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31shortyones07) there is more to 蛍の光(hotaru no hikari) than meets the eye ― Sayaka marvels at a strangely one-sided love






★there is more to 蛍の光(hotaru no hikari) than meets the eye ― Sayaka marvels at a strangely one-sided love★

Sayaka: This TANKA sounds totally different…

Jaugo: Different from the last two nostalgic poems of Spring?

Sayaka: Yes… and different from all the rest. In fact, I’ve never heard any TANKA like this before.

Jaugo: Do you like it?

Sayaka: Yes… I don’t know why… it just sounds, no, LOOKS beautiful to the eye, not to the ears, not to the heart, but it appears beautiful in my visual imagination.

Jaugo: The season is…?

Sayaka: Early summer, at night, near a pond… no, a stream, where very clean water is running with faint sound in the background… it’s very dark around, no street light of course, and no chirps of insects or noise from the world outside ― just the faint glimmers of fireflies silently waving in the dark… beautiful, almost to the point of being mysterious.

Jaugo: So, it appeals to your eyes, not to your brains?

Sayaka: I think I need no brains to visually appreciate this poem.

Jaugo: Eye-exciter, you say?

Sayaka: Yes, no brain-twister like 新古今(Shin-Kokin) TANKA.

Jaugo: You could say so… Then, so much for today?

Sayaka: No! Not so soon…

Jaugo: Do you have any questions about this TANKA?

Sayaka: Let me see… Were “蛍(hotaru = fireflies)” popular as a theme of Heianese TANKA?

Jaugo: That’s a delicate question to answer: of some 9,700 TANKA in 八代集(hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies), 蛍/夏虫(hotaru or natsumushi = fireflies)appear 29 times… not quite so popular as 郭公(hototogisu = small cockoos:270), 雁(kari = wild geese:115) or 鶯(uguisu = orioles:66) but competing well with 蝉(semi = cicadas:28) or 蟋蟀(kirigirisu = crickets:18). What do you think about that, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: All those rivals appeal to humans by sound, while 蛍(hotaru = fireflies) alone silently appeal by their voiceless light.

Jaugo: Wonderful! Your insight shines tens of times as brilliantly as gleaming lights of fireflies, Sayaka-san!

Sayaka: Your tact in making me feel good is as good as chirping orioles, Jaugo-san.

Jaugo: That’s quite a praise to come out of the mouth of the fierce bird-lover you are.

Sayaka: Yes. Anyway, your praise of me is largely an overstatement in this case, since the TANKA in question has already pointed out the fact that fireflies appeal to our sentiment not by crying out loud but by gleaming silently inside.

Jaugo: Miss Sayaka seems to be as humble as brilliant.

Sayaka: Like a firefly?

Jaugo: “Sayaka” is too brilliant a name for the faint glow of a firefly, don’t you think?

Sayaka: Does my name appear so brilliant to your eyes?

Jaugo: It does, since it derives from “冴ゆ(sayu = look, sound, feel or become sharp)”.

Sayaka: Aha! Yeah, to come to think of it, it does! I didn’t know my name was that brilliant until you told me. Thank you for reminding me, Jaugo-san!

Jaugo: Now that you realize how brilliant you can be, how about another lesson, a rather “brainy” one, for a change of air?

Sayaka: By all means!

Jaugo: OK, then, please tell me your image of “偲びに燃ゆる蛍(shinobi ni moyuru hotaru)”.

Sayaka: Fireflies glowing silently in the dark without trying obtrusively to appeal to others… the very opposite image of lousy eye-catchers teeming on the Net today.

Jaugo: Mm… not bad as a general criticism of the day, yet something is lacking in it as a literary review of a Heianese TANKA. Let us focus our attention on the term “偲び(shinobi)” ― what do you make of it?

Sayaka: Shinobi? Well, it reminds me of… a 忍者(ninja), 忍びの者(shinobi-no-mono).

Jaugo: The stealthy spy warrior who hides in the dark without a sound trying to sneak into the headquarters of the enemy for reconnaissance or assassination?

Sayaka: Uh… it seems too bloody for fireflies gleaming in the dark.

Jaugo: It sure is. Let me rephrase the question ― the fireflies in the dark gleaming so silently… what are they waiting for so patiently?

Sayaka: For us to take notice of them.

Jaugo: What do you mean by “us”? Humans?

Sayaka: Yes… maybe other fireflies.

