31shortyones04) what it is to be unique ― Sayaka gets worried about her place in this conversation


4)(亭子院の歌合に)

さくらちるこのしたかぜはさむからでそらにしられぬゆきぞふりける

「桜散る木の下風は寒からで空に知られぬ雪ぞ降りける」

紀貫之(きのつらゆき)

♪(SING)♪

★what it is to be unique ― Sayaka gets worried about her place in this conversation★

Jaugo: What do you think of this poem, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: Well… I can’t help being cautious, since I’ve just read and known how much you hate the “beaten-path” that the Japanese easily take and applaud.

Jaugo: So, you did read the last essay of mine?

Sayaka: I did… and I was not a little shocked, I confess.

Jaugo: Shocked?… Because I confessed myself a stranger to Japanese society, away from the madding crowd of snobs who love nothing more than resigning themselves to established routine as mindlessly as a drone in the happily unfeeling beehive?

Sayaka: Actually, no; even before I read that article, I had vaguely felt that Jaugo-san was as far from the Japanese as anyone I knew so far… what shocked me about that essay was, I found myself in total agreement with what you said, which might mean…

Jaugo: Good-bye to the Japanese collective ― welcome to the league of independently unique strangers… does it make you afraid?

Sayaka: It’s sort of… chilling… yet thrilling, too.

Jaugo: Conforming to the collective gives you the comfort of selfless identification with something wider, much larger than life of your own small identity… which is a hard thing indeed to give up just to “be yourself” ― for the Japanese, especially.

Sayaka: Yes. It would not be a problem for someone with strong enough personality and overwhelming knowledge and cultural acquisition such as you, Jaugo-san, but I haven’t got such powerful individual uniqueness… I’m just an ordinary girl of seventeen who belongs to an ordinary high school in Japan among ordinary friends who look just like Japanese…

Jaugo: I’d guess so… and you would gain nothing from trying to get away from it by loudly declaring “I am different from you, adios Japanese!”

Sayaka: …But I AM beginning to feel myself different… thanks not a little to YOU, Jaugo-san.

Jaugo: It seems I am partly to blame for your predicament.

Sayaka: Oh, no, I’m not blaming you, I’m just… getting a little afraid.

Jaugo: I know how you feel… well, as a person partly responsible for making you afraid, let me ask you one simple question, OK?

Sayaka: Yes.

Jaugo: Just how long are you going to “belong” to that school of yours?

Sayaka: For a year and a half… unless I fail to advance to the third grade next year… is that what you mean?

Jaugo: You know it’s not.

Sayaka: Um… I don’t know; what do you mean, then?

Jaugo: You know you can’t stay being a high school student for ever.

Sayaka: Of course not.

Jaugo: After you graduate from that high school, what are you going to be?

Sayaka: I intend to enter some university… to be more specific, I’d like to go to 早稲田大学(Waseda university)… should I say why?

Jaugo: Uh, no; not that I’m not interested in your personal affairs, but it’s irrelevant here and now. It doesn’t matter what university you enter, what kind of job you choose after graduation, or even what man you choose as your husband ― the only thing that matters is what kind of person you yourself will grow up to be. Which do you think will influence you more, your environment, such as university, company, friends, neighbors, boyfriends, husband… or yourself ― in other words, what you do, what you think and what you accomplish as your life goes on?

Sayaka: Myself… with not a little influence from people and things around me, of course.

Jaugo: Yes, your surroundings are sure to influence you, just as this strange personality, Jaugo-san, is acting upon you now.

Sayaka: You sure do… not that I hate it, though.

Jaugo: Yes, like it or not, I’ll exert influence upon you… and you upon me, too.

Sayaka: Do I? Have I exerted any influence upon you?

Jaugo: Don’t you realize?

Sayaka: No. Surely have I learnt a lot from you, but I don’t believe you have gained as much, or anything at all, from talking with a girl like me.

Jaugo: Nothing happens in this world without influencing anything else.

Sayaka: I seem to understand it’s true as an abstract proposition, but honestly, I don’t think I ever contributed anything to you, Jaugo-san.

Jaugo: You did ― this series of conversation would never have existed without you.

Sayaka: Uh… yes, I agree… but it could have been anyone; I mean, you are indispensable and irreplaceable as my mentor and the master of ceremonies here, yet I… it just doesn’t have to be me, it might just as well be anyone else. What is really needed here is you, your knowledge and intelligence alone, Jaugo-san, not me.

Jaugo: Indispensable, you said?

Sayaka: Yes, I said YOU are indispensable, not me.

Jaugo: And irreplaceable?

Sayaka: Yes…

Jaugo: I’m glad, really glad that you are acquainted with great friends…

Sayaka: Great friends?

Jaugo: The words you just mentioned ― INDISPENSABLE, IRREPLACEABLE… encouraging words, don’t you think?

Sayaka: They would be, if I were actually indispensable and irreplaceable.

Jaugo: Do you know their closest friend?

