31shortyones15) too esoteric and too early to appreciate ― Sayaka proves her immunity to Autumnal sadness






★too esoteric and too early to appreciate ― Sayaka proves her immunity to Autumnal sadness★

Jaugo: Well, we’ve come to the end of Autumn with this TANKA. What’s your impression of it, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: ALL GREEN… and all Greek.

Jaugo: Mm… very poetic expression for INTANGIBLE… I like it!

Sayaka: Do you? Which do you mean, this TANKA or ME?

Jaugo: I like both.

Sayaka: I thought you’d say that.

Jaugo: I mean it, really: though I love this particular TANKA very much, I knew it would be difficult for you to interpret; but you did try to interpret it, until you came to understand that the color of this poem ― “槇立つ山の秋の夕暮れ(maki tatsu yama no aki no yuugure = the sight of a mountain where cypress trees stand in the Autumnal evening”) ― is ALL GREEN… since cypress trees are evergreen ― so is this quite 新古今調(Shin-Kokin-chou = Neo-Kokin style) TANKA.

Sayaka: You mean, this is a classic poem that has stood the test of time?

Jaugo: It has stood and will stand the test of time for the rest of our civilization.

Sayaka: Um… evergreen, all green, but all Greek to me… will you help me make it out, Jaugo-san?

Jaugo: All right. At first, please give me your version of translation into English, Sayaka-san.

Sayaka: “I found that loneliness was not that color ― all green ― the sight of a mountain where cypress trees stand in the Autumnal evening”… I can’t make heads or tails of it!

Jaugo: Well… it seems I can.

Sayaka: Can you? Which is the tail and which is the head?

Jaugo: You took a wrong tail and nailed it into your head.

Sayaka: A long tail!?… Or a wrong tail?

Jaugo: Something that’s not quite right, but not completely wrong ― the color GREEN ― that’s what I mean by “a wrong tail nailed into your head”.

Sayaka: Not quite right, but not completely wrong either?… what do you mean?

Jaugo: You are right in your understanding that the color of “槇(maki = cypress trees)” is “green”, but you are wrong in thinking “その色(sono iro = that color)” is “green”: in fact, it’s not any color in particular.

Sayaka: The color of 槇(maki = cypress trees) is green, but “その色(sono iro = that color)” is not green, it’s not any color in particular…? No, I’m getting lost again, please help me out, Jaugo-san!

Jaugo: Don’t whine, you’re doing fine, the goal is quite near, Sayaka-san… OK, let’s just rephrase your opening phrase “that color” into “this color or that color”. Try translating it again, please.

Sayaka: Yes… “I found that loneliness was not this color or that color ― all green ―…”

Jaugo: Oh, stop! Sorry, I forgot to tell you ― you should do away with “all green” too. Please try again.

Sayaka: OK ― “I found that loneliness was not this color or that color ― the sight of a mountain where cypress trees stand in the Autumnal evening”…

Jaugo: Well, how do you feel now, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: “I found that loneliness was not this color or that color…”… Does it mean “loneliness does not depend upon any particular color”?

Jaugo: You are as keen as cute, as always, Sayaka-san: loneliness is an emotion that can be caused by anything.

Sayaka: But, why does the poet say loneliness can be caused by “any color” instead of “anything”?

Jaugo: Mm… that’s also a good question, your question is always to the point, 冴やか-san! You’re getting closer to the answer. Think again ― the color of Autumn… tell me what comes up to your mind, is it all green, or something else?

Sayaka: …”紅葉(momiji)”, leaves tinged with yellow and red.

Jaugo: Good, very good… were those leaves yellow or red in Summer?

Sayaka: No, they were green in Spring and Summer; they turn yellow and red in Autumn… then fall before Winter.

Jaugo: From green to yellow and red and then… nothing… Autumn is a lonely season, isn’t it?

Sayaka: To come to think of it, yes.

Jaugo: When the green leaves of the trees turn yellow and red, we feel we are already deep in Autumn… it’s a lonely scene indeed, you agree?

Sayaka: Now that you say so, yes.

Jaugo: OK, let’s change the focus of attention from “yellow and red”.

Sayaka: To “green”? …Sounds like traffic lights!

Jaugo: You’re as funny as keen, Sayaka-san. It seems Autumnal loneliness is a stranger to you.

Sayaka: Honestly, I love Autumn.

Jaugo: Tell me why?

