Summer Weather: Poem Number 2

Photo by Pixabay on

One of my favorite poems in all the Hyakunin Isshu is also one of the first:

春過ぎてHaru sugiteSpring has passed, and
夏来にけらしNatsu ki ni kerashisummer has arrived, it seems
白妙のShiro tae noHeavenly Mount Kagu
衣ほすてふKoromo hosu chōwhere, it is said, they dry robes
天の香具山Ama no Kaguyamaof the whitest mulberry!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

Empress Jitō (645-702) is the daughter of Emperor Tenji, who wrote poem number 1 in the anthology, but also became the Empress after her husband, Emperor Tenmu died, and reigned for 11 years.

This poem in general causes a lot of headaches for commentators and translators over generations because of the confusing relation between certain lines.

While the pillow words in the third line, mentioned in an older post, are pretty clear-cut according to Mostow, there’s a lot of confusion over generations about what’s being dried, what does it stand for, and either the seen is directly observed or not. On the note about the pillow word, shirotae 白妙, Mostow explains that the word tahe/tae refers to a kind of Paper Mulberry plant. More on pillow words here.

Also, where this famous Mount Kagu? Mount Kagu, more formally known as Amanokagu in Japanese, is one of three peaks called the Yamato Sanzan (大和三山, Three Peaks of [old] Yamato), which are pictured here. These mountains are:

  • 畝傍山, Unebi-yama
  • 耳成山, Miminashi-yama
  • 天香具山, Amanokagu-yama (e.g. Mount Kagu)

Yamato is among the oldest part of Japan as we know it, so these mountains, while small by standards of Mt. Fuji, or mountains in other places in the world, have held important cultural significance since the beginning. As Mostow explains, Mount Amanokagu is the site of the famous Shinto myth surrounding Amaterasu Ōmikami, the goddess of the sun, who shut herself in a cave at Mt. Kagu.

The ancient imagery of such a venerable old mountain, couple with such vivid imagery of a sunny, warm summer day are among the reasons why I like this poem so much. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: