Lady Nyo’s Torment, from “The Nightingale’s Song”, Part 6

Man'yoshu image II

Lady Nyo’s Torment, from “The Nightingale’s Song”, Part 6


“I stay here waiting for him

In the autumn wind, my sash untied,

Wondering, is he coming now,

Is he coming now?

And the moon is low in the sky.

The only company I have tonight,

Now near dawn, is the paling Milky Way,

And Oh, my husband!

There are not stars enough in the heavens

To equal my sorrowful tears.”


Hana Nyo threw back the quilted robe from her head.

It was just a dream, just a dream. 

Then why does my heart pound so?


Two nights before

Lady Nyo and her nurse

Spent the hours til dawn

Watching the flame rise and fall

Through the shoji of Lord Nyo’s room,

 Watched the candle

Consume the poems he was writing–

But to whom?


“Ah, he has another woman!”

Her nurse was loyal but leaned

On the privilege of time.


Lady Nyo’s heart took flight.

Fear and shame dueled

In her blood, pushing reason

From her head.


Did he know?

Did he know?

Did he know about the poems?

Did he know of the vanished lover?


For two days it rained.

November rains poured like

Waterfalls off the eaves,

Broke the stems of the chrysanthemums,

Scattered the flower heads,

Blew great gusts of wet wind into her room,

Blanketing an already sorrowful mind

With a seasonal fury.


Lord Nyo had ridden out

The dawn after

The Night of Burning Poems,

Dressed for hunting,

His falcon on his glove,

Not a word of farewell,

Not a baleful glance in her direction.

She watched him mount his horse,

And gallop away.

She watched from the slits between bamboo blinds,

Like a thief or a beggar,

She didn’t know what,

Only felt the sharp sting of shame,

A particular loss of something she probably

Never had.


Lady Nyo spent the day journal writing,

Her misery reflected in an unpainted face,

Tangled hair,

Shunning food as a sacrifice:

The pain of her torment

Was not lessened.


Once I did believe

That no love could still linger

Within my heart

Yet, a love springs from somewhere

And forces itself on me.”




“My eyes have seen you

But I’ve yet to hold you close

You’re like a laurel

That is growing on the moon

And I don’t know what to do.”


Yes, and I don’t know what to do.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011, 2013


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11 Responses to “Lady Nyo’s Torment, from “The Nightingale’s Song”, Part 6”

  1. Caliban's Sister Says:

    “Her nurse was loyal but leaned on the privilege of time.”
    This entry is so keen and sharp. Not one wasted word. The Night of the Burning Poems; the wet wind blanketing an already sorrowful mind with a seasonal fury; how brilliant this is. Crystalline, spare yet full of drama, suspense, feeling. You manage to pull this off without any melodrama or bathos. It’s ‘high’ drama but tightly contained and organized, kept in formation like origami. Well done. love CS


  2. ladynyo Says:

    What a good comment you write! Thank you, CS. It’s hard to avoid melodrama in these things, but perhaps the sentiments on the top, where they speak to each other through a poem, leads into a controlled emotion?

    I don’t know, but I do know that these poems surprise me as much as any other reader. Overall, I try to keep to what I know of the portrayal of Japanese sentiments in older literature: this would be contained behind a certain decorum, but underneath, no stinting on emotion. But it’s different from what we generally assume. The seasonal elements lead into the emotional elements and ‘color’ and give substance to those things we have a hard time deplicting in our writing. Perhaps they ‘stand in’ for the obvious?

    Also, the top piece of poetry, whether from the Man’yoshu or my own poem, sets an emotional call and answer I believe. Sometimes just to extend what I am trying to convey, I will add to a Man’yoshu poem, and this helps. It further sets the stage.

    We have a different ‘standard’ in Western poetry, but in the East…continuing on with someone else’s poetry is complimentary and proper. So I feel a good amount of freedom in doing this. However, most of what I post in this series are my own poems. (These poems in italics)

    Thank you so much for reading and your insightful comments. So often, a poet learns so much more from the reading of another soul. I know that everything you bring here deepens my own understanding of what I am attempting.