Sayaka: What?

Jaugo: I asked you if you know the closest friend of the terms “indispensable” and “irreplaceable”.

Sayaka: … “Valuable”?

Jaugo: No. “Valuable” is a vulgar word: it seems to be saying “Your existence is unworthy unless YOU have any value to ME”… such terms have their place in Hell. So long as you allow such vulgar words to influence you, you are forever doomed to keep torturing yourself in the Hell of relativity.

Sayaka: The Hell of relativity…

Jaugo: Yes, you imprison yourself in endless Hell, unless you give up that vulgar habit of evaluating everything according to some relative standards. So long as you keep putting price tags upon yourself, you’ll never be satisfied with yourself unless you record the highest, whether against others or against yourself at some different stages of your life, always worrying about whether you look better than others, lest you are falling behind at lessons or getting outmoded, if your position at school is going up or coming down… but such price tags, however high, will never last long. No woman, however beautiful, could keep up their beauty for ever ― all flowers are destined to wither… and that very soon. No man, however strong or intelligent, could stay being the champion in his kingdom ― muscles grow weaker with advancing years, even brains, too… Do you know “Batman”?

Sayaka: Uh… who?

Jaugo: OK, forget it: do you know Bruce Lee?

Sayaka: Yes! I’m a great fan of Bruce Lee’s! I’ve seen all his films many times over!

Jaugo: Do you think Bruce Lee is strong?

Sayaka: I couldn’t think of anyone stronger than Bruce Lee!

Jaugo: Mm… do you know “Superman”?

Sayaka: Superman?… yes.

Jaugo: Which do you think is stronger, Bruce Lee or Superman?

Sayaka: Oh, no, that’s not fair, Superman is a comic book hero, Bruce Lee is an actual martial artist.

Jaugo: OK, then, do you know 宮本武蔵(Miyamoto Musashi)?

Sayaka: Are you going to ask me which is stronger, Bruce Lee or Miyamoto Musashi?

Jaugo: Yes… do you think it’s a silly question?

Sayaka: Of course… Miyamoto Musashi fights with swords, Bruce Lee with his fists and legs… and nunchaku sometimes, but never with swords or guns.

Jaugo: They fight by different rules, so, it would make no sense to compare Miyamoto Musashi with Bruce Lee, as if their relative strength and value could be evaluated on the same plane, don’t you think?

Sayaka: Ah… I think I’m beginning to understand what you are trying to tell me… relative comparison is absurd.

Jaugo: Not always absurd, but always trying to evaluate anything according to some relative standards is certainly absurd.

Sayaka: I agree.

Jaugo: If Bruce Lee got killed by the swords of Miyamoto Musashi, would it destroy your personal image of Bruce Lee as the strongest man on earth?

Sayaka: No! He’d forever remain my hero.

Jaugo: Alternatively, if Miyamoto Musashi got defeated in a bare-hand fighting with Bruce Lee, would it destroy Musashi’s image as one of the greatest swordsmen in history?

Sayaka: I don’t think so.

Jaugo: Do you think 佐々木小次郎(Sasaki Kojiro) was less valuable than Miyamoto Musashi because he got killed in a fight with Musashi?

Sayaka: I don’t know much about 佐々木小次郎(Sasaki Kojiro), but I think he was also a great swordsman, because his fight with 武蔵(Musashi) on 巌流島(Ganryuu-jima) has been talked about even today as the climax of 武蔵(Musashi)’s fighting career.

Jaugo: Do you admire Bruce Lee because he was actually the strongest man on earth, stronger than Miyamoto Musashi, Superman, Batman, Wolverine, the Incredible Hulk, Muhammad Ali, 大山倍達(Ooyama Masutatsu)… etc,etc?

Sayaka: No… although I don’t know most of those strong men you mentioned, I’m sure I’d still admire Bruce Lee even if he was actually not so strong as… Woolviolin?

Jaugo: I’m sure you would, although I’m not sure what WOOLVIOLIN would look like… OK, now, just imagine yourself being married to some man in the future.

Sayaka: (…) All right, I’ll try, however unimaginable…

Jaugo: Let me ask you this simple question: do you marry this man because he has proved himself to be the best man in the world… or simply because you found this man to be indispensable to your life and irreplaceable by any other man?

Sayaka: Because he is indispensable and irreplaceable.

Jaugo: In other worlds, because he is the only one for you in this world?

Sayaka: Yes.

Jaugo: It doesn’t matter how much value others may place upon him?

Sayaka: No, so long as he means so much to me.

Jaugo: So, you say… he is beyond any possible comparison, right?

Sayaka: Definitely.

Jaugo: Then, how do you describe him?… “Valuable”?

Sayaka: By no means!

Jaugo: “Unique”?

Sayaka: Oh, yes! That’s the word ― UNIQUE! The one and only one in this world that can never be compared with anyone else!

