Not Quite Done Yet: Poem Number 68

Emperor Sanjo as depicted in Hyakunin Isshu “cards”.

This poem is something that touches on an important theme here on the blog, but first, let’s take a look:

心にもKokoro ni moThough it is not what’s in my heart,
あらで浮世にArade ukiyo niif in this world of pain
ながらへばNagaraebaI should linger, then
恋しかるべきKoishikaru bekino doubt I shall remember fondly
夜半の月かなYowa no tsuki kanathe bright moon of this dark night!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

This poem was composed by Emperor Sanjo (976-1017) who only reigned briefly for 5 years until his regent, Fujiwara no Michinaga, forced him to abdicate so that his own grandson could become Emperor (Emperor Goichijo). Fujiwara no Michinaga will be remembered as the main character of Lady Murasaki’s Diary, plus he employed a number of the female authors in the Hyakunin Isshu to be ladies in waiting for his daughter.

To make matters worse, Emperor Sanjo was frequently ill, and this added further pressure for him to abdicate.

The poem above, according to Mostow, is thought to have been composed toward the end of his reign when he was ill and considering abdication. Was he concerned that night about his illness, or about the prospect of losing the throne? What made him savor that moon so?

As mentioned in this post, the later poems of the Hyakunin Isshu reflect a more somber era when political scheming and such replaced the earlier enthusiasm of previous generations. By this time, the Emperors had lost much of their power to ministers (mainly from the Fujiwara family) and were increasingly isolated.

The Heian Period which spans the Hyakunin Isshu would end about 100 years later.

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