Have We Met Before? Poem Number 27

The Izumi River, near Kyoto, in modern times. Photo by 吉田宅浪, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This poem may look straightforward, but it turns out that this is a technical masterpiece:

みかの原Mika no haraLike Izumi River
わきてながるるwakite nagaruruthat wells up and flows,
泉川Izumi-gawadividing the Moors of Urns
いつ見きとてかitsu mi kitote kawhen did I see her, I wonder,
恋しかるらむkoishi karuranthat I should yearn for her so?
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

This poem was composed by Middle Counselor Fujiwara no Kanesuke (877-933), who was the brother of Sadetaka (poem 25), and had a great residence beside the dam of the Kamo River. This residence was a popular gathering place for the who’s-who of his time including Tsurayuki (poem 35) and Mitsune (poem 29). He is also listed among the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry as well.

As Mostow points out, this poem is quite clever on a technical level. It uses a preface (the first three lines are a preface to the 4th), poetic place names (Izumi River is actually a real river called the Kizu-gawa 木津川 pictured above from Wikipedia), and pivot-words. The pivot word is izumi which can mean a spring (泉) which wells up, but also rhymes somewhat with the 4th line which says itsu mi as in “when did I see (her?)” (いつ見).

Interestingly though, Mostow points out that this poem may not actually be composed by Kanesuke given that it was originally listed as “anonymous” in the original anthology it came from. Also, as Mostow explains, it’s unclear from the poem whether this is a poem about lovers who met and cannot meet again, or lovers who actually haven’t met yet.

All in all, an interesting poem to examine by a famed poet of the day.

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