Read Anthology of Japanese Literature Online
Authors: Donald Keene
If from the beginning
You had not made me trust you,
Speaking of long, long years,
Should I have known now
Such sorrow as this?
tomo of Sakanoue (Eighth Century)
Do you desire our love to endure?
Then, if only while I see you
After days of longing and yearning,
Pray, speak to me
Sweet wordsâall you can!
Oh, the pain of my love that you know notâ
A love like the maiden-lily
Blooming in the thicket of the summer moor!
Addressed to a young woman
Over the river ferry of Saho,
Where the sanderlings cryâ
When can I come to you,
Crossing on horseback
The crystal-clear shallows?
Having seen your smile
In a dream by chance,
I keep now burning in my hear
Love's inextinguishable flame.
How I waste and waste away
With love forlornâ
I who have thought myself
A strong man!
tomo Yakamochi (718-785)
Rather than that I should thus pine for you,
Would I had been transmuted
Into a tree or a stone,
Nevermore to feel the pangs of love.
In obedience to the Imperial command,
Though sad is the parting from my wife,
I summon up the courage of a man,
And dressed for journey, take my leave.
My mother strokes me gently;
My young wife clings to me, saying,
"I will pray to the gods for your safekeeping.
Go unharmed and come back soon!"
As she speaks, she wipes with her sleeves
The tears that choke her.
Hard as it is, I start on my way,
Pausing and looking back time after time;
Ever farther I travel from my home,
Ever higher the mountains I climb and cross,
Till at last I arrive at Naniwa of wind-blown reeds.
Here I stop and wait for good weather,
To launch the ship upon the evening tide,
To set the prow seawards,
And to row out in the calm of morning.
The spring mists rise round the isles,
And the cranes cry in a plaintive tone,
Then I think of my far-off homeâ
Sorely do I grieve that with my sobs
I shake the war arrows I carry
Till they rattle in my ears.
On an evening when the spring mists
Trail over the wide sea,
And sad is the voice of the cranes
I think of my far-off home.
Thinking of home,
Sleepless I sit,
The cranes call amid the shore reeds,
Lost in the mists of spring.
An elegy on the impermanence of human life
We are helpless before time
Which ever speeds away.
And pains of a hundred kinds
Pursue us one after another.
Maidens joy in girlish pleasures,
With ship-borne gems on their wrists,
And hand in hand with their friends;
But the bloom of maidenhood,
As it cannot be stopped,
Too swiftly steals away.
When do their ample tresses
Black as a mud-snail's bowels
Turn white with the frost of age?
Whence come those wrinkles
Which furrow their rosy cheeks?
The lusty young men, warrior-like,
Bearing their sword blades at their waists,
In their hands the hunting bows,
And mounting their bay horses,
With saddles dressed with twill,
Ride about in triumph;
But can their prime of youth
Favor them for ever?
Few are the nights they keep,
When, sliding back the plank doors,
They reach their beloved ones
And sleep, arms intertwined,
Before, with staffs at their waists,
They totter along the road,
Laughed at here, and hated there.
This is the way of the world;
And, cling as I may to life,
I know no help!
Although I wish I were thus,
Like the rocks that stay for ever,
In this world of humanity
I cannot keep old age away.
Yamanoue Okura (660-733)
A dialogue on poverty
On the night when the rain beats,
Driven by the wind,
On the night when the snowflakes mingle
With the sleety rain,
I feel so helplessly cold.
I nibble at a lump of salt,
Sip the hot, oft-diluted dregs of sake;
And coughing, snuffling,
And stroking my scanty beard,
I say in my pride,
"There's none worthy, save I!"
But I shiver still with cold.
I pull up my hempen bedclothes,
Wear what few sleeveless clothes I have,
But cold and bitter is the night!
As for those poorer than myself,
Their parents must be cold and hungry,
Their wives and children beg and cry.
Then, how do you struggle through life?
Wide as they call the heaven and earth,
For me they have shrunk quite small;
Bright though they call the sun and moon,
They never shine for me.
Is it the same with all men,
Or for me alone?