Sayaka: Because Winter is approaching very near!

Jaugo: Oh, do you like Winter?

Sayaka: Yeah, I love Winter! Snow, skiing, Christmas, and お年玉(otoshidama = new year’s gifts)… lots of fun!

Jaugo: Lively and lovely girl… you never feel lonely in Autumn?

Sayaka: As a matter of fact, no. I feel lonely when Summer fades out into Autumn.

Jaugo: I know the feeling…

Sayaka: I feel the world is coming to an end towards the end of August.

Jaugo: Especially when you have still lots of homework left untouched.

Sayaka: You know everything about me, Jaugo-san.

Jaugo: I used to be in my teens, do you remember?

Sayaka: I can’t imagine you being in your teens… you just look as if…

Jaugo: As if I’d come right out of 『大鏡(Oo-kagami)』 just like the old men well over 100?

Sayaka: I say you look as if you’d always been the way you are ― not so young, not at all old ― evergreen.

Jaugo: Evergreen, good, I’m glad we’ve come back to the topic in question… I was getting afraid we might be forever lost in snow-capped skiing resorts or at the end of Summer vacation… Autumn, that’s where we’re supposed to be in, OK?

Sayaka: Aye aye sir, we’re now back in Autumn!

Jaugo: So… the change in the colors of leaves of the trees ― from green to yellow to red and then, bare ― invites you to feel lonely at the end of Autumn… do you agree?

Sayaka: Agreed!

Jaugo: Good. But is the change of colors of the leaves of the trees the only thing in Autumn that makes you feel lonely?

Sayaka: I don’t know because I never feel lonely in Autumn.

Jaugo: OK, OK, you never fail to be honest with me… no matter how hard I try to make you feel sad and lonely…

Sayaka: I never feel sad and lonely with you, Jaugo-san, can’t you see?

Jaugo: I see, thank you very much. Now that I see that you can’t feel lonely in Autumn, I think I’ll have to be lonely for you ― and for the poor poet who seems never to be understood by Sayaka-san… agreed?

Sayaka: Agreed. Please do.

Jaugo: This poet is feeling lonely in Autumn; or do you think he is as far from loneliness as you are?

Sayaka: No, I know I’m a wacky exception to the general rule in Japan that Autumn and Winter ought to be seasons of loneliness.

Jaugo: I’m glad you know yourself very well… OK, let’s get back to the TANKA, to the very beginning ― “寂しさ(sabishisa = loneliness)” ― since he starts the poem so directly with the term “loneliness”, it’s so plain to see that the poet is feeling “lonely” in Autumn, right?

Sayaka: Right.

Jaugo: But is he feeling lonely at the sight of the leaves of the trees turning from green to yellow to red and eventually bare, into nothing?

Sayaka: No, he is standing in front of cypress trees, which will never change colors, always green, evergreen, as changeless as you are, Jaugo-san.

Jaugo: Thank you… but Jaugo-san aside, do you feel anything particularly sad and lonely about the sight of evergreen cypress trees unchanged in Autumn?

Sayaka: No.

Jaugo: Yes… I mean, no, there’s nothing particularly sad and lonely about the sight of evergreen cypress trees unchanged even in Autumn or Winter. Still, the poet feels sad and lonely in front of those trees, as green as they were in Spring or Summer.

Sayaka: Why?

Jaugo: That’s a good question. Why does he feel sad and lonely in front of cypress trees, always green and unchanged in Autumn… is it because of “その色(sono iro = this color or that color)”?

Sayaka: No, “その色としもなかりけり(sono iro to shimo nakarikeri = it’s not because of this color or that color in particular)”.

Jaugo: Now, you’re talking! If it’s not because of this color or that color in particular that Autumn feels sad and lonely for you, then, why?

Sayaka: I don’t know… why?

Jaugo: I don’t know why… the poet doesn’t know why, either.

Sayaka: Nobody knows why?

Jaugo: No one does… still, everyone does feel sad and lonely in Autumn, even in front of cypress trees that will not change colors all the year round. We suddenly feel sad and lonely without knowing why ― only God knows why we feel like that ― that’s the strange thing about Autumn: it makes everyone feel sad and lonely without any particular reason why it feels so sad and lonely… perhaps not for you right now, but you’ll some day come to understand ― Autumn is sad, although you don’t know why.

