A Foggy Winter’s Morn: Poem Number 64

Kennebunk River, Fog, photo by David Lounsbury, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a great poem for the deep of winter:

朝ぼらけAsaborakeAs the winter dawn
宇治の川ぎりUji no kawagiribreaks, the Uji River mist
たえだえにTaedae nithings in patches and
あらはれわたるAraware watarurevealed, here and there, are
せぜの網代木Seze no ajirogiall the shallows’ fishing stakes.
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author of this poem is Fujiwara no Sadayori, son of the famous poet and critic, Fujiwara no Kintō (poem 55) and respectable poet in his own right.

The Uji River (宇治川), now known as the Yodo River, is probably one of the oldest and most famous in Japanese poetry, and runs through the Osaka metropolitan area. It is mentioned in the earliest Japanese poem anthology, such as the Manyoshu, and others.

I actually had to look up what “fishing stakes” are. The term, ajirogi (網代木), refers to stakes in the water, like a fence or weir. Fish swim into these places and they were easier to catch with nets because they had fewer places to escape.

Professor Mostow notes that the combination of the Uji River and the fishing stakes was a very famous image in ancient Japanese poetry, and this coupled with the image of a cold winter’s dawn make this a powerful poem. Unlike other poems in the Hyakunin Isshu which might be hypothetical, exaggerated or talk about something abstract such as love, Mostow points out that this poem likely was written exactly as Sadayori saw it. I can only wonder what it was like watching the fishermen go to work early that icy morning.

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