In Memory Only: Poem 55

The “Materiya” Waterfall in Kagoshima Prefecture, photo by Si-take. at Japanese Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another poem on the transience of life:

滝の音はTaki no oto waAlthough the sound of
絶えて久しくTaete hisashikuthe waterfull has ceased,
なりぬれどNarinuredoand that long ago,
名こそ流れてNa koso nagareteits name, indeed, has carried on
なほ聞えけれNao kikoe kereand is still heard!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author, Fujiwara no Kintō (966-1041), was one of the top poets of the Heian Period. In fact, the Thirty Six Immortals of Poetry list was compiled by him. Kinto compiled many anthologies that still represent Japanese Waka poetry of that era. In short, Kinto was the ultimate authority on Japanese poetry of his time. He is also the grandson of Tadahira (poem 26) and father of Sadayori (poem 64).

According to Mostow, the poem itself was composed after a number of people visited a famous Buddhist temple called Daikakuji, which is in the western part of the capitol of Kyoto. Interestingly, Mostow also points out that this poem is found nowhere else despite the fact that Kinto was a famous poet and had an extensive collection for Fujiwara no Teika to draw from. One suggestion is that Daikakuji is in the same area as Mount Ogura, which is where Teika’s villa resided. The full name of the Hyakunin Isshu anthology is actually the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu by the way.

In any case, this poem is pretty interesting because of the sense of change over time. The waterfall that existed long ago still exists, but in name only. In the same way, life as we know it know will become a dim memory or a misplaced name for future generations. Although Japanese culture has been influenced by Buddhism and its notion of transience since early history, I think this is a point that anyone, anywhere can appreciate.

Also, Kinto’s ability to express this sense of change and impermanence to life seems to me to demonstrate his poetic talent all too well. 🙂

One response to “In Memory Only: Poem 55”

  1. Põem 55 was translated by me,to sinhala language.this põem is too poetic and its poetic truth is highly pylosopic…

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