Sleepless Nights: Poem Number 85

Murasaki Shikibu Nikki Emaki (Hinohara - scene 3) painting only
A scene from the illustrated Murasaki Shikibu Nikki Emaki, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Whereas the last love poem expressed love and anxiety after a first-meeting, this poem is quite a different story:

夜もすがらYo mo sugaraAll through the night
物思ふ頃はMono omou koro warecently, as I dwell on things,
明けやらぬAke yaranueven the gap between the doors
ねやのひまさへNeya no hima saeof my bedroom, which does not lighten,
つれなかりけりTsure nakari keriseems cruel and heartless to me.
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author is a Buddhist monk named Shun’e Hōshi (俊恵法師, “Dharma Master Shun’e”) who was the son of Minamoto no Toshiyori (poem 74) and grandson of Minamoto no Tsunenobu (poem 71). Though he had taken tonsure, Shun’e was quite a social figure and gathered many poets and writers around him and his residence called the Karin’en (歌林苑, “Garden in the Poetic Woods”). According to Professor Mostow, one of his students was a famous writer named Kamo no Chōmei who wrote the “Account of a Ten Foot Hut” or Hōjōki.

This poem is another example of when a poem expressing a woman’s anguish is written by a man, presumably on a set topic for a poetry contest. Other examples include poem 18 and poem 21. Obviously being able to express a woman’s feelings, namely that of a jilted lover, so well from a male author was not an easy task, and was a mark of excellent poetic skill, and not surprisingly Shun’e is counted among the Later Six Immortals of Poetry.

The respect that male actors in later Kabuki theater who specialize in female roles earn probably has a similar origin.

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