    Lady Nyo


  3. Caliban's Sister Says:

    I think what is most skillful here is your rendering of decorum. It permeates the lines. That’s what makes them powerful, the contrast between the scenario, the tension, and the spareness and reticence. It’s a balancing art. Much contemporary American poetry either goes too spare–too detached (think LANGUAGE poetry) and cerebral, or too impressionistic without the discipline to actually convey a narrative. What I love about these is that each one advances the story. Each with its own pristine mood. This is not easy to pull off.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    I will have to consider your words here, as this series of poems just sort of evolved. LOL! But there is a lot of research into the culture of Japan, in fact about 5 years worth. Mostly I studied the poetry forms of ancient Japan. Then, this series wsa able to find it’s own particular voice.

    I would guess that is where this decorum you are speaking of comes from. It’s important that there is a particular ‘set stage’ for something like these poems, and to be able to do this you have to rely on what you have come to know about this particular culture. And yes, it is a balancing art in this endeavour. You are very right about that. The narrative is carried by the scene I would suppose, but not necessarily second to it. I don’t know because I haven’t really thought about the nuts and bolts of these episodes. I was just taken by a continuing story, problem, argument between the two main characters. Each episode has to advance the story, otherwise it will stagnant into something. What, I don’t know. LOL!

    I think what was in the back of my mind when I was writing this, (am still writing this because I am extending Nightingale into another series… but very slowly) was the terseness of haiku, the classical issues of tanka, but more so, the beauty of doing something with very little verbosity! LOL! This is an opposite of most Western poetry, and at times I had to really weigh that tendency here. Did it (descriptions, adjectives, etc.) add to the story or take it from the main objective? So maybe this is what you are talking about as language?

    Narrative was actually easy. Otherwise, what would I have here? Just scenery. I had to bring in the psyches of both characters to tell the story. I trust my characters to tell the story. To come and develop themselves within the context of the story.

    Well, anyway, I am very thankful for your reading, comments and analysis, CS. I learn so much more about my own poetry through the eyes and analysis of other readers. And you, dear friend, have given me so much to think and work with. I hope you will continue to read each episode (I believe there are 12 or 14 of them…) and continue to give me such great thoughts! I hope they please and excite you as much as they did for me.

    Lady Nyo


  5. ladynyo Says:

    PS: I understand what you mean about the “Language Poetry”…I think…a school of poets that sprung out of a distaste of sentimentality of the Romantics? Gertude Stein was one of the founding pillars of this new school. It’s too…well, it doesn’t do much for me, as a poet…but then again, I haven’t been a poet forever…just about 7 years, so I have a lot to learn about poetry.

    Thanks, again, CS.



  6. Caliban's Sister Says:

    L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry was a “New York” school that spread to SF; by boomers, folks like Barrett Watten, Ron Silliman, Charles Berstein. Trying to make poetry completely un-subjective; to render it merely an object of language itself. The best is interesting, the worst is inert or forces the reader to contort. It is “anti-meaning” poetry. Stein, yes, the precursor. I find it fascinating to see how verbally expressive and generous you are in your exchanges, with me at least, and I can only imagine you are with others too; then this streamlined, graceful “tea ceremony” poetry that has an innate set of limits to it. Don’t misunderstand–I’m not saying your comments or communication is verbose!! Or that the poetry is not generous! It’s just that the contrast in writing style is marked in such a way that I can truly SEE your artistry. Make sense?


  7. ladynyo Says:

    Oh! That’s lovely. I was never an adherent of the LANGUAGE School of poetry…it left me cold. Or perhaps confused. LOL!

    But I appreciate your comment here, and it’s informative. There is so much in poetry to go over, and I’ve done a number of tutorials,….for different sites, mostly haiku, especially tanka (my favorite) and sonnets. Ugh. They are hard and an acquired taste.

    Now, we poets use the vehicle of language to express ourselves. LOL! I wish there was something else, but I can’t see what it would be right now.

