The Joys and Pains of Marriage: Poem Number 54

A calendar my son made in Japanese preschool, depicting Girl’s Day.

This is the fifth poem in our series dedicated to Valentine’s Day:

忘れじのWasureji noBecause that future, until which,
行末まではYukusue made wayou say, you will “never forget,”
難ければKatakerebais hard to rely on,
今日を限りのKyo wo kagiri nooh, if only today could be
命ともがなInochi to mo ganathe last day of my life!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

This poem was composed by Takako (d. 996), also known as “Kishi”, who was the wife of Fujiwara no Michitaka, and the mother of Empress Teishi (whom Sei Shonagon served and wrote about frequently in the Pillow Book). She is listed in the Hyakunin Isshu as “Mother of the Supernumerary Grand Minister” (giōsanshi no haha 儀同三司母) due to the tremendous power wielded by her son, Fujiwara no Korechika for a time.

Takako herself was from an elite family, and had considerable talent in Chinese poetry, which allowed her to win competitions over many learned gentleman. No doubt this helped her catch the eye of the ambitious and rising star that was Fujiwara no Michitaka. This poem was, according to Mostow, composed shortly after their wedding, with all the joy and excitement about the future that comes with marriage.

However, as you can see, there is a bitter undertone to this poem. Noblemen at the time often married multiple wives, and such women were often living apart from their husbands. As we saw with the Gossamer Years, this can lead to many years of isolation and loneliness if the husband neglects her. So, the poem expressed a sense of unease about the future and how long this excitement might last.

Later, when Michitaka later passed away, Takako took tonsure as a Buddhist nun and left behind few other poems.

Speaking as one who’s happily married myself, I can definitely understand her excitement that day, even a thousand years later, but also the joys of staying with it for many years. One wife is enough, and I am glad to have invested the care and devotion to make it work.

The photo above was taken by me of the doll set we keep at home for Girl’s Day, a holiday celebrated in early March. It symbolizes the happy marriage of the Emperor and Empress, and the aspirations of young women everywhere for a happy life with the man of their dreams.

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: