Thanks, But No Thanks: Poem Number 67

Futon beds at a “ryokan” hotel in Hakone, Japan. Photo by Micha L. Rieser, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons

This clever little poem shows the battle of the sexes as it existed 1,000 years ago:

春の夜のHaru no yoru noWith your arm as my pillow
夢ばかりなるYume bakari narufor no more than a brief
手枕にTamakura nispring night’s dream,
かひなく立たむKainaku tatanhow I would regret my name
名こそ惜しけれNa koso oshikerecoming, pointlessly, to ‘arm!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author, known as the “Suō Handmaid” (dates unknown), was so named because her father was governor Suō Province. As mentioned before, this was a common sobriquet used by female authors, so unfortunately, their real names are rarely known. This is another poem that speaks to the importance of a woman’s reputation in the ancient Court of Japan, just like the last poem, Poem 65. However, this one is much more playful and shows a lot of wit.

According to the back-story, there was a social gathering at the Nijō-In (二条院), the woman’s quarters at the palace. The woman there were relaxing, and the author of this poem said, “I wish I had a pillow”. At that moment, one Fujiwara no Tada’ie happen to walk by, and hearing this stuck his arm through the curtains and said, “Here, takes this as your pillow!”.

In reply, the author composed this poem. As Professor Mostow points out, the word for arm here (kaian) is a pun for pointless (kainaku).

People flirted pretty clever back in those days. 🙂

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