A Matter of Personal Honor: Poem Number 65

An example of the jū-ni-hitoé (十二単) robes worn by ladies of the court during formal occasions. Photo by ロリ, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A poignant poem that also provides insight into culture at the time:

恨みわびUramiwabiAlthough there are
ほさぬ袖だにHosanu sode da nimy sleeves that never dry,
あるものをAru mono wobitter and sad,
恋に朽ちなんKoi ni kuchinanwhat I really regret is
名こそ惜しけれNa koso oshikeremy name, made rotten by love!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author is “Lady Sagami” (dates unknown), whose father was the governor of Sagami Province at one point, hence this was the name she used as her sobriquet.

The poem is somewhat typical of the era, a woman is jilted and because of the public scrutiny her reputation is ruined. Because the Court society was so closed and small, rumors and reputation were a big part of the social life there. This is expressed in other poems in the Hyakunin Isshu, such as poem 18 or in the Gossamer Years. A woman who’s reputation was marred by an embarrassing incident, bad fashion choice or an unfaithful spouse would lose her standing in the court, and may not recover. She couldn’t really go pick up and start a new life either.

The motif tear-soaked sleeves was a popular poetic device, and you can find it in other poems in the Hyakunin Isshu, poem 42 for example. Sleeves in general are featured in a surprising number of poems from the Hyakunin Isshu:

  • Sleeves covered in dew from the overnight watch (poem 1)
  • Sleeves of a Buddhist monk, shielding the world (poem 95)
  • Pollen covered sleeves (poem 15)

Fashion in this time was somewhat different than the photo above (showing fashion centuries later during the medieval era), but it’s not hard to imagine a broken-hearted woman with tear-soaked sleeves nevertheless, and how it became an important expression of Japanese sentiment at the time.

2 responses to “A Matter of Personal Honor: Poem Number 65”

  1. I was looking around the web, searching for sites that can tell me more about the Hyakunin Issue and the stories behind every poem. This was by far the best. Thank you so much for making this wonderful site.

    1. Hi Celina, and thank you. This is a small blog, but it’s good to know that people find it useful. 🙂

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