This is another autumn-themed poem, but with an interesting story behind it:
|契りをきし||Chigiri okishi||Depending with my life|
|させもが露を||Sasemo ga tsuyu wo||on promises that fell thick|
|命にて||Inochi ni te||as dew on sasemo plants—|
|あはれことしの||Aware kotoshi no||alas! the autumn of this year too|
|秋もいぬめり||Aki mo inumeri||seems to be passing.|
The author of the poem, Fujiwara no Mototoshi (1060-1142), was a leading poet of the famous Insei Period of Japanese history, along with his contemporary Toshiyori (poem 74).
According to Professor Mostow, this poem was written as a complaint to the former Chancellor and Buddhist lay-novice (upasaka) named Tadamichi, the same man who composed poem 76. The reason for Mototoshi’s complaint is that his son, better known as Bishop Kōkaku of Kofukuji Temple wanted to be the official lecturer of the Vimalakirti Sutra, but was overlooked year after year. But what does this mean? Buddhism in Japan at this time was a highly bureaucratic system that tended to favor the noble families, and official lectures on certain Buddhist texts were held at key times of the year. The Lectures on the Virmalakirti Sutra, or yuima-e (維摩会) was one such important occasion. Being the lecturer was a competitive and prestigious honor. It wasn’t enough to have the right skills, having connections were important too. Unfortunately, Mototoshi’s son wasn’t so lucky, and his father wrote this poem on his behalf after the Chancellor failed to appoint him again.
The term sasemo is another way of saying sashimo, which in modern Japanese is the yomogi (ヨモギ) plant. In English, this is better known as the Japanese mugwort, pictured above. We saw the use of mugwort as well back in poem 51, though for a very different reason.
Sasemo plants inspired an earlier, more Buddhist poem, which Mototoshi alludes to:
|なお頼め||Nao tanome||Still rely on me!|
|しめぢが原の||Shimeji ga hara no||for I will help those of|
|させも草||Sasemo-gusa||this world for as long|
|わが世の中に||Wa ga yo no naka ni||as there are sasemo-plants|
|あらむ限りは||aramu kagiri wa||in the fields of Shimeji|
This was attributed to Kannon, the Buddhist figure of compassion who promised to rescue all beings in the world. This poem was in the Shinkokin wakashū, number 1917.
Thanks to Professor Mostow for the double-translation this week. If you haven’t already, definitely show him some love and check out his excellent translations. 🙂
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