Jaugo: I’m glad you found it at last ― UNIQUE ― the closest friend of those precious words, INDISPENSABLE and IRREPLACEABLE… and I hope you will, some day, find a uniquely indispensable and irreplaceable man as your partner in life, Sayaka-san.

Sayaka: (…) Thank you, Jaugo-san… in fact, I have no words to express how thankful I am… I’m just…

Jaugo: …Thrilled by yet another discovery which will make your life that much better?

Sayaka: Yes… thank you so much.

Jaugo: Thank YOU for being so responsive, Sayaka-san. Thanks to you, this conversation turned out to be a uniquely charming lesson ― you do not love a man because he is evaluated as relatively valuable by the world; you love him because he is uniquely indispensable and irreplaceable for you, and you alone… likewise, you are loved and needed by someone not because you are relatively valuable, but because you are personally felt UNIQUE to that person, and to that person alone, if not to anyone else… trust me, you have your unique charm to me, Sayaka-san.

Sayaka: (…) You mean… I can stay with you… although I may not be relatively valuable?

Jaugo: So long as you never attempt to make yourself look valuable by any relative standards, so long as you keep trying to be greater and wiser today than you were yesterday, so long as you keep asking questions to help break out into another dimension instead of meekly following in the footsteps of others on the beaten-path, so long as you keep trying to make yourself different, not from the rest of your company but from the last one that you were just a moment ago ― then, you are always welcome to stay with me and make this conversation uniquely valuable… and make me, along with you, freshly different all the time.

Sayaka: OK, I’ll try!

Jaugo: So… isn’t it about time we started talking about this particular poem by 紀貫之(Ki-no-Tsurayuki)?

Sayaka: Oh, I’ve forgotten all about the poem…

Jaugo: Good to hear that ― we can make a fresh start now… so, what do you think about this poem?

Sayaka: Mm… I feel it’s beautiful.

Jaugo: I agree, it’s a beautiful poem about a beautiful scene in Spring.

Sayaka: Very beautiful. Both as scenery and as a poem… but too beautiful to be comfortable… I mean, … it feels like deja vu. Hasn’t it been said so many times ― cherry flowers falling in Spring like white snow in Winter?

Jaugo: Countless times, yes.

Sayaka: So… it’s just another “beaten-path”?

Jaugo: That’s why you faltered at the beginning of this conversation?

Sayaka: Yes.

Jaugo: OK, let me ask you this way ― do you feel uniquely attracted to this poem?… I mean, even though it does deal with a hackneyed subject that’s been talked about so many times by so many people, does it sound freshly beautiful and uniquely valuable to you, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: It does… in fact, it sent me into “a poetic trance” at first sight.

Jaugo: You fell in love at first sight with this one?

Sayaka: Yes, I loved it… I still do.

Jaugo: No matter what others say, no matter what price tag others may put upon it, you love it all the same?

Sayaka: Definitely.

Jaugo: Then, it’s a great poem for you… just as it is to me. I’m glad we have something in common again.

Sayaka: Me, too. Thank you for introducing me to this one: I think I’ll make it my personal treasure.

Jaugo: It’s been my pleasure, Sayaka-san… mm… it sounds like a good ending, don’t you think?

Sayaka: Good ending to today’s lesson, not to our joint adventure that will go on… for ever?

Jaugo: Let’s hope so. Ciao.

Sayaka: Thank you.


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4)(亭子院の歌合に)

さくらちるこのしたかぜはさむからでそらにしられぬゆきぞふりける

「桜散る木の下風は寒からで空に知られぬ雪ぞ降りける」

『拾遺集』春・六四・紀貫之(きのつらゆき)(ca.866-945:男性)

(宇多院主催の「延喜十三年亭子院歌合」での詠歌)

『満開だった桜も散る頃になると、木の下に立って惜しみ見送る私に吹き付ける風もまるで冷たさを感じさせぬ春の気配・・・なのに頭上には季節外れの雪が舞う・・・深まる春を目にも肌にも鮮やかに印象付ける、桜吹雪の華麗な舞い。』

(in a TANKA competition at Teiji-in)

Flowers falling down from cherry trees above

Look just like snow in strangely warm storm.

さくら【桜】〔名〕<NOUN:cherry blossom>

ちる【散る】〔自ラ四〕(ちる=連体形)<VERB:fall down, leave trees>

こ【木】〔名〕<NOUN:trees>

の【の】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(POSSESSIVE):’s, of, belonging to>

したかぜ【下風】〔名〕<NOUN:the wind underneath>

は【は】〔係助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(SUBJECT)>

さむし【寒し】〔形ク〕(さむから=未然形)<VERB:feel cold, chilly>

で【で】〔接助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(SITUATION):without being -ing, despite -ing>

…the wind blowing below the cherry trees where flowers fall down does not feel cold, and yet