Jaugo: OK, waiting for humans or other fireflies to take notice of them ― and when they are actually taken notice of, then, what are they going to do? What do they expect to happen next, after they have their presence felt? What do you do after you find fireflies, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: If I find fireflies, I will walk up to them and try to take them into my hands.

Jaugo: You love them?

Sayaka: Yes, I love fireflies; they are beautiful.

Jaugo: Good, we’ve come to the answer now ― you love them… or rather, you love HIM: that’s what He expects of YOU, Sayaka-san ― He wants to be found out by YOU, and then to be loved by YOU and to love YOU, mutually… found by you, loved by you and then loving you: that’s what the poor firefly is silently wishing for by gleaming in the dark as his humble appeal to your eyes.

Sayaka: Wait… is this a love song, then?

Jaugo: As a matter of fact, yes.

Sayaka: Oh… that’s what I least expected. I just felt it simply beautiful.

Jaugo: You were just attracted to the faint gleam in the dark, while HE felt delighted to be found out by YOU… and would expect to be loved by YOU and love YOU, in the glow of mutual affection… totally different pictures drawn by you and him; viewed in different lights, things look quite different. Love is strange, isn’t it?

Sayaka: Too strange… Do I have to take it as a love song?

Jaugo: You mean, isn’t it possible to cherish this TANKA as a simply memorable snapshot of a beautiful night in Summer?

Sayaka: Yes. Is it impossible?

Jaugo: I should say, it’s possible… as possible as it would be to cherish your company with some male admirer of yours as a simply memorable snapshot of a beautiful adolescence of yours. As Japanese girls like to say (and boys hate to hear), you could just remain “お友達のままで(otomodachi no mama de = simple friends)” with any man, any poem, without regard to the feeling on the other side. That’s the privilege of a woman… and a reader: men and poems only make their appeal ― how to respond is just up to you, Sayaka-san.

Sayaka: Then, I will take this poem as a simply beautiful scene of Nature in Summer.

Jaugo: Good. Love has a way of starting out fine and ending up in a whine, while beauty in Nature is here to stay for ever. To remain memorable and beautiful for ever, our relationship with poems as well as with men or women might as well be more natural than amorous… sometimes, if not always… So, isn’t it about time we said good-bye for today, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: For TODAY, yes… See you soon.

Jaugo: So long.








(in the Imperial TANKA competition in Kanna-ni-nen)

Men, women, even insects all cry about

Wooing or mourning their covetous love.

Deeper feelings silently grow and

Ultimately glow in speechless fireflies.

なく【鳴く】〔自カ四〕(なく=連体形)<VERB:chirp, cry>

こゑ【声】〔名〕<NOUN:the voice, sound>


きこゆ【聞こゆ】〔自ヤ下二〕(きこえ=未然形)<VERB:I can hear, sound like>

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

ものの【ものの】〔接助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(CONCESSION):although, all the same>

…although we can’t hear them cry

かなし【悲し】〔形シク〕(かなしき=連体形)<ADJECTIVE:piteous, pathetic>


しのぶ【偲ぶ】〔他バ四〕/〔他バ上二〕(しのび=連用形、転じて、名詞)<VERB:feel affectionate to, be deep in love>

に【に】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(REASON):by, due to, because of>

もゆ【燃ゆ】〔自ヤ下二〕(もゆる=連体形)<VERB:flame up, glow out, be on fire>


なり【なり】〔助動ナリ型〕断定(なり=連用形)<AUXILIARY VERB(CONFIRMATION)>

けり【けり】〔助動ラ変型〕過去(けり=終止形)<AUXILIARY VERB(DISCOVERY):I found out>

…what is really sad to see is a firefly burning bright with voiceless affection inside

《naku koe mo kikoenu monono kanashiki wa shinobi ni moyuru hotaru nari keri》

■from natural glow at night to wordless love inside ― fireflies’ gleam is too faint for us to see as a metaphor■

 In compliance with the non-empathic rule of Heianese poems with non-human entity, fireflies in TANKA hide their metaphoric message behind the faint gleam in the dark. But the message behind the gleam is too faint for us to see after centuries of persistent poetic inattention.