Sayaka: So, “槇立つ山(maki tatsu yama = the mountain where cypress trees stand)” meant nothing in particular? Could it have been anything else, like “鳥鳴く丘(tori naku oka = the hill where birds chirp)”?

Jaugo: You are correct. It could have been anything, so long as it is something that doesn’t apparently seem to induce you to feel sad and lonely.

Sayaka: Mm… strange poem to me.

Jaugo: I’d guess so, since you are immune to Autumnal loneliness as yet. But don’t worry, Sayaka-san, time will tell.

Sayaka: …Say, Jaugo-san, aside from Autumn, what kind of scene especially ignites the feeling of sadness in you?

Jaugo: (…) The picture of a whole family with everyone smiling in the show window of a small local photo studio…

Sayaka: I don’t see anything sad about it.

Jaugo: …standing alone in the relics of a nuclear-destroyed town.

Sayaka: Wow, it’s surreal!

Jaugo: A single small shoe of a kid lying in the middle of a street…

Sayaka: Mm… it’s cute!

Jaugo: …at the site of a traffic accident.

Sayaka: Noooooo!!

Jaugo: The sight of children’s toys scattered here and there in the room of an old woman…

Sayaka: Please don’t say “who’s been dead for several weeks”!

Jaugo: She is alive, all right; but the kids have gone…

Sayaka: Are they still alive, too?

Jaugo: The kids are alive, especially alive when they play in Grandma’s room with new toys she bought for them… and Grandma is alive, more than alive when she sees them playing, running and shouting beside her… since the kids have been gone, however, she’s been less than alive, watching vacantly at the toys that have been left lying here and there in her room the way the kids left them… for more than a week… maybe lying there untouched until the kids pay her another benevolent visit… only God knows when…

Sayaka: …You are really good at making me sad, Jaugo-san.

Jaugo: I’m glad to know that I can make you sad and lonely.

Sayaka: Please don’t make me sad by leaving me alone.

Jaugo: Don’t worry, we still have plenty of poems left… but for today, I think it’s high time we said good-bye.

Sayaka: So soon?

Jaugo: It’s been a long talk, don’t you think? I’ve quite enjoyed watching you more than usually elated and happy… was there anything good at school or something, Sayaka-san?

Sayaka: There are times when girls feel especially high, although I’m not gonna tell you why♪o♪

Jaugo: I’m glad you enjoy being a “girl” after those disturbing days in your early teens… OK, the day is long, you can cheerfully play around for some more hours still… so, go out, young girl, gather ye rosebuds while ye may, carpe diem!

Sayaka: What did you say?

Jaugo: I said, enjoy the present as best you can.

Sayaka: That’s the message of our last poem, wasn’t it?

Jaugo: Yes. There are still many more in store for you, both in our library and in your life… so, until next time, so long.

Sayaka: OK. Thank you very much, Jaugo-san. See you.







Greenery turning yellow, red and bare,

Autumnal sorrow increases with color:

I thought so till today I found

My heart still tinged with sorrow

At the sight of cypress trees

Changeless for ever in green…

What then has made me blue

On this sorrowful autumnal eve?

さびしさ【寂しさ】〔名〕<NOUN:loneliness, solitude, melancholy>


…where does loneliness come from?

そ【其】〔代名〕<PRONOUN:it, that>

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

いろ【色】〔名〕<NOUN:the color, tint>

…oozing out from colors [to soak into our heart]?

と【と】〔格助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(REASON):due to, on account of, because of>

しも【しも】〔副助〕<POSTPOSITIONAL PARTICLE(EMPHATIC):exactly, quite>


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

…not quite, I now realize

まき【槇】〔名〕<NOUN:cypress trees (green all the year around)>

たつ【立つ】〔自タ四〕(たつ=連体形)<VERB:stand upright>

やま【山】〔名〕<NOUN:the mountain>

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


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

ゆふぐれ【夕暮れ】〔名〕<NOUN:the evening, dusk, twilight>

…in front of an autumnal eve falling down on green forests of cypress, changeless all the year round [and yet tinging my heart with seasonal loneliness]

《sabishisa wa sono iro to shimo nakarikeri maki tatsu yama no aki no yuugure》

■loneliness has a large company in 『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu)』■

 This TANKA is well-known in Japan for being one of “三夕(san-seki = 3 great TANKA poems of Autumnal evening)”… although very few modern Japanese can actually recite them, let alone understand their true poetical meaning or value.

