Selected Japanese Poems
(all poems are translated by Sato Hiroaki and Burton Watson, and taken from their collection, From the Country of Eight Islands [Seattle: University of Seattle Press, 1981])

The Pacific Novel (HON 3600), fall 2001
Scott Black

2 poems from the Manyoshu ("Collection of Myriad Leaves," collected early 8th c):

Prince Ikusa:

The long spring day,
its mists rising,
before I know it
has turned to twilight,
and the heart that crowds my chest
hurts me so
I moan
like the mountain thrushes.
Then from the mountains
where our great Lord,
a god aloof,
is pleased to wander,
a wind comes blowing,
and as I stand alone,
morning and night,
it turns back my sleeve
and I think how auspicious
is that one word "back"!
I call myself a man of spirit,
but on this journey,
grass for a pillow,
my thoughts keep going back—
no way to stop them—
and like the fires that burn
when fishergirls of Ami Bay
boil down their salt,
these memories burn
deep within my heart.
            —envoy—
Because the winds across the mountain
blow without cease,
each night in sleep unfailingly
I think with longing
of my love back home.


anonymous:

When evening mist
rises from the reed leaves,
in the chill dusk,
I’ll think of you.


Poem by Lady Kasa (mid 8th century):

My keepsake—
Look at it and think of me,
and I will love you
through the long years
strung out like beads on a string.


4 poems by Lady Izumi (b. 976):

Tonight, as hail falls on bamboo leaves,
rustling, rustling,
I don’t feel like sleeping alone.

Loving you, my heart may shatter into a thousand pieces,
but not one piece will be lost.

There is no color called love in this world,
yet how thoroughly it has died my heart!

From darkness into the path of darkness I’m bound to enter.
Shine on me in the distance, moon at the rim of the hill.


4 poems by Otomo-no-Tabito (665-731):

Better than to say things like a wise man, it seems,
is to drink sake, get drunk, and weep.

Don’t think about useless things—
You should be drinking, it seems to me,
A bowl of raw sake.

How ugly—take a good look at a man who acts wise and doesn’t drink
—just like a monkey!

Since all living things die in the end
while I’m in this world I’ll enjoy myself.


3 poems by Ki-no-Tsurayuki (ca. 868 - ca. 964):

It’s spring!
when threads of green willow
twine together,
or tangle among blossoms
that are bursting their seams.

This thing called parting
Has no color
Yet it seeps into our hearts
And stains them with loneliness.

Like a wild cherry
glimpsed dimly
through a break in the mist—
that’s the kind can
stir you to desire.


2 poems by Saigyo (1118-1190):

As banked clouds
are swept apart by the wind,
at dawn the sudden cry
of the first wild geese
Winging across the mountains.

In a mountain village
at autumn’s end—
that’s where you learn
what sadness means
in the blast of the wintry wind.


2 poems by Fujiwara-no-Teika (1162-1241):

Here again, another useless sign of the floating world:
In an autumn field, on a flower, a dew drop.

Neglectful, I have not died for love—
Another year gone, counting on meeting you by living on.


2 poems by Myoe (1173-1232):

Because fog engulfs
the grass hut where I am,
I feel as though
I’ve melted into the sky

Bright bright!
bright bright bright!
bright bright!
bright bright bright!
bright bright, the moon!


3 poems by Basho (1644-1694):

Ah, spring, spring!
Great is the spring, and so forth

I usually hate crows,
but this snowy morning!

An old pond,
a frog jumps in—
the sound of water


5 poems by Yosa Bosun (1716-1783):

Spring rain:
telling stories,
a straw coat and umbrella walk past

A camellia drops
and spills yesterday’s rain

Coolness:
separating from the bell,
the bell’s voice

Delight of crossing a summer river,
sandals in hand

Running out of the nets,
running out of the nets,
the water, the moon


Poem by Uejima Onitsura (1661-1738):

Trees flutter,
and autumn begins


2 poems by Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707):

The autumn sky
has detached itself from the mountain-top cedars

An evening shower—
a woman,
looking out


Poem by Shiba Sonome (1664-1726):

Not content,
the violets have dyed the hills
as well


Poem by Chiyojo (1703-1775):

Looking at the willows,
one ends up forgetting them


Poem by Takai Kito (1741-89):

A tumble, fall, crash,
then silence—
cats in love


anonymous senryu (18th c):

laying a fart—
no humor in it
when you live alone


2 poems by Issa (1763-1827)

Oh snail,
climb Mt. Fuji,
but slowly, slowly

The world of dew is, yes,
a world of dew,
but even so


2 poems by Yosano Akiko (1879-1942):

Another look like his mixed me up again—
you really do play tricks on me,
don’t you, gods of love.

Yesterday felt like a thousand years ago,
at the same time
I feel you hands still on my shoulders.


Poem by Yamamura Bocho (20th c):

Each of the rain drops has a tale to tell
about the sorrows of people
about the hardships living things go through
about the arrival of sparrows.