 The following example is one of the first TANKA to include 蛍(hotaru = fireflies), taken from 『古今集』(Kokin-shuu:A.D.905), the very first of 八代集(hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies). Check to see if you can find out the message lurking behind the apparently natural scene of a Summer day & night:

《あけたてばせみのをりはへなきくらし よるはほたるのもえこそわたれ:aketateba semi no orihae nakikurashi yoru wa hotaru no moe koso watare》『古今集(Kokin-shuu)』恋(Love) No.543 よみ人しらず(anonymous)明け立てば(when the night breaks into light)蝉の折り延へ鳴き暮らし(cicadas keep crying all day)夜は(when the night comes again)蛍の燃えこそ渡れ(fireflies keep burning all night)

・・・Did you see anything unusually emotional in the poem above? I’d guess practically every reader of the present day Japan should take it as a depiction of a hot Summer’s day and a rather cool Summer night, with cicadas and fireflies simply represented as the symbols of daytime heat and nocturnal coolness. But, in fact, this poem belongs to the section of “恋(koi = love)”… In case you still wonder, I advise that you change the subject of the phrase “鳴き暮らし(nakikurashi = keep crying)” from “蝉(semi = cicadas)” to “我(ware = I)”; as for “燃えこそ渡れ(moe koso watare = keep burning)”, the literal subject “蛍(hotaru = fireflies)” should give way to “我が心(waga kokoro = my heart)”, inducing you to interpret it as “my heart keeps burning all night, longing for your love (or, body)”.

 A love song like this, even by the standards of relatively introvert Heianese TANKA, is too vague in its amorous message, unless the term “蛍(hotaru = a firefly)” switches on your poetic fluorescence lamp to light up the obscure message of “although I say nothing, I’m thinking of you and burning hot inside longing for your love”.

 The metaphoric presence of 蛍(fireflies) as symbols of silently burning love did not stand out so brilliantly as, say, the established image of 雁(kari = wild geese) as flying messengers and harbingers of coming Winter. Be that as it may, the image of 蛍(fireflies) as someone silently burning inside with amorous feelings was adequately established, among Heianese nobles, by the following TANKA which appeared in the second Imperial TANKA anthology 『後撰集(Gosen-shuu:ca.950)』:

《つつめどもかくれぬものはなつむしの みよりあまれるおもひなりけり:tsutsumedomo kakurenu mono wa natsumushi no mi yori amareru omoi narikeri》『後撰集(Gosen-shuu)』夏(Summer) No.209 (by a small girl-servant serving Katsura-no-miko)包めども(however concealed)隠れぬ物は(there’s something that will reveal itself)夏虫の身より(from inside the body of a firefly)余れる思ひなりけり(inner feelings overflow into radiant light, which, I’m afraid, is unsuitable for a humble servant-girl like me)

・・・At the beginning of the poem is the following 詞書(kotoba-gaki = annotation):

 桂の親王の「蛍を捕へて」と言ひ侍りければ(when asked by Katsura-no-miko to “Catch fireflies”)、童女の汗衫の袖に包みて(the small girl-servant caught fireflies in the sleeve of her slip)

・・・But this brief explanation only leaves us bewildered about the circumstances in which this TANKA was created, as well as about the lurking emotion signified by the phrase “夏虫の身より余れる思ひ(natsumushi no mi yori amareru omoi = the emotion overflowing from the body of fireflies/beyond the wildest dream of a humble servant girl that I am)” out of the mouth of “童女(warawame = a small girl)”.

 In cases like this, more detailed stories about poetic circumstances would sometimes be presented along with the TANKA to compose a genre of Japanese literature called “歌物語(uta-monogatari… ‘lyricalogue’ according to the personal vocabulary of this author Jaugo Noto:之人冗悟)”. This particular TANKA on fireflies gave birth to the following episode of 『大和物語(Yamato-monogatari:ca.950)』 centering around the poem cited above:



  包めども隠れぬ物は夏虫の *身より余れる思ひなりけり


『Yamato-monogatari』Episode 40: “Fireflies”

 When Prince Atsuyoshi was in the habit of paying amorous visit to Princess Katsura, a very young servant-girl waiting on the Princess felt so much attracted to the magnificent Prince, although the Prince himself didn’t know it. One day, the Prince and the Princess saw fireflies flying around and told the small servant-girl to catch them. She caught the fireflies, put them into the sleeve of her slip (a kind of lingerie for adult women, but regular wear for small girls, which had long sleeves unlike Western slips), stretched out the sleeve for the Prince to see as if it were a lamp lit from inside by the gleams of fireflies, thereupon she rhymed out the following TANKA:

《つつめどもかくれぬものはなつむしの みよりあまれるおもひなりけり:tsutsumedomo kakurenu mono wa natsumushi no mi yori amareru omoi narikeri = my inner feeling, though wrapped in my sleeve, has grown so much as to glow out like fireflies, although such amorous feeling toward the noble Prince you are is unsuitable to a humble servant-girl that I am》