そら【空】〔名〕<NOUN:the sky, air>

に【に】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(PLACE): in>

しる【知る】〔他ラ四〕(しら=未然形)<VERB:know, realize, be familiar with>

る【る】〔助動ラ下二型〕受身(れ=未然形)<AUXILIARY VERB(PASSIVE VOICE):be -ed>

ず【ず】〔助動特殊型〕打消(ぬ=連体形)<AUXILIARY VERB(NEGATIVE):not>

ゆき【雪】〔名〕<NOUN:the snow>

ぞ【ぞ】〔係助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(EMPHATIC)>

ふる【降る】〔自ラ四〕(ふり=連用形)<VERB:fall down>

けり【けり】〔助動ラ変型〕過去(ける=連体形係り結び)<AUXILIARY VERB(DISCOVERY):I found out>

…I find strange kind of snow falling down in the sky [only around the cherry trees]

《sakura chiru ko no shitakaze wa samukara de sora ni shirarenu yuki zo furi keru》


■same old scene in freshly beautiful words… a tough challenge in Heianese TANKA ― both for the poet and the reader■

 Without a doubt, 桜(sakura = cherry blossom) is the greatest Spring superstar in Japanese TANKA, appearing 311 times among some 9,700 poems in 八代集(hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies): out of some 1,100 poems which constitute “春:Spring” sections of 八代集(hachidaishuu), 239 appearance (21%) of 桜(sakura) is simply overwhelming, compared with 10% of its seasonal predecessor 梅(ume = a plum, or Japanese apricot).

 It should also be noted that 桜(sakura)’s confusing white rival trios of 雪(yuki = snow), 霞(kasumi = haze) and 雲(kumo = clouds) also boast quite high rates of appearance (10%, 10%, 6% respectively). As a matter of natural fact, 梅(ume = a plum) is practically never seen coupled with 桜(sakura = cherry blossom) both in nature and in Heianese TANKA*.

・・・*the only exception to this rule in 八代集(hachidaishuu) is an absurdly wishful imaginary poem which runs like this: “《ume no ka wo sakura no hana ni niowasete yanagi ga eda ni sakasete shigana:うめのかをさくらのはなににほはせて やなぎがえだにさかせてしがな》『後拾遺集(Go-Shuui-shuu)』春(Spring) No.82 by 中原致時(Nakahara-no-Munetoki)梅の香を(the scent of a plum)桜の花に匂はせて(floating from the flowers of cherry)柳が枝に咲かせて(blooming on the branches of a willow)しがな(how wonderful it would be to enjoy the Spring Big Three on the same tree!)”

 On the other hand, the white misty veils of 雪(yuki = snow), 霞(kasumi = haze) and 雲(kumo = clouds) have a way of appearing in Spring TANKA with a view to consciously inviting the reader’s confusion with 桜(cherry blossom). Statistically speaking, the confusing white pair of “桜&雲(cherry blossom and clouds)” appears 27 times in “春:Spring” section, “桜&雪(cherry blossom and snow)” 19, and “桜&霞(cherry blossom and haze)” 18 times… Please don’t forget this statistical evidence is taken from 八代集(hachidaishuu) alone: just imagine how many more such hackneyed pairs of cherry/clouds/snow/haze might have been referred to on the lips of the Japanese who love nothing more than conforming comfortably to time-honored stereotypes…

 It would be wrong, however, to dismiss as stereotype this particular poem of beautiful Spring scenery, for it’s one of the “Founding Fathers” of such traditional imagery in Heianese TANKA, at the hands of none other than 紀貫之(Ki-no-Tsurayuki:872-945), the greatest contributor to the promotion of TANKA in its earliest stage of rivalry against KARA-UTA(唐歌:Chinese poetry) as the editor/creator of such epoch-making works as “古今集(Kokin-shuu)”, “土佐日記(Tosa-nikki)” and possibly “伊勢物語(Ise-monogatari)”.

 The first one to say something new in a crude way is to be more respected and admired than someone else who says something old in a better way ― this is the golden rule in the conventions of inventions, although not quite so in the actual competition of consumer goods industries, where the Japan in the 1980’s enjoyed its (transient) prime, thanks to its superb ability at improving upon what already existed, despite their lack of original creativity…. Well, old stories aside, let’s get back to this earliest piece of Heianese TANKA which deals with the subject (soon to be hackneyed) of “cherry flowers falling like so many snowflakes”… is there any room for later improvement? I doubt it ― it’s a perfect beauty! The first one to invent it being the best one to complete it… that’s what 紀貫之(Ki-no-Tsurayuki) did in this masterpiece which paved the way for the Japanese consciousness to see cherry flowers as strangely warm snow in Spring. All those coming after him had to evade the same path in order to avoid appearing stupid by rephrasing the same old scene in worse ways; or alternatively, later followers had to re-invent the original creation in uniquely novel ways… although such attempts were always in danger of ending up in something weird (like the Chimera or Frankenstein’s monster) or too uniquely re-inventive to be understood by anyone else than the author… or only to be accepted and admired by the proudly exclusive groups of pedants.

