A page from the Ise Monogatari

In the Poetry section I have already presented a chapter from the Tale of Ise. Here is a handwritten page from an old copy of this famous work:

Ise Monogatari, last page

The title of this book is 伊勢物語新釋, Ise Monogatari shinshaku (see on the left margin), shinshaku means "new interpretation". 釋 today would be written as 釈.

Lets read only the last two columns on the left, which is the last section of the Ise monogatari, telling about the death of the "poet", who is traditionally identified with Ariwara no Narihira (825 - 880).

Translation by Helen Craig McCullogh in her Classical Japanese Prose - An Anthology:

Once a man was taken ill. Sensing the approach of his death, he composed this poem:

Upon this pathway
I have long heard it said
man sets forth at last -
yet I had not thought to go
so very soon as today.

There are many old versions of the Ise Monogatari which slightly differ in spelling or usage of kanji; the "official" version of the poem is:

tsui ni yuku
michi to wa kanete
kinou kyou to wa
omowazarishi wo

Grammar notes

The first thing you must have noticed is the strange kana in the first line: - this is wi, a kana letter that disappeared during the centuries, and today is read as "i". Besides this, the first two lines are easy, almost as modern japanese.

tsui ni - finally, in the end

yuku - an old variant of iku: to go

kanete - already, previously ( an adverb to kikishikado )

kikishikado, however, a real hurdle. In todays Japanese it would be kiita keredo - "although I have heard"...

kiku is "to hear". It has a form, called renyoukei which is used to form the past tense. The renyoukei stem of kiku is kiki. The suffix for the past tense was ki. But this suffix must be conjugated as well: in order to add the keredo to it (which, in old Japanese, was simply do,) - we have to put the past tense form into izenkei, another stem form to which suffices can be added. The izenkei of the ki suffix is shika. So we end up with kikishikado: "although [I] have heard..."

kinou kehu to wa... - The exact meaning is: "Yesterday I did not think it will be today (when I die). kehu is the old way kyou was pronounced.

Now lets move on to omowazarishi. This is not as weird. The zaru suffix is used in modern Japanese as well, mostly in the idiomatic form of ...zaru o enai, meaning "must do...".

In classical Japanese, zaru was an already inflected form of the suffix zu, which is an old form of nai. For example: tabezu = tabenai, kakazu = kakanai... zari is the renyoukei of zu. Then, another suffix is added: shi, which again an inflected form of the past-tense suffix ki:

omowa + zari + shi = omowazarishi : [I] did not think...

The last kana, wo, is used today to designate the object of a transitive verb. In old Japanese, it has other uses as well, for example to emphasize that the action did not take place in reality, kinda "subjunctive"... Adding wo to omowazarishi, it will sound like "I would not have thought...."

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