“Lord Nyo’s Battle Cry”, from ‘The Nightingale’s Song’ , with poems from the Man’yoshu

Samurai in Battle on Horse

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.
Lady Nyo


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
Over mountains
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
Were merciful
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!

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2012, 2013

Jane Kohut Bartels, black and white image

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6 Responses to ““Lord Nyo’s Battle Cry”, from ‘The Nightingale’s Song’ , with poems from the Man’yoshu”

  1. ManicDdaily Says:

    Hi jane, there is beautiful lyric poetry here in the midst of the heroic legend. You take archetypal material but make it your own. I am not sure about including the sections of the Manyoshu. They are beautiful but I felt like they interrupted the narrative flow and honestly were not necessarY. I especially liked the opening stanzas about the battle. I am on phone so just can’t copy out the bits but I found this line about the issue of dying with honor especially moving. And the remnants on the battlefield too. K.


  2. ManicDdaily Says:

    Ps– of course there is the drama of the difference between the new life and lost life and that is there and powerful, but the mere descriptions of the requirements of duty to a seasoned warrior were very strong for me– the struggle so terrible. K.


  3. ladynyo Says:

    Karin, I lost both my replies to you, but thank you so much for reading this poem. I think for me, the inclusion of the Man’yoshu gives a certain ‘voice’ to the longer poem. It gives a structure in a way…something to write from, to imagine the exhaustion of the samurai, the demoralization faced with killing and battle each day, the death and gore that surrounds him. The Man’yoshu poems brought this to my imagination and I was able to write around them.

    Perhaps they are not necessary, and perhaps they are stumbling blocks for the longer poem, but they are so beautiful and speak so clearly to our humanity: it never really changes, and this was from 14 hundred years ago?

    Plus, if my little poems can interest readers in the Man’yoshu, then good! LOL! They are so wonderful.

    Thank you, Karin so much for reading this poem and for giving it such detailed attention.
    I deeply appreciate it and know you enjoy this story.



  4. ladynyo Says:

    What I wanted to make note of is Ruth Benedict’s “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” , an incredible book that laid the basis for research into the Japanese culture written in 1940. It was used by the US Govt. for their purposes.

    She has a long chapter on ‘giri’ which underlays the basis of Japanese mentality. This honor to the Emperor and then all structures, family, bosses, etc…Much more complicated than this, but a remarkable book in any case.

    Hence, the devotedness of Lord Nyo to his daimyo…all part of his obligations. And his throwing his life in the service of this daimyo, elsewhere in the poems, Lord Mori.

    Thank you again for reading this poem, Karin.



  5. ManicDdaily Says:

    Hi Jane – I didn’t see your replies – you don’t need to thank me! It is my pleasure. I love your work. I think that the original poems provide a kind of framework – and yes, they are beautiful – but you’ll figure it out as you go. Yes – the devotion to duty is especially military and especially Eastern. Daimyo sounds like “dharma” discussed so much in Bhagavad Gita. Same root I’m sure. Anyway, it’s a lovely poem. Good luck with it! k.


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hi K! can you see my replies now? I had some trouble with my computer then….but hopefully, it’s over now.

    Well, I thank you because reading and writing a comment, especially your comments…are commitments of time and effort. And I deeply appreciate them. Expands my own thoughts on these poems.

    Gee, I don’t know about daimyo/dharma….A daimyo is a feudal overlord….there were collections of them all over Japan, even into the late 19th century.
    Territories, regions were divided up into daimyo controlled land. Of course, these daimyo were duty bound to the Shogun or Emperor…whatever was reigning at the time. These men had incredible power and control. And the Emperor or Shogun demanded every few years that these daimyo and their families travel to Kyoto, Edo….whereever the seat of power was then…and leave wives, children, there as surety.

    In far flung regions, like Akito, there would be raids on territory by opposing daimyos and they weren’t supposed to go to war, but they did. And on occasion the Emperor/Shogun…would have to send troops to battle the daimyo’s troops.

    The castles, palaces of these daimyos rivaled anything in the imperial cities.

    There is a second “Battle Cry” that is much longer, actually using the top of this poem, and where Lord Nyo travels home with his ailing troops…and sees his son for the first time…but there is more in this series and to post this part (which I want to desperately! LOL!) would throw off readers.

    So….again, thank you, K. for your very sensitive and informed comments. They really help me get a better perspective on this series.



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