Feeling Like Late Fall: Poem Number 29

Chrysanthemum aka white mums
Muffet, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

November marks the last throes of Fall, and so with the recent cold here in Seattle, I thought this poem seemed really fitting:

心あてにKokoroate niMust it be by chance,
折らばや折らむOrabaya oranif I am to pluck one, that I pluck it? —
初霜のHatsushimo nowhite chrysanthemums
おきまどはせるOki madowaseruon which the first frost
白菊の花Shiragiku no hanalies bewilderingly.
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

Ōshikōchi no Mitsune was a very prodigious poet and his works appear in many later anthologies in Japanese history, and is also one of the compilers of the famous Kokinshū anthology. Not surprisingly he is among the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry too. Professor Mostow notes that this poem is subject to many different interpretations ranging from simple word-repetition, to rhetorical questions or the speaker’s mental debate.

In any case, the imagery of white frost on white chrysanthemum’s is in large part why this poem is so highly prized and made it into the Hyakunin Isshu anthology.

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