Summer is Back: Poem Number 81

Cuculus poliocephalus, photographed in Kunming Institute of Botany. Sun Jiao (Interaccoonale), CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As spring turns into summer, I thought this poem seemed really appropriate and a great topic for discussion:

ほととぎすHototogisuThe hototogisu:
鳴きつる方をNakitsuru kata wowhen I gaze out towards where
ながむればNagamurebahe was singing,
ただ有明のTada ariake noall that remains is the moon,
月ぞ残れるTsuki no nokorerupale in the morning sky.
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

This poem was composed by Fujiwara no Sanesada (1139-1191) who was the first cousin of Fujiwara no Teika, who compiled the Hyakunin Isshu anthology and author of poem 97, as well as the nephew of Shunzei (poem 83). He was ranked as the Tokudaiji Minister of the left in the Heian Court, and left behind an extensive poetry collection and his personal diary.

According to Professor Mostow, the poem was composed on the topic of staying up all night, to hear one cry.

The hototogisu (ホトトギス), or “lesser cuckoo”, in Japan is a famous bird known for its early summer call, and is thus an emblematic bird of the season. Compare with the plover in poem 78. You can see this video below:

The bird call of a lesser cuckoo (hototogisu)

According to the Hyakunin Isshu Daijiten, the hototogisu is an elusive bird. It flies from branch to branch often, so by the time you hear its distinctive call, it probably has flown elsewhere. Hence, they are easy to hear, but hard for birdwatchers to observe.

In any case, as Professor Mostow explains, the author is waiting all night to hear the first call of the hototogisu as the first sign of summer.

One other note is the term 有明 (ariake), which is one of many poetic terms for the moon. Specifically it means the moon that remains in the morning, after daybreak. This normally occurs on the 16th day of the lunar cycle according to the old Japanese calendar.

P.S. Like the title, I’m back too. 😉

4 responses to “Summer is Back: Poem Number 81”

  1. Glad to have you back! And how nice to link the poem with the actual birdsong. Much appreciated.

    1. Thanks very much. It’s rare that I can post actual media into this blog since most of it is historical. I was happy to see so many YouTube videos of Hototogisu calls. 🙂

  2. Murasaki Lynna Avatar
    Murasaki Lynna

    Nice post! It was cool to be able to hear the hototogisu sing 🙂

    1. Hello and welcome! Glad you liked it. 🙂

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