Summer Nights: Poem Number 36

Blue Cornflowers and Brown Wheat Plants, photo by Irina Iriser,

For those who are stuck in the dead of winter (or for readers in the Southern Hemisphere), I thought a Summer-type poem would be appropriate:

夏の夜はNatsu no yo waThe short summer nights
まだ宵ながらMada yoi nagarawhile it seems yet early evening,
明けぬるをAkenuru woit has already dawned, but
雲のいづくにKumo no izuku niwhere in the clouds, then,
月やどるらむTsuki yadorurandoes the moon lodge, I wonder?
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author of the poem, Kiyohara no Fukayabu, was a relatively well-known poet in his time, but it also turns out he is the grandfather of Motosuke (poem 42) and great-grandfather of the famous author, Sei Shonagon (poem 62), so it seems poetry and literature run in the family. 😉 Then again, to be fair, the Hyakunin Isshu is full of poems involving members of the same family across multiple generations.

Anyhow, as Mostow explains, this poem was highly regarded at the time, but for readers in the 21st century, it has so many hidden cultural allusions, that it’s hard to see the significance at first.

As he summarizes, summer nights are short, and Fukayabu is saying that he is surprised that the moon is already dawning in the western sky. Since it’s cloudy, he asks where the moon might be lodging since it’s hard to imagine that it is already setting. It’s a clever, light-hearted poem exploring brief summer, moonlit nights in other words.

Interestingly, Mostow points out that despite the praise on this poem from antiquity, Fukayabu was not included among the Thirty Six Immortals of Poetry and his reputation suffered a major blow that didn’t recover until it was included in later anthologies.

It’s pretty amazing to think how a poem can really make or break a person in that era.

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