 The secular name of the author of this TANKA, 寂蓮法師(Jakuren-houshi), was 藤原定長(Fujiwara-no-Sadanaga:1139-1202), who became an adopted son (in 1150) of 藤原俊成(Fujiwara-no-Shunzei or Toshinari:1114-1204), which means he was a brother-in-law of the famous 藤原定家(Fujiwara-no-Teika or Sadaie:1162-1241). With the birth of 定家(Teika/Sadaie), 定長(Sadanaga) gave up his secular life as the heir to 俊成(Shunzei) at the age of 30 and became a Buddhist monk, calling himself 寂蓮(Jakuren). He was widely accepted as one of the most adept poets of the day and was admired by many for his humble character… in queer contrast to largely controversial poems of 定家(Teika) and his volatile character which often cost him smooth promotion at the Imperial Court.

 In case you get curious, I will cite the other two of “三夕(san-seki = 3 great Autumnal evening TANKA)” from 『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu)』.

《みわたせばはなももみぢもなかりけり うらのとまやのあきのゆふぐれ:miwataseba hana mo momiji mo nakarikeri ura no tomaya no aki no yuugure》『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu)』秋(Autumn) No.363 by 藤原定家(Fujiwara-no-Teika)見渡せば(I look around and find)花も紅葉もなかりけり(there’s no flower or beautifully tinged leaves)浦の苫屋の(there’s just a shabby hut on the beach)秋の夕暮れ(in the Autumnal evening)

・・・Strange poem, isn’t it? 定家(Teika) looks around and finds no “花(hana = flowers)” or “紅葉(momiji = leaves tinged with yellow or red)”. What, after all, does he find?… “浦の苫屋(ura no tomaya = a shabby hut on the beach)” ― that is all he sees in the Autumnal evening. What is 定家(Teika) trying to say?… that there is nothing beautiful to see on this beach? If so, why does he bother to make a poem of such a shabby scene?

 This strangely uninteresting seaside scene by Teika is impossible to interpret, unless you know what story Teika had in mind when he made this poem ― it is a 本説取り(honsetsu-dori = a poem with a borrowed background from some other poem, story or legend) based on the following description of 『源氏物語(Genji-monogatari)』, a scene of 「明石(Akashi)」:

《はるばるともののとどこほりなきうみづらなるに、はる・あきのはな、もみぢのさかりなるよりも、ただそこはかとなうしげれるかげどもなまめかし:harubaru to mono no todokoori naki umizura naruni haru aki no hana momiji no sakari naru yori mo tada sokohakatonou shigereru kage domo namamekashi》

遙々と物の滞りなき海面なるに(the sea of Akashi spreads far and wide without any interruption)、春・秋の花、紅葉の盛りなるよりも(even more than the flowers of Spring and Autumn or the beautifully tinged leaves at their reddest)、只そこはかとなう繁れる陰ども艶めかし(the shadowy accents here and there of the scene thick with nameless yet not charmless plants feel more than enticing)

・・・定家(Teika:1162-1241)’s TANKA is a poetical contradiction to 『源氏物語(Genji-monogatari:1008)』 which was made public at the height of prosperity (literary and political) of Heian era, in which even a shabby local beach of 明石(Akashi) was replete with some hidden beauty in the eyes of 光源氏(Hikaru-Genji) despite his unhappy circumstances as a political exile from the capital city of 京都(Kyoto)… Two centuries later, the beauty in Akashi is gone, along with the glory of Heianese nobles in Kyoto… this TANKA by Teika was a symbolic requiem for the good old days that didn’t exist in actual life, only to be found in the literary world of the past… On top of that, Teika did not make this poem on the actual beach of 明石(Akashi) ― he just produced the scene in his head, as a product of his pure fancy ― a 新古今(Shin-Kokin) TANKA through and through, which will simply pass through the ears and minds of modern readers who simply refuse to make any more efforts than physically move their eyes from left to right on the computer screen (only occasionally from right to left on paper), without any involvement in the deeper and most beautiful essence of the apparently charmless lines of poetry, only made possible by strenuous efforts to delve into the productional background to apparently intangible poems. Like it or not, this is the 新古今調(Shin-Kokin-chou = Neo-Kokin style) esoteric TANKA, whose most conspicuous and controversial representative was 藤原定家(Fujiwara-no-Teika).

