A Full Moon Night: Poem Number 7

Abé no Nakamaro viewing the moon while residing in China, print number 64 in Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon collection

As tonight is a Worm Moon, but also one where the moon is the closest in its orbit to Earth in 19 years, I thought this was a fitting poem, and also one of my favorite:

天の原Ama no haraAs I gaze out, far
ふりさけ見ればFurisake mirebaacross the plains of heaven
春日なるKasuga naruah, at Kasuga,
三笠の山にMikasa no yama nifrom behind Mount Mikasa,
出でし月かもIdeshi tsuki kamoit’s the same moon that came out then!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

According to historical accounts, Abé no Nakamaro (701-770), the author, went to China to study at the age of 16. This was part of the yearly mission made by Japan to the Imperial Tang Court in China. The missions to China from Japan (or Kentō-shi 遣唐使) were perilous undertakings due to poor ship construction and storms from the south, so they didn’t come often, and sometimes got shipwrecked.

He spent many years in China and became friends with famous poets at the time such as Li Bo and Wang Wei, and was in the service of the Chinese emperor Xuan-Zong for a time. But after so many years of service, it was time for Nakamaro to return to Japan, and according to the story, on the night before he departed, his friends in China threw him a farewell feast. That evening, he looked up and saw a beautiful moon, and composed this poem. It was at Mount Mikasa many years before that Nakamaro prayed for safe return someday from China, and he remembered that same moon so many years ago.

Sadly, his return trip failed, and the ship was blown off course to the land of Annam, where he then trekked back to China and eventually passed away never seeing his homeland again.

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