 Now, let us review the re-invention efforts (after 3 centuries of accumulated poetical tradition) by two later masters of Japanese TANKA in its overmatured years at the end of 平安(Heian)/the beginning of 鎌倉(Kamakura) period:

《よしのやまさくらがえだにゆきちりて はなおそげなるとしにもあるかな:Yoshino-yama sakura ga eda ni yuki chirite hana osoge naru toshi nimo aru kana》『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu)』春(Spring) No.79 by 西行法師(Saigyou-houshi:1118-1190)吉野山(in the mountains of Yoshino)桜が枝に(on the branches of cherry trees)雪散りて(snow has been scattered)花遅げなる年にもあるかな(flowers seem very late in coming out this year)

・・・Don’t take 西行(Saigyou) for his words, for he is saying it to test your poetic accomplishment.

 Do you know what makes “吉野山(Yoshino-yama = the mountains of Yoshino)” so famous? ― lots of snow and fabulous cherry trees, both overwhelmingly white, so much so that they are hardly distinguishable in early Spring.

 Don’t you think it strange that he says “雪散りて(yuki chirite = snow has been scattered)” as opposed to “雪降りて(yuki furite = snow has fallen)” or “雪積もりて(yuki tsumorite = snow has accumulated)”? If Saigyou meant to refer to the famous snow of Yoshino, why should he focus his attention, of all places, on the branches of cherry trees, when he should have been overwhelmed by the daunting whiteness of the snow all around him?

 And don’t you feel it sound queer ― “花遅げなる年(hana osoge naru toshi = a year in which flowers seem to come out later than usual)” ― do you really believe that “cherry flowers are late in coming out” in this particular year? If so, why? Because “桜が枝に雪散りて(sakura ga eda ni yuki chirite = snow has been scattered on the branches of cherry trees)”?… If you think so, you have been nicely taken in by 西行法師(Saigyou-houshi). Remember ― Saigyou is a poet, not a weather-forecaster: why should he refer to “the scattered snow on the branches of cherry trees” to explain to you the reason why he expects cherry flowers to come out later than usual this year?

 Remember also that Saigyou is one of the most notable poets of that famous (or infamous?) “新古今時代(Shin-Kokin-jidai = the age of Kokin-shuu-reinvented)” when TANKA was not so straightforward as in its earlier years, as a natural consequence of three centuries of traditional accumulation.

 Yes, you see, “桜が枝に散りたる雪(sakura ga eda ni chiritaru yuki = the snow scattered on the cherry branches)” in this poem is nothing but consciously camouflaged “桜(sakura = cherry blossom)” in the confusing veil of WHITE!

 ”Impossible!” you say?… Well, it only goes to show your lack of imagination ― you must put yourself in the shoes of those poets who had to create something novel after three centuries of accumulated poetical tradition by such great ancestors as 紀貫之(Ki-no-Tsurayuki), 藤原公任(Fujiwara-no-Kintou) or 和泉式部(Izumi-shikibu).

 If you have such literary perspective, you may be able to interpret this poem correctly as saying: “White snow still seems to remain scattered on the branches of cherry trees… it looks as if cherry blossom is coming out unusually late this year… oh, wait! I was wrong: the white thing on the cherry branches I took for snow was actually the cherry blossom! What a strange confusion… oh yeah, I now remember ― this is Yoshino-yama, famous for its fabulous snow and cherry blossom… how nicely I was taken in!”… Well, how about you? Nicely taken in, wisely smiling, or unhappily sullen?

 For those who don’t feel enough or who feel they’ve already had more than enough, here comes another puzzle by none other than 藤原定家(Fujiwara-no-Teika:1162-1241) ― that famous poet who chose the fabulous 『百人一首(Hyakunin-isshu = one hundred TANKA poems by one hundred different poets)』… I can almost vouch for it that you can’t make heads or tails out of this coming poem (without the help of someone who cites it here as a chimerical example)… if you doubt me, try to prove me wrong by interpreting it right:

《さくらいろのにはのはるかぜあともなし とはばぞひとのゆきとだにみむ:sakura-iro no niwa no haru-kaze ato mo nashi towaba zo hito no yuki to dani mimu》『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu)』春(Spring) No.134 桜色の庭の(in the garden tinged with cherry-white)春風跡も無し(the Spring wind leaves no trace) 訪はばぞ人の雪とだに見む(it is only when someone visits this garden that he may mistake it for snow)

 At first sight, this TANKA of 定家(Teika) looks kinder than 西行(Saigyou)’s, for this time it starts with the phrase “桜色の庭(sakura-iro no niwa = the garden tinged with cherry-white)”, denying the possibility of confusing the cherry-white with snow-white (be advised that the color of cherry flowers was “white”, not “pink” in Heian period). It is also evident that the scene takes place in the garden of someone’s house ― possibly Teika’s residence, not out in the field of Yoshino-yama like 西行(Saigyou)’s.

