Recently I started reading the long poems in “The Nightingale’s Song”, something I hope to publish in the spring of 2013. I came across this piece, unfinished and certainly in need rewriting, but I thought I would post it here, just for an airing.
I also picked up a different edition of the Manyoshu, an 8th century collection of poems, and I fell in love with this manuscript all over again. These poems, written by courtesans, aristocrats, warriors, and in the oral tradition of tradesmen and fishermen, were collected and published in Japan in this 8th century. They speak across the centuries to the sentiments of men and women all over the world. Perhaps we haven’t changed that much and suffer the same pangs of longing and love as these poets so long ago?
There are many editions of the Manyoshu to be read, but one of the best I have is “Ten Thousand Leaves: Love Poems from the Manyoshu”, translated from the Japanese by Harold Wright.
The poems from the Manyoshu are in bold type.
LORD NYO’S BATTLE CRY I.
Perhaps a strong man
Should not offer love without
Having love returned
But this grieving ugly warrior
Still finds his love is growing
When the news of Lady Nyo
Birthing a son
Reached Lord Nyo
He was far from home
To the east
In dangerous, alien territory.
A general in the service
Of his lord
The gore of battle
This issue of ‘dying with honor’
Began at first light.
The air soon filled with sounds of battle-
Dying horses, dying men
Drawing their last gasps of life
Churned into the mud of immeasurable violence.
Death, not new life
Was before his eyes at dawn
And death, not life
Pillowed his head at night.
A battle rages around me,
But inside this old warrior
A battle rages inside my heart.
It is heavy with sorrow,
So tired beyond my old bones.
What good have we done
In watering the soil
With blood and offal
of our sons?
He stunk with the blood of battle
As his bow and swords cut a swath
Through men in service to another
And when the battle horns went silent
With tattered banners like defeated clouds
Hanging limp over the field
Acrid smoke stained everything
And the piteous cries of the dying
Echoed in his ears.
He wondered if his life would end here.
But the gods he didn’t believe in
And his thoughts turned from fierce, ugly warriors
Towards home and a baby.
Still, he could not leave.
He was caught by status-
The prestige of his clan.
He could not desert the
Fate set by birth.
Ah! This was fate of a man in servitude
To his Lord Daimyo.
This was the fate
Of a man chained to Honor.
Still, in the darkest hours of night
The soft and perfumed shape of his wife
Floated down from the fleeting clouds
that covered the eye of the virgin moon
Came to him through the smoke of battlefield fires
And he turned on his pallet
To embrace this haunting comfort.
Off in the distance
There I see my loved one’s home
On the horizon.
How I long to be there soon
Get along black steed of mine!
Copyrighted, 2012, 2013
Tags: "Lord Nyo's Battle Cry", "Ten Thousand Leaves", 'The Nightingale's Song', 6th Century Japanese collection, battle, daimyo, Harold Wright, Jane Kohut-Bartels, Lady Nyo, long poetry, longing, love, poetry, the Man'yoshu