Friday, August 14, 2009

Poetry Friday - The Tanka of Ono no Komachi

Ono no Komachi is a legendary Japanese poet who became famous around 850 CE. She was supposed to have been a stunningly beautiful woman with many admirers, but she was also supposed to have been a bit of a snob and very cruel. She broke the hearts of many men and, as punishment, the gods gave her a long life. She grew old and ugly, and died all alone, a shriveled up hag of a woman.

Her poetry, however, has not withered with time. It is just as beautiful today as it was when she wrote it over 1,000 years ago. Here are a few of my favorites.


On such a night as this
When no moon lights your way to me,
I wake, my passion blazing,
My breast a fire raging, exploding flame
While within me my heart chars.


Now that I am entering
The winter of life,
Your ardor has faded
Like foliage ravaged
By late autumn rains.


I thought to pick
The flower of forgetting
For myself,
But I found it
Already growing in his heart.


This body
Grown fragile, floating,
A reed cut from its roots...
If a stream would ask me
To follow, I'd go, I think.

Tanka 1 - translated by Earl Miner
Tanka 2 - translated by Helen Craig McCullough
Tanka 3 & 4 translated by Hirshfield & Aratami

More about tanka
More about American tanka
More tanka by Ono no Komachi

Andromeda Jazmon at a wrung sponge is hosting this week's Poetry Friday.


Diane Mayr said...

Do, you write tanka, too? You should!

Color Online said...

I love the tanka. When I saw you were featuring it I came straightaway.

Enjoyed these very much. Thank you.

Barbara said...

No, Diane. I don;t write too much poetry. But I do love to read it!

And I'm glad you like these, Color on Line!
(Sorry. I don't know your name.)

Anonymous said...

Wow--these are absolutely stunning. #2 is my favorite, though each one affected me. Thank you for sharing these. I need to get more of hers to read.

Ute Margaret said...

Ono no Komachi died "old and ugly... a hag of a woman?" Strange, I have never heard it said of a male poet that he died like a shriveled sack of potatoes. And yet there have been plenty of old and perfectly repulsive male poets. Maybe you ought to revise your words in this post to avoid gender bias. And besides it is the poetry that counts, and poetry is in the words.
Ute Margaret Saine, fb

Barbara said...

Yes, it is the poetry that counts. That's the whole point of Poetry Friday, to share the poetry we love, or find interesting, with others.

In doing that, it's also nice to share a bit about the author, which means delving into their history. If Ono is described as dying an ugly, old hag by her contemporaries, why would I change their words? That would be a lie. Why would I choose not to tell what they thought about her? That, too, would be a lie.

To not tell her (or anyone else's) story because there are dark or ugly or politically incorrect bits to it, (should we not mention Thomas Jefferson's slaves or Sally Hemmings?) or because no one ever told a similar story, or made a similar statement about a man, (and why would they? Beauty played almost no part in the history of men. It is, however, an integral part of women's history, whether we like it or not) makes no sense.

This is Ono's story, and her story is that she was a great poet who was mean and cruel and died old and ugly and alone. To revise my words to fit a political agenda or a cause would not only be bad history, it would reduce what I wrote to propaganda, and that's not what this page is about. It's about the poetry and the poets. I hope you'll be back to enjoy more of it, even if we do disagree.