say;
    But restless at the mere news,
    And hoping to heal my grief
    Even a thousandth part,
    I journeyed to Karu and searched the market-place
    Where my wife was wont to go!

    There I stood and listened,
    But no voice of her I heard,
    Though the birds sang in the Unebi Mountain;
    None passed by, who even looked like my wife.
    I could only call her name and wave my sleeve.


    In the autumn mountains
    The yellow leaves are so thick.
    Alas, how shall I seek my love
    Who has wandered away?—
    I know not the mountain track.

    I see the messenger come
    As the yellow leaves are falling.
    Oh, well I remember
    How on such a day we used to meet—
    My wife and I!

    In the days when my wife lived,
    We went out to the embankment near by—
    We two, hand in hand—
    To view the elm-trees standing there
    With their outspreading branches
    Thick with spring leaves. Abundant as their greenery
    Was my love. On her leaned my soul.
    But who evades mortality?—
    One morning she was gone, flown like an early bird.

    Clad in a heavenly scarf of white,
    To the wide fields where the shimmering kagero rises
    She went and vanished like the setting sun.

    The little babe—the keepsake
    My wife has left me—
    Cries and clamours.
    I have nothing to give; I pick up the child
    And clasp it in my arms.
    In her chamber, where our two pillows lie,
    Where we two used to sleep together,
    Days I spend alone, broken-hearted:
    Nights I pass, sighing till dawn.

    Though I grieve, there is no help;
    Vainly I long to see her.
    Men tell me that my wife is
    In the mountains of Hagai—
    Thither I go,
    Toiling along the stony path;
    But it avails me not,
    For of my wife, as she lived in this world,
    I find not the faintest shadow.


    To-night the autumn moon shines—
    The moon that shone a year ago,
    But my wife and I who watched it then together
    Are divided by ever-widening wastes of time.

    When leaving my love behind
    In the Hikité mountains—
    Leaving her there in her grave,
    I walk down the mountain path,
    I feel not like one living.

    * * *

    On the death of an unemé from Tsu, Kibi Province

    Beauty was hers that glowed like autumn mountains
    And grace as of the swaying bamboo stem.
    How was it that she died—she who should have lived
    A life long as the coil of taku rope,
    Though the dew falls at morn
    To perish at dusk,
    Though the mists that rise at eve
    Vanish with the daybreak.
    On learning her fate I grieve—
    I who saw her but casually.
    But her husband, tender as young grass,
    Who with her soft white arm for pillow
    Lay at her side close like a guardian sword—
    How lonely must he lie—he in his widowed bed!
    What anguish must fill his love-lorn heart,
    Yearning for her who all too soon has gone—
    Like morning dew—like mists of evening!


Excerpted from Japanese Love Poems by EVAN BATES. Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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