Poetry as Wordplay: Poem Number 22

A completely different “Arashi”, photo by Japanese Station, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The twenty-second poem in the Hyakunin Isshu is a brilliant example of word-play:

吹くからにFuku kara niAs soon as it blows,
秋の草木のAki no kusaki nothe autumn trees and grasses
しをるればShiorurebadroop, and this must be why,
むべ山風をMube yama kaze oquite rightly, the mountain wind
あらしといふらむArashi to iuranis called “the ravager.”
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

Here, from the English translation, it’s hard to see what is so clever about this poem, until you look at the last two lines.

The fourth line talks about mountains and wind , but the fifth line mentions the word arashi (あらし) which means “storm” and whose kanji is composed of both mountain and wind . You can even see it on karuta cards for this poem:

Circled in blue is the word arashi (あらし) using hiragana script, but in red are the Chinese characters for mountain and wind. When looked at closely, they also look like the Chinese character for arashi (嵐).

According to the Hyakunin Isshu Daijiten, this poetic method, called moji-asobi (文字遊び) is not limited to this poem, or even Japanese poetry. It appears to be a poetic method employed originally in China, and adopted by early Japanese poets. Even in the earliest anthology, the Manyoshu, there are other examples:

雪降ればYuki furebaBecause the snow fell
木毎に花ぞKigoto ni hana zoWhite “blossoms”, one by one,
吹きにけるFukinikeruSprout on the tree.
いづれをIzure wo ume toHow am I to tell the blossoms from the snow
わきて折らましWakite oramashiWithout snapping them off?
Rough translation by me, based on Hyakunin Isshu Daijiten

Here, the word for plums (as well as plum blossoms), umé 梅, is made up of the Chinese characters 木 and 毎 which happen to appear on the second line of the poem.

Pretty clever, really.

In any case, the Hyakunin Isshu Daijiten and Professor Mostow both point out that the word arashi also has a double-meaning. The basic meaning is “storm”, but it is also the noun-form of the verb arasu meaning to ravage, hence the translation above: arashi (荒らし).

Amazing what people could do with a few lines of verse and some Chinese characters. It’s no surprise that the author, Fun’ya no Yasuhide, was counted among the original Six Immortals of Poetry and later the Thirty-Six Immortals.

P.S. Kind of been a while, good to be back. 🙂

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