 The strange wind of confusion starts to blow with the second phrase: “春風跡も無し(haru-kaze ato mo nashi = the Spring wind leaves no trace)”… the Spring wind leaves no trace… of what?… What was swept away by the Spring wind?… The answer, you must be sure, is “桜(sakura)”; to be more exact, “庭に散り敷ける桜(niwa ni chirishikeru sakura = cherry flowers fallen on the garden)”… they have been completely blown away out of recognition by the Spring wind, you must think.

 But wait: if the Spring wind has already swept away the cherry flowers that covered the garden making it look like snow, isn’t it strange that Teika says “桜色の庭(sakura-iro no niwa = the garden tinged white with the fallen flowers of cherry)”? After the Spring wind has swept away the fallen flowers of cherry, the garden ― which looked like a snow-covered Winter garden ― must now look quite vacant: there will be no cherry, no snow, nothing interesting enough to stir up the poet’s imagination, don’t you think?

 Still, Teika insists on saying “桜色の庭(sakura-iro no niwa = the garden is tinged white with the fallen flowers of cherry)” at the same time lamenting that “跡も無し(ato mo nashi = there is no trace)”… if there was really “no trace of cherry flowers in the garden”, there could actually be “no garden tinged white with cherry flowers”… in that case, is the opening phrase “桜色の庭(sakura-iro no niwa = the garden tinged white with fallen cherry flowers)” a mere illusion, only existing in the memories of Teika reflecting upon the beautiful Spring scene that he was sorry to see go by only recently? Is he also lamenting in the closing phrase “訪はばぞ人の雪とだに見む(towaba zo hito no yuki to dani mimu)”, wishing that someone had come in time to see the white cherry-covered garden and mistake it for snow?… What a complicated imagination!

 If you suspected that much, you could rightfully be proud of your power of logical reasoning… but I’m sorry to announce that logicality alone does not guarantee success in the interpretation of Heianese TANKA, especially in that incredibly esoteric period called “新古今時代(Shin-Kokin-jidai… the age of Kokin-shuu-reinvented)”.

 If your imagination is not that profound and stops short at the sight of cherry flowers flying in the air like so many snow flakes, you will not have to wrack your brains so much as Teika intended and rest satisfied with the thought that Teika is merely sorry to see the cherry flowers fall as all the other ordinary human beings do.

 On second thought, however, the purely logical interpretation above is in fact absolutely nonsense ― please remember how firmly established was the stereotyped image of “cherry flowers confused with white snow” ― when everyone in Heian period knew that stale confusion too well, why should Teika lament the absence of visitors and wish if only they had seen the falling flowers of cherry or the white garden covered with them and had confused it with snow?… when in fact there could be practically nobody in Heian period ignorant enough of the time-honored tradition of “white confusion of cherry/snow/haze/clouds” to actually mistake the whiteness of Teika’s garden for snow?!

 Now that you have come to the scheduled dead-end (haven’t you?), it’s about time I threw in a lifeboat, constructed by none other than the father of Teika, 藤原俊成(Fujiwara-no-Shunzei:1114-1204):

 《けふはもしきみもやとふとながむれど まだあともなきにはのゆきかな:kyou wa moshi kimi moya tou to nagamuredo ato mo mada ato mo naki niwa no yuki kana》『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu)』冬(Winter) No.664 今日は(today)もし(by any chance)君もや訪ふ(you might pay me a visit)と眺むれど(I’ve been idly hoping so and looking out vacantly but)未だ跡も無き庭の雪かな(my garden covered with white snow is still left intact, without being trodden by anyone coming in)

 Now you see, the answer to our question lies in the closing phrase of this poem ― “未だ跡も無き庭の雪かな(mada ato mo naki niwa no yuki kana = my garden covered with white snow is still left intact, without being trodden by anyone coming in)” ― if someone comes into a garden actually covered with white snow, there will be footsteps left as a trace of his visit. Likewise, if someone comes into a garden covered with cherry flowers and tinged white like snow, there will be footsteps left as a trace of his visit… or maybe not, actually, because cherry flowers and snow, though resembling in color, are materially quite different. But factual reality often gives way to sophisticated fancy in the imaginary world of “新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu)”. Whether or not there will actually be left traces of the footsteps of a visitor on the white carpet of cherry flowers fallen down on the garden does not really matter in this totally 新古今調(Shin-Kokinishtic) poem of Teika’s, for the emotional focus of attention is on the absence of any visitor, not on the white carpet of cherry flowers.