・・・You may easily see “夏虫(natsumushi = Summer insects)” mean “蛍(hotaru = fireflies)”, but you may wonder “Where did they glow?” without any such words as “光(ひかり:hikari = light)”, “燃ゆ(もゆ:moyu = burn)” or “火(ひ:hi = fire)”… yet, in fact, there is… can’t you see?… of course, you can’t; nobody could without being told, to their utter surprise ― that there is “ひ(火:hi = fire)” in “おもひ(思ひ:omoi = emotion)”… Still unable to see? OK, how about this ― there is “<ひ>hi=fire” in “おも<ひ>:omoi=emotion”… or it may better appeal to your poetic sentiment to be told “there is fire(‘ひ’) burning in my heart(おも’ひ’)… although you may not see it until I explicitly tell you so” ― fire of love burning in my heart unknown to you until I tell you so ― that’s “火:ひ:fire” lurking behind the 掛詞(kake-kotoba = pun) of “思ひ:おもひ:emotion, heart, affection” ― what could better describe the small servant-girl’s love of the Prince than this elusive <:fire> hiding inside ‘<おも:amorous feeling>’?

 The subtle image of fireflies as a metaphor of wordless affection must have established its poetic place in the world of Heianese TANKA thanks to the poem and the episode cited above, both published around A.D.950 in 『後撰集(Gosen-shuu)』 and 『大和物語(Yamato-monogatari)』.

 The following TANKA by the famous poet 源重之(Minamoto-no-Shigeyuki) must have been made with the above story in mind:

《おともせでおもひにもゆるほたるこそ なくむしよりもあはれなりけれ:oto mo sede omoi ni moyuru hotaru koso naku mushi yori mo aware narikere》『後拾遺集(Go-Shuui-shuu)』夏(Summer) No.216 音もせで(without any sound)思ひに燃ゆる螢こそ(fireflies burning with amorous feeling [inside])鳴く虫よりも哀れなりけれ(more attractive to me than insects chirping out loudly)

 In spite of many great poems like this, 源重之(Minamoto-no-Shigeyuki) didn’t do very well in his career as a civil servant of the Imperial Court, leaving 京都(Kyoto) in A.D.976 on his duty as a minor officer, serving in several local districts, only to end his life in 東北(touhoku = north-eastern part of Japan) in A.D.1000 around 60 years of age. Untold emotion burning inside, in this case, might have been his grief for his hapless life as a minor officer unrewarded for his great literary achievement. Although it is not clear when exactly 重之(Shigeyuki) made the firefly TANKA above, it is arguably prior to the opening TANKA of this article ― 《なくこゑもきこえぬもののかなしきは しのびにもゆるほたるなりけり:naku koe mo kikoenu monono kanashiki wa shinobi ni moyuru hotaru nari keri》鳴く声も聞こえぬものの哀しきは 偲びに燃ゆる蛍なりけり ― by another famous TANKA poet 藤原高遠(Fujiwara-no-Takatou), the official production date of which is known to be 寛和二年六月十日(A.D.986/07/19 by solar calendar) at 花山天皇内裏歌合(TANKA competition held at the Imperial Court hosted by Emperor Kazan).

 The famous novelist 紫式部(Murasaki-shikibu) also paid homage to the poems above in the form of a casual TANKA out of the mouth of 玉鬘(Lady Tamakazura), one of the characters of her own creation in 『源氏物語(Genji-monogatari:1008)』

《こゑはせでみをのみこがすほたるこそ いふよりまさるおもひなるらめ:koe wa sede mi wo nomi kogasu hotaru koso iu yori masaru omoi naru rame》『源氏物語(Genji-monogatari)』二五帖(PART-25) 「蛍(Fireflies)」声はせで(without any voice)身をのみ焦がす蛍こそ(fireflies simply burn out their bodies [with silent emotions inside])言ふより勝る思ひなるらめ(such [untold] emotions must be superior to explicit confessions)

 However brightly fireflies might burn, no one today but the exceptionally cultured, well acquainted with such episodes and poems above, would ever take them to be silently in love. They make exclusive appeal to those who can gaze through the gleaming glow of fireflies into the subtle esoteric beauty cherished only by Heianese nobles… no wonder few will be found to love such fireflies today (except, of course, as simply beautiful gift from Nature).

Having an English-speaking self within you is just like having a conversation partner like Sayaka-san/Jaugo-san beside you.
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