Getting Exiled Isn’t Fun: Poem Number 11

Sekiheki Pyroclastic Cone (From Lookout) on the Oki Islands, photo by Yuvalr, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another random poem I found lately. Interesting enough, it has some relation to the much later poem by Emperor Gotoba (poem 99):

わたの原Wata no haraO tell her, at least,
八十島かけてYasoshima kaketethat I’ve rowed out, heading towards
こぎ出ぬとKogi idenu tothe innumerable isles
人には告げよHito ni wa tsugeyoof the ocean’s wide plain,
あまのつり舟Ama no tsuri no buneyou fishing boats of the sea-folk!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The poet, Sangi Ono no Takamura (802-852), was one of the premiere poets of his time, particularly with Chinese poetry, which was very popular in that era. People considered him a rival to the famous Chinese poet Bo Juyi, which was quite a compliment. Bo Juyi’s poetry is frequently recited or mentioned in many works from the Nara and Heian periods (such as the works of Lady Murasaki, poem 57).

For his talent with Chinese, Takamura was selected to be part of the 837 embassy to Tang Dynasty China. Such trips were incredibly perilous, because Japanese ships were not designed to cross deep sea, and withstand frequent typhoons. Plus ambassadors had to stay for 10+ years at a time, and some never returned from China at all, as we see in poem 7. It was probably for these reasons and more that Takamura refused to go, but as punishment he was exiled to Oki Island and sent this poem back home as he headed for exile.

Oki Island shown above, is where Emperor Gotoba was also exiled centuries later and stayed there for 20 years before he died. It is a lonely island facing the cold, windy Japan Sea/East Sea and far removed from the Court. Noble-born members of the Court were often exiled here, among other locations (see poem 100) for some length of time until they either died, or the reigning Emperor granted clemency. Fortunately, Takamura was pardoned a year a later though and allowed to return home.

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