 The puzzling phrase in Teika’s TANKA “春風跡も無し(haru-kaze ato mo nashi = the Spring wind leaves no trace)” should thus be interpreted as “the cherry flowers fallen from trees and blown by the Spring wind to cover the garden like snow STILL SHOWS NO TRACE OF ANY VISITOR’S FOOTSTEPS (although I’ve been impatiently waiting)”. In the closing phrase “訪はばぞ人の雪とだに見む(towaba zo hito no yuki to dani mimu = it is only when someone visits this garden that he may mistake it for snow)”, Teika does not particularly wish that someone would confuse the cherry-white garden with a snow-white one (remember, no fools in Heian era would actually fall into such stale confusion!) but he merely laments the absence of a visitor with whom he could indulge in the time-honored (though hackneyed) tradition of confusing cherry-white with snow-white in this possibly interesting (yet actually forlorn) Spring garden. The troublesome term “春風(haru-kaze = Spring wind)” is induced here to show the impatience of Teika (Hurry, hurry, or the cherry-white garden might be completely swept away soon by the Spring wind!) although the garden in question is still left intact by the Spring wind, or by any human visitor for that matter, like the vacantly white snow in the garden of his father(俊成:Shunzei)’s TANKA.

 This type of indirect reference (or hazy allusion) to some other TANKA is called “本歌取り”(honka-dori = a poem including some borrowed words or phrases from something else)… or “本歌盗り”(honka-dori = a stolen poem from someone else’s original)when the reference sounds too blatantly direct. In the case of this particular TANKA of Teika(定家)’s, however, what is borrowed from the original poem of his father Shunzei(俊成)’s is not so much words (さくらいろの<には>のはるかぜ<あともなし><とはば>ぞひとの<ゆき>とだにみむ / けふはもしきみもや<とふ>とながむれどまだ<あともなき><には>のゆきかな) as the ambient mood of the whole poem itself, in which the poet is waiting in vain for someone to visit his garden and put his footsteps upon the lonely white carpet. In such cases, it is called “本説取り”(honsetsu-dori = a poem with a borrowed background from some other poem, story or legend). Such borrowed images of “本歌取り”(honka-dori) or “本説取り”(honsetsu-dori) are only possible for those poets and readers who are proudly conscious of the rich literary heritage they have inherited from their famous great ancestors. 新古今(Shin-Kokin) poets were famous (or infamous) for aggressively trying to enrich and enlarge their 31-letter universe much larger than life by alluding to various parallel universes established by the long lines of poets and writers in three hundred years of literary accumulation.

 Needless to say, the reader has the liberty of instantaneous imagination of cherry flowers “merely flying in the air”, which is “the beaten path” for most modern readers to tread, but the poetic circumstances worthy to be called “a Shin-Kokin TANKA” should dictate that the cherry flowers “look just like snow covering the garden as a white carpet”, which the intricate explanation on the strength of Fujiwara-no-Shunzei’s TANKA should have convinced you… well, convinced or not, you are free to stick to your own version of imagination, which neither Teika nor this author (Jaugo Noto:之人冗悟) has any intention to meddle in, but it should at least be pointed out here that you should never try interpreting this authentic Shin-Kokin TANKA without trying earnestly to imagine how inextricably deep Teika’s profound intention can ever be. In case some persistent readers still insist upon my being wrong (in seeing the cherry flowers on the ground) and their being right (in seeing cherry flowers only in the air), I will simply say “Well, in that case, Teika will never say ‘あともなし(ato mo nashi:跡も無し = there’s no trace at all)’ in retrospect, but will instead say ‘あやもなし(aya mo nashi:文も無し = it’s no use at all)’ or ‘つれもなし(tsure mo nashi:つれもなし/連れも無し = it’s futile / I have no company)’ or ‘せんもなし(sen mo nashi:詮も無し = for what are they falling?)’ or ‘いとむなし(ito munashi:いと空し = I feel quite empty along with the vainly falling flowers)’ to let the cherry flowers fall not in his memory but currently in the air ― as I’ve already pointed out, there’s no sense in lamenting over ‘跡も無き物(ato mo naki mono = what is not there now)'”.

 Well, how do you feel now? … Yes, I know how you feel: this esoteric TANKA by 定家(Teika) feels not so much a poem as a puzzle ― a very tough jigsaw puzzle with the critical piece missing! Unless you have the advantage of having been acquainted with 俊成(Shunzei)’s TANKA I cited as the decisive hint (which is least likely, I’d guess), you have practically no hope of correctly interpreting Teika’s challenging riddle. And when you finally succeed in solving the puzzle, will you find yourself proud of your intellectual conquest, or should you find yourself disgusted at being forced to rack your brains with such esoteric questions? For your reference, such esoteric nature of 新古今(Shin-Kokin) poets received criticism from the more conventional groups of contemporary poets who called such intangible poems as I cited here “新儀非拠達磨歌(shingi hikyo daruma uta = a novel cult of poetry not in compliance with the authentic rules of traditional TANKA)”… such resentment to unduly exclusive esotericism of 新古今(Shin-Kokin) poems grew increasingly stronger in later years when most people naturally lost track of the intricate co-relations between a given poem and its great ancestors upon which its correct interpretation depended.

 I will not state here my personal likes or dislikes of 新古今(Shin-Kokin) TANKA; I will simply point out the fact that the so-called 八代集(hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies) ended with this 新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu), although the sporadic tasks of publishing “Imperial TANKA anthologies” still went on afterwards by some group of poets representing their own factions of poetry (not quite representing TANKA of the day) until the mid-Muromachi(室町) period (A.D.1439).

