A Cold Mat: Poem 91

Photo by Ona Buflod Bovollen on Pexels.com

A fitting poem for winter and those who somehow missed out on Valentine’s Day recently:

きりぎりすKirigirisuWhen the crickets
鳴くや霜夜のNaku ya shimoyo nocry in the frosty night,
さむしろにSa mushiro nion the cold reed-mat,
衣かたしきKoromo katashikispreading out my robe just for one,
ひとりかも寝むHitori kamo nenmust I sleep all alone?
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

This sad, miserable poem was ironically composed by a famous poet of his era named Fujiwara no Yoshitsune (1169-1206) whose grandfather was Jien (poem 95). He was another member of the elite poetry family, the Mikohidari (see Jakuren poem 87) and was very well-represented in the Shin Kokin Wakashū poetry anthology which he was an editor. Elsewhere, as a scion of the Fujiwara family, he served as regent to the young Emperor Tsuchimikado.

Astute readers may have noticed that this poem sounds similar, especially in Japanese, to a very early poem in the anthology by Hitomaro (poem 3). Even the last line is the same.

But part of the poem also seems similar to another poem in the Shin Kokin Wakashū according to Professor Mostow, which relates to cold reed-mats and waiting alone. So, in a sense, this poem blends two famous poems and adds the novelty of crickets.

But as we’ve seen with poem 90, it was an accepted practice at the time to write poetry which allude to older poems in the poems. Indeed, as the author of the blog, I admit I kind of enjoyed this poem more when I noticed the final line and realized I had heard it before. So, I guess the amusement is not limited to 11th century Japanese aristocrats. 😉

Yoshitsune certainly never had to spend a night in the cold as a member of the elite Fujiwara family, but his ability to weave old poetry verses together and paint such a sad picture help explain why he was such a famous poet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: