From the Ise Monogatari

The Ise Monogatari is a 9th century book that describes short epizodes, mainly love affairs, of "a certain man", who is traditionally identified with Ariwara no Narihira. Each epizode is centered around a poem or an exchange of poems between Narihira and his lover.

The preface to the Kokinshu, a famous anthology of 1111 poems from the 12th century, appraises Narihira as follows: "Ariwara no Narihira has too much heart and too few words. He is like a withered flower whose color is gone but whose fragrance lingers."

I would like to quote a complete episode from the Ise Monogatari, which were later dramatized by Zeami, a famous Noh author, in his play Izutzu 井筒. Lets read Chapter 23 - first in English translation, and later we shall attempt to read some of the verses in Japanese...

"A boy and a girl, the children of two men who traveled over the countryside, used to play together beside a well. As they grew up, they both felt rather self-conscious about continuing the old relationship, but the boy had set his heart on marrying the girl, and she was determined that she would be his wife, and refused to agree when her father tried to betroth her to someone else. The boy sent the girl this poem:

Since I last saw you,
it seems to have grown until
I am the taller -
my height that we two measured
against the curb of the well.
She replied:

The mid-parted hair
I once measured against yours
hangs towards my waist.
For whom should it be put up,
unless it be for you?
After many such poems had passed between them, their wishes were realized and they became man and wife.

Some years later the wife's father died, leaving her without support, and the husband, tired of living with her in poverty, took to visiting a woman in the Takayasu District of Kawachi Province. The wife always saw him off with so little apparent resentment that he began to suspect her of having a lover. One day, after pretending to set out for Kawachi, he hid in the shrubbery and watched her. She made up her face with meticulous care and recited this poem, gazing into space:

Is he journeying
alone in the dead of night
across that mountain
whose name recalls waves at sea
rising when the tempest blows?
His heart swelled with love for her, and his visits to Kawachi ceased.

On the rare occasions when the man did go to Takayasu, he observed that the woman there had abandoned all decorum, despite the great pains she had taken with her appearance at first. Watching her seize the rice ladle and heap her bowl to overflowing, he felt so disenchanted that he finally severed the connection althogether.

One day the woman in Kawachi composed this poem as she looked toward Yamato:

Though the rain may fall,
I beg you, clouds, do not hide
Ikoma Mountain,
for I think only of seeing
the place where my beloved dwells.
With some reluctance, the man sent word that he would come. She waited in joyous anticipation, but he failed to appear. After the same thing had happened several times, she sent him this poem:

Night after night,
I have awaited the visits
you promised to make.
Though I no longer trust you,
I spend my days in longing.
But he never came again."

(Ise Monogatari, section 23, tranlsated by Helen Craig McCullogh)

Lets have a look at one of the poems of this chapter:

kaze fukeba
okitsu shiranami
yowa ni ya kimi ga
hitori koyuramu
We have seen the English version already:
Is he journeying
alone in the dead of night
across that mountain
whose name recalls waves at sea
rising when the tempest blows?
I found another translation in a French book "Mille ans de litterature japonese" by Ryouji Nakamura and Rene de Ceccetty:
Le vent suffle du large et souleve les vague
A Tatsutayama tu va seul en automne
Kaze fukeba - just like modern Japanese: "If the wind blows". Note the "ga" particle is often dropped in poetry.
okitsu shiranami - okitsu is a verb derived from the oki noun (open sea), which is used today eg. in the name of Okinawa. However, you cant find the okitsu verb in dictionaries, unless its a dictionary of classical Japanese. It means "being off-shore, in open sea".
okitsu shiranami - white waves in the open sea koyuramu = koyu + ramu.
koyu is the old form of koeru : to go over, cross, go beyond.
ramu is a suffix indicating present conjecture in old Japanese; not used today.
hitori koyuramu : you probably just now cross ( Tatsutayama ) alone

This poem is traditionally attributed to Narihira, although noone really knows how much (if any) of the poems in Ise Monogatari he actually wrote. Zeami's Noh play (Izutsu) even presumes that the man in the story was actually Narihira.

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