Sleeping Alone: Poem Number 3

A copper pheasant (yamadori), photo by KKPCW, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is one of my favorite poems as of late:

あしびきのAshibiki noLONG is the mountain pheasant’s tail
山鳥の尾のYamadori no ō noThat curves down in its flight;
しだり尾のShidari no ō noBut longer still, it seems to me,
ながながし夜をnaga nagashi yo woLeft in my lonely plight,
ひとりかもねむhitori kamo nenIs this unending night.
Translation by William N. Porter

The yamadori (山鳥) is actually a species of bird called the Copper Pheasant, known for its long tail. The poem is otherwise pretty straightforward. One thing I like about this poem, and why I have a particular interest in it, is the repetitive sounds using の (no) throughout. If you recite the poem out loud, it has a particular nice rhythm to it, and for me it is particular easy to memorize/recite. Try it out and you’ll see what I mean.

According to the Hyakunin Isshu Daijiten, there are certain birds in Japanese culture that are frequently used to represent autumn. In addition to the Copper Pheasant, other birds include:

  • The wild goose (kari, 雁)
  • The quail (uzura, うずら)
  • The bull-headed shrike, Lanius bucephalus (もず)

The opening verse of this poem is also a nice example of pillow words in the Hyakunin Isshu.

As for Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, the author, he was one of the pre-eminent poets of the Asuka Period in Japan, and you can probably see why. While the poem looks like any other love poem, the composition, imagery, rhythm and such, make this one really stand out. 🙂

3 responses to “Sleeping Alone: Poem Number 3”

  1. well that was nice and i love the photo aswell from kevin well done i shall read somemore on your blog.

    1. Hi Kevin and welcome. Glad you found it useful. 🙂

  2. keep up the good work doug it fascinating we learn something everday and this is interesting as its historical to gives everyone a insight into japanese poetry and history.

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