By rare chance I was born a man
And no meaner than my fellows,
But, wearing unwadded sleeveless clothes
In tatters, like weeds waving in the sea,
Hanging from my shoulders,
And under the sunken roof,
Within the leaning walls,
Here I lie on straw
Spread on bare earth,
With my parents at my pillow,
My wife and children at my feet,
All huddled in grief and tears.
No fire sends up smoke
At the cooking-place,
And in the cauldron
A spider spins its web.
With not a grain to cook,
We moan like the night thrush.
Then, "to cut," as the saying is,
"The ends of what is already too short,"
The village headman comes,
With rod in hand, to our sleeping place,
Growling for his dues.
Must it be so hopelessâ
The way of this world?
Nothing but pain and shame in this world of men,
But I cannot fly away,
Wanting the wings of a bird.
Suffering from old age and prolonged illness, and thinking of his children
So long as lasts the span of life,
We wish for peace and comfort
With no evil and no mourning,
But life is hard and painful.
As the common saying has it,
Bitter salt is poured into the smarting wound,
Or the burdened horse is packed with an upper load,
Illness shakes my old body with pain.
All day long I breathe in grief
And sigh throughout the night.
For long years my illness lingers,
I grieve and groan month after month,
And though I would rather die,
I cannot, and leave my children
Noisy like the flies of May.
Whenever I watch them
My heart burns within.
And tossed this way and that,
I weep aloud.
I find no solace in my heart;
Like the bird flying behind the clouds
I weep aloud.
Helpless and in pain,
I would run out and vanish,
But the thought of my children holds me.
No children to wear them in wealthy homes,
They are thrown away as waste,
Those silks and quilted clothes!
With no sackcloth for my children to wear,
Must I thus grieve,
For ever at a loss!
Though vanishing like a bubble,
I live, praying that my life be long
Like a rope of a thousand fathoms.
Humble as I am,
Like an armband of coarse twill,
How I crave a thousand years of life!
An elegy on the death of Furuhi
What worth to me the seven treasures,
So prized and desired by all the world?
Furuhi, born of us two,
Our love, our dear white pearl,
With dawn, with the morning star,
Frolicked about the bed with us, standing or sitting;
When dusk came with the evening star,
He pulled our hands, urged us to bed,
"Leave me not, father and mother,
Let me sleep between you,
the three-stalked plant."
So spoke that lovely mouth.
Then we trusted, as one trusts in a great ship,
That he would grow up as time passed by,
And we should watch him, both in weal and woe.
But, as of a sudden sweeps the storm,
Illness caught our son.
Helpless and in grief,
I braced my sleeves with white cord,
Grasped my shining mirror,
And gazing up into the sky
I appealed to the gods of heaven;
Dropping my forehead to the ground
Madly I prayed to the gods of earth:
"It is yours to decide his fate,
To cure him or to let him die."
Nothing availed my prayers,
He languished day by day,
His voice failed each morning,
His mortal life ebbed out.
Wildly I leapt and kicked the floor,
Cried, stared up, stared down,
And beat my breast in grief.
But the child from my arms has flown;
So goes the world. . . .
So young he will not know the way;
Here is a fee for you,
O courier from the Nether World,
Bear him on your back.
With offerings I beseech you,
Be true and lead him up
Straight along the road to heaven!
Attributed to Yamanoue 0kura
On seeing a dead man while crossing the pass of Ashigara
He lies unloosened of his white clothes,
Perhaps of his wife's weaving
From hemp within her garden fence,
And girdled threefold round
Instead of once.
Perhaps after painful service done
He turned his footsteps home,
To see his parents and his wife;
And now, on this steep and sacred pass
In the eastern land of Azuma,
Chilled in his spare, thin clothes,
His black hair fallen looseâ
Telling none his province,
Telling none his home,
Here on a journey he lies dead.
From the Tanabe Sakimaro Collection
Love is a torment
Whenever we hide it.
Why not lay it bare
Like the moon that appears
From behind the mountain ledge?
I will think of you, love,
On evenings when the gray mist
above the rushes,
And chill sounds the voice
Of the wild ducks crying.
Poem of a Frontier Guard
Had I foreknown my sweet lord's coming,
My garden, now so rank with wild weeds,
I had strewn it with pearls!
What use to me a house strewn with pearls?
The cottage hidden in wild weeds
Is enough, if I am with you.