A Bold Declaration of Love: Poem Number 20

Photograph of an old miotsukushi in Osaka, taken during the Meiji era (1868-1912), Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hi everyone,

This poem has quite a story behind it and relates a little to the poem posted previously:

わびぬればWabi nurebaMiserable,
今はた同じIma hata onajinow, it is all the same,
難波なるNaniwa naruChannel-markers at Naniwa—
身をつくしてもMi wo tsukushitemoeven if it costs my life,
逢はむとぞ思ふAwan to zo omouI will see you again!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The poem’s author, Motoyoshi Shinnō (Crown Prince Motoyoshi, 890-943) was the eldest son of the mad Emperor Yozei (poem 13), but unlike his father, Motoyoshi was more stable and famous for being a lover of women.

According to commentaries, this poem was real and not part of a themed poetry contest. Motoyoshi, apparently, was in love with one of the hand-maidens of the retired Emperor Uda. The maiden, daughter of the powerful Fujiwara no Tokihira, had already given birth to 3 sons for Emperor Uda and was highly favored by him, but Motoyoshi persisted in his love, even if it cost him his reputation. Bear in mind that this was the same Fujiwara no Tokihira who was instrumental in getting Uda’s favorite advisor, Sugawara no Michizane (poem 24), exiled.

The main “pivot word” here is the phrase mi wo tsukushitemo, where miotsukushi (澪標) are famous water-markers in Japanese culture as pictured above. But the poem can also be read as 身を尽くしても meaning “even if it exhausts my life”. So, rather than the subtle romantic allusions your normally see in poetry from this era, Motoyoshi is going all-out and taking a big risk.

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