Selections from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu

The following are the first five of one hundred poems in 100 Poets: Passions of the Imperial Court, cotranslated by Emiko Miyashita and Michael Dylan Welch, published in 2008 by PIE Books in Tokyo (also available on Amazon). The book is a 400-page art book with photographs and translations of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, a collection of waka poems (now commonly known as tanka) compiled in the thirteenth century by Fujiwara no Teika. You can read David Burleighs review of this book at the Japan Times site (see also here). The entire book, with photographs, poems, a karuta card game, and recordings of each poem read in Japanese by male and female voices, is also now available as an iPad and iPhone application on iTunes.     +     +     +     +     +     +     +
A sixth poem at the end of this selection appeared on the back of 150,000,000 copies of a U.S. postage stamp in spring of 2012. 


秋の田のかりほの庵の苫をあらみわが衣手は露にぬれつつ                                    天智天皇

aki no ta no kariho no io no toma wo arami waga koromode wa tsuyu ni nuretsutsu

                                                                                                                                                                Tenji Tennō

a temporary lookout hut

by the ripening rice fields

has a rough rush-thatched roof—

my sleeves are kept

wet with the dews                                                                                                                               Emperor Tenji



春すぎて夏来にけらし白妙のころもほすてふ天のかぐ山                                        持統天皇

haru sugite natsu kinikerashi shirotae no koromo hosuchō ama no kaguyama

                                                                                                                                                                Jitō Tennō

spring is over

and summer must have come—

on heavenly Mount Kagu,

pure white clothes

are said to be drying                                                                                                                           Empress Jitō



あしひきの山鳥の尾のしだり尾のながながし夜をひとりかも寝む              柿本人麻呂

ashihiki no yamadori no o no shidario no naganagashi yo wo hitori kamo nen

                                                                                                                                                 Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

on a rugged mountain peak

a copper pheasant falls asleep

drooping its lengthy tail—

must I too sleep alone

through this long long night?                                                                                             Kakinomoto no Hitomaro



田子の浦にうち出でて見れば白妙の富士のたかねに雪はふりつつ                     山部赤人

tagonoura ni uchiidete mireba shirotae no fuji no takane ni yuki wa furitsutsu

                                                                                                                                                          Yamabe no Akahito

as I come out and look up

from the coast of Tagonoura,

the pure white snow keeps falling

on the lofty peak

of Mount Fuji                                                                                                                                  Yamabe no Akahito



おくやまにもみぢ踏み分け鳴く鹿の声聞くときぞ秋はかなしき                         猿丸大夫

okuyama ni momiji fumiwake naku shika no koe kiku toki zo aki wa kanashiki

                                                                                                                                                           Sarumaru Daifu

deep in the mountains

stepping though the fallen crimson leaves

a deer cries for his mate—

when I hear the voice

autumn melancholy deepens                                                                                        Sarumaru, A Troupe Leader

The following poem appeared on the the back side of the U.S. postage stamp shown above in the spring of 2012 (first day of issue was March 24), to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the cherry trees in Washington, D.C., printed in an initial edition of 100,000,000 (another 50,000,000 copies were printed for a second print run in early April 2012, making this one of the best selling U.S. postage stamps in decades). You can read more about the stamp at Beyond the Perf and at the website. The following translation was also published in Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society #18, October 2011, page 177.


ひさかたのひかりのどけき春の日にしづ心なく花の散るらん                                紀友則

hisakata no hikari nodokeki harunohi ni shizugokoro naku hana no chiruran                        Ki no Tomonori


the light filling the air

is so mild this spring day

only the cherry blossoms

keep falling in haste—

why is that so?                                                                                                                                    Ki no Tomonori