Waiting and Waiting: Poem Number 53

Gate at Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. No machine-readable author provided. Fg2 assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The fourth poem in our series dedicated to women is by the author of the famous diary, The Gossamer Years, or kagerō nikki (蜻蛉日記):

なげきつつNageki tsutsuThe span of time
ひとりぬる夜のHitori nuru yoru nothat I sleep alone, sighing,
明くる間はAkuru ma wauntil night lightens—
いかに久しきIkani hisashikican you at all know
ものとかは知るMono to ka wa shiruhow long that is?
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The name of the author is unknown. She is only known as “The Mother of Michitsuna” (c. 937-995) in this and the Gossamer Years, with Michitsuna being a Court official who held the holding the post of Major Captain of the Right udaishō (右大将). She was the second wife of the powerful and ambitious Fujiwara no Kane’ie, and her diary, like this poem, reflects her pain and frustration as her husband slowly slips away from her and into the arms of other women. As the diary goes, at times they reconciled somewhat, but overall they became more and more estranged, and the author thus felt more depressed and abandoned as the years wore on.

This poem actually from the Gossamer Years itself, book 1, when her husband Kane’ie is spending his nights in a back-alley with a low-class woman in a short-lived affair (Kane’ie soon abandoned that woman even after she bore him a son). As she writes:

Two or three days later I was awakened toward dawn by a pounding on the gate. It was he, I knew, but I could not bring myself to let him in, and presently he went off, no doubt to the alley [and the mistress] that interested him so.

I felt that I could not let things stand as they were. Early the next morning I sent, attached to a withered chrysanthemum, a poem written with more care than usual.

translation by Edward Seidensticker, pg. 38

This poem above was what she sent him. Fujiwara no Teika, no doubt impressed with the poem and the story behind it, included it in the Hyakunin Isshu centuries later.

Anyhow, it’s a reminder to all those husbands and men with a wandering eye of the pain they cause those around them, even if they think no one is looking.

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