 All in all, the once glorious art of TANKA practically breathed its last with the end of Heian period, culminating in 新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu: 1210-1216) as its swan song. The number of such esoteric black swans as 西行(Saigyou)’s or 定家(Teika)’s poems I cited here proves at once the thick layers of poetic tradition accumulated over 300 years… and the lethal thickness of artistic blood as a result of esoteric inbreeding among Heianese nobles in or around the Imperial Court of 京都(Kyoto), to such a morbid extent as to make impossible the healthy survival of TANKA poetry as ordinary people’s natural national heritage.

 All good things must come to an end. The most exciting and hopeful though hardest stage of any career comes at the earliest stage. I will finish this article with several poems by 紀貫之(Ki-no-Tsurayuki) to show you what kind of freshly creative freedom was enjoyed in the early 10th century while TANKA poetry was still in its infancy, when such crudely explanatory TANKA as this one was still included in the first Imperial TANKA anthology 『古今集(Kokin-shuu:905)』 ― 《Yoshino-yama kiesenu yuki to mietsuru wa mine-tsuzuki saku sakura narikeri:よしのやまきえせぬゆきとみえつるは みねつづきさくさくらなりけり》『古今集(Kokin-shuu)』春(Spring) No.41 よみ人しらず(annonymous)吉野山(on the mountains of Yoshino)消えせぬ雪と見えつるは(what looked like never-melting <snow>)峰続き咲く桜なりけり(turned out to have been a line of <cherry trees> blooming on the ridge)

・・・Now, feast your eyes on the youngest <sakura-bana = cherry blossom> consciously confused with several <white Spring veils> at the deft hands of the greatest TANKA master of all time, 紀貫之(Ki-no-Tsurayuki):

1)《sakura-bana saki ni kerashina ashihikino yama no kai yori miyuru shira-kumo:さくらばなさきにけらしなあしひきの やまのかひよりみゆるしらくも》『古今集(Kokin-shuu)』春(Spring) No.59 桜花咲きにけらしな(<cherry flowers> seem to have come out)足引の山の峡より見ゆる白雲(I see <white clouds> floating from the narrow chasm between mountains [as opposed to high up in the sky])

2)《shira-kumo to mietsuru monowo sakura-bana kyou wa chiru toya iro koto ni naru:しらくもとみえつるものをさくらばな けふはちるとやいろことになる》『後撰集(Gosen-shuu)』春(Spring) No.119 白雲と見えつるものを(<white clouds>, yes, they surely looked like [yesterday])桜花今日は散るとや色異になる(today, not white [but spotted here and there with green]… does it mean <cherry flowers> are beginning to fall [on the ridge of the mountain I see far away]?)

3)《haru fukaku narinu to omou wo sakura-bana chiru ko no moto wa mada yuki zo furu:はるふかくなりぬとおもふをさくらばな ちるこのもとはまだゆきぞふる》『拾遺集(Shuui-shuu)』春(Spring) No.63 春深くなりぬと思ふを(we are already deep in Spring, I thought, but)桜花散る木の本は(at the foot of <cherry> trees where <flowers> keep falling down)まだ雪ぞ降る(<snow> still keeps falling [in a white warm veil of <sakura-bana>])

4)《yuku mizu ni kaze no fukiiruru sakura-bana kiezu nagaruru yuki ka tozo miru:ゆくみづにかぜのふきいるるさくらばな きえずながるるゆきかとぞみる》『古今集(Kokin-shuu)』春(Spring) No.114 行く水に(onto the surface of water going downstream)風の吹き入るる桜花(the wind has blown down <fallen cherry flowers>)消えず流るる雪かとぞ見る<they look like <unmelting snow> flowing down [from Winter to Spring]>

5)《sakura-bana chirinuru kaze no nagori niwa mizu naki sora ni nami zo tachi keru:さくらばなちりぬるかぜのなごりには みづなきそらになみぞたちける》『古今集(Kokin-shuu)』春(Spring) No.89 桜花散りぬる(<cherry flowers> have all gone)風の名残には(leaving remnants in the wind)水無き空に(in the sky where there’s no water)波ぞ立ちける(<[cherry-white] waves> surging in)

6)《yuki to mite nure moya suru to sakura-bana chiru ni tamoto wo kazukitsuru kana:ゆきとみてぬれもやするとさくらばな ちるにたもとをかづきつるかな》『古今集(Kokin-shuu)』元永本&清輔本のみ(only to be found in Ganei-bon & Kiyosuke-bon)春(Spring) No.81 雪と見て(just like <snow> it seemed)濡れもやすると(making me afraid lest I should get wet)桜花(in fact, it was <cherry blossom>)散るに袂を潜きつるかな(making me wet with tears as I see it falling down [and say good-bye to this brief Spring])

 …Now you see, Springtime is the best of all, but sadly too short ― for flowers, for humans, and also for art…


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