 In contrast to the intangible depths of the poems by 定家(Teika)and 寂蓮(Jakuren), the other “三夕(san-seki = 3 great TANKA of Autumnal evening)” is laughably shallow:

《こころなきみにもあはれはしられけり しぎたつさはのあきのゆふぐれ:kokoronaki mi nimo aware wa sirarekeri shigi tatsu sawa no aki no yuugure》『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu)』秋(Autumn) No.362 by 西行法師(Saigyou-houshi)心無き身にも(although I am a supposedly heartless Buddhist monk)哀れは知られけり(this scene naturally penetrates into my heart)鴫立つ沢の秋の夕暮れ(the sight of crowds of snipes jumping into the air in the Autumnal evening)

・・・In the declining years of Heian period, noble folks gave up their secular positions so easily to become Buddhist monks; 西行(Saigyou) and 寂蓮(Jakuren) were no exception. You MUST NEVER confuse 出家(shukke = giving up secularity to become a Buddhist priest)in Japan with Christian priesthood: it simply meant giving up one’s attempt at promotion as an Imperial officer, often with no authentic dedication to the holy way of Buddha or God or whatever.

 The total number of “法(hou = the way of Buddha)”, “僧(sou = Buddhist monks)” or “上人(shounin = ascetics)” in the list of poets in some 9,700 TANKA in 八代集(hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies) is about 1,000, of which 610 is concentrated in the last two anthologies 『千載集(Senzai-shuu:A.D.1188)』 and 『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu:A.D.1210-1216)』, which goes to show the desperate attempts and desires of Heianese nobles in its final years to make names for themselves as Buddhist-monk-poets who, unlike in the rigid hierarchy of Imperial Court officers, would be free to mingle with people of fame and power on the pretext of social intercourse by way of TANKA. Buddhist monks in the declining years of Heian era Japan were arguably the least “心無き(kokoro naki = heartless)” or “無心の(mushin no = with no impure motive)” folks in the history of holy world.

 Such being the case, the opening phrase of 西行(Saigyou)’s TANKA “心無き身にも(even to the heart of this heartless Buddhist monk)” is a joke, nothing but a wry joke 西行(Saigyou)is making out of his own unfortunate circumstances that compelled him to desert his secularity, which was well-known to his contemporary poetical comrades. Since such a “joking” phrase never contributes anything to the feeling of “あはれ(aware = the deep, heart-felt emotion)”, whether this TANKA can succeed as a great poem on “秋の夕暮れ(aki no yuugure = the Autumnal evening)” depends solely on the closing phrase “鴫立つ沢の秋の夕暮れ(shigi tatsu sawa no aki no yuugure = the sight of crowds of snipes jumping into the air in the Autumnal evening)”… Well, did it succeed? It does affect our heart, maybe, but how deeply so?

 To compare this “joking” song of 西行(Saigyou) on the same level with the preceding two by 定家(Teika) and 寂蓮(Jakuren) would be a fatal joke ― if you purport to be a poet at all. Even 西行(Saigyou) himself could not help but put a wry smile on his face in Heaven, wishing his name to be known for many other “no-joke” masterpieces he left in the world of TANKA.

 For your reference, the total number of the phrase “秋の夕暮れ(aki no yuugure = the Autumnal evening)” in 八代集(hachidaishuu = eight great Imperial TANKA anthologies) is 27 out of 9,700. Its first appearance, however, is quite late ― 『古今集(Kokin-shuu:A.D.905)』,『後撰集(Gosen-shuu:953-958)』 and 『拾遺集(Shuui-shuu:1006)』 had none of them ― there appeared as many as 7 pieces at a time ending with “秋の夕暮れ(aki no yuugure)” in 『後拾遺集(Go-Shuui-shuu:1086)』 ― 『金葉集(Kin-you-shuu:1126)』 and 『詞花集(Shika-shuu:1151)』 had only 1 each ― 『千載集(Senzai-shuu:1188)』 had 2, only to explode in the last 『新古今集(Shin-Kokin-shuu:1210-1216)』 with 16 bursts of “秋の夕暮れ(aki no yuugure)”… Autumn was really deep at the end of Heianese poetry, you see…

Having an English-speaking self within you is just like having a conversation partner like Sayaka-san/Jaugo-san beside you.
We provide you not with actual conversation partners, but we enable you to engage in intellectually enticing conversation with Sayaka-san/Jaugo-san(…no mean feat, isn’t it?)
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