    Ah! “Anti-meaning”!!! LOL!…hard enough to get some meaning in our work, enough to communicate and connect. That last is the hardest…this great umbilical cord with humanity. Otherwise, for me, what is the purpose of our work? William Stafford is a poet to hold close to our hears… he comes from an older generation, but speaks so directly to so much…no pitzing around about style and language. I never really like Stein or Bernstein, or Bukowski, though the last was something that IF you didn’t appreciate…you were seriously retarded amongst the poetry and literary folk. Well, I be damaged.

    Japanese poetry…of different forms. The thing about this poetry, either choka, haiku, tanka, renga, etc…there are many ‘rules’ but these have a purpose. Learning them, studying them has a purpose. Unfortunately, western poets…many of my poet friends tend to want to ignore the study of these rules (for lack of a better word…) and they end up perverting the form. Ok, but it’s not tanka, haiku, etc. And striving for different things in these poems, like yugen, sabi, wabi, mono aware,kigo, etc, what is called Japanese aethestics….well we can fall far from the aim and intention of the poem. Japanese poetry is ultimately poetry of sensibility (and simplicity)..and immediate grasp. Somewhere I read that our poetry should be like a swordsman leaping and striking an immediate blow. No shilly=shalling around here. Should grab the mind with an immediate impact. Of course, it should also have what I call “an afterburn”…lol….it should haunt.

    But even a short reading of the great Man’yoshu, that incredible document of 4500 plus poems, from the 8th century or thereabouts will give a sense of these wonderful aesthetics. They form the bones and life blood of a literature that I believe is unparalleled in history.

    I have forgotten more than I have learned…but it’s not a race. It’s a deeper study and an refinement in our attempts at poetic form. I expect to be studying these forms, trying to get a finer and deeper grasp of them for the rest of my life.

    I also appreciate someone like you, CS, who brings knowledge, wisdom and research to this discussion. That is rare I have found out. And unfortunately, rare with other poets.

    Lady Nyo…Oh! don’t depend on a ‘cha no yu’ for much of Nightingale. It becomes rather bloody, surprising and barbaric later on. LOL! These ‘ugly old warriors’ plus a Tengu. They stick their swords and fingers through the shoji much of the time. They leave a mess. LOL~!


  8. Caliban's Sister Says:

    This paragraph is incredibly interesting to me:

    “choka, haiku, tanka, renga, etc…there are many ‘rules’ but these have a purpose. Learning them, studying them has a purpose. Unfortunately, western poets…many of my poet friends tend to want to ignore the study of these rules (for lack of a better word…) and they end up perverting the form. Ok, but it’s not tanka, haiku, etc. And striving for different things in these poems, like yugen, sabi, wabi, mono aware,kigo, etc, what is called Japanese aethestics….well we can fall far from the aim and intention of the poem. Japanese poetry is ultimately poetry of sensibility (and simplicity)..and immediate grasp. Somewhere I read that our poetry should be like a swordsman leaping and striking an immediate blow. No shilly=shalling around here. Should grab the mind with an immediate impact. Of course, it should also have what I call “an afterburn”…lol….it should haunt.”

    You’re right that many American poets wanted to blow the rules away; but in Asian culture, those aesthetic rules are actually freeing, as you describe. I’m learning from you how to think about rules as something to be worked within as ways to get to immediate meaning. The tradition you describe is about craft, art, ‘delivery devices’ for truth; I think it’s beautiful and powerful. And w/o the meaning, what’s the point indeed. and yes, there needs to be an after burn. That’s what’s so striking. Poetry of sensibility and immediate grasp. How clearly put that is. love CS
    ps Morning!


  9. ladynyo Says:

    Good Morning, CS! LOL! Ah, my words are really inadequate to the task of definng these things…but I try.

    You have grasped something many of my poetic friends have not: ‘delivery devices for truth. Yep, and creativity comes from not fumbling and avoiding the rules but learning them and understanding their purpose. And their power. But so it is forever with poets! LOL!~

    In fact, within these rules are set guidlines that give us great expression and freedom…roadmaps, if you will, tolerable devices that can give structure to great beauty and expression. Well, something like this.

    I wrote “Basho on Poetry” a few months (???) ago for this blog, which was well read, but wasn’t that hard to understand. It was mostly Basho’s own words from an old document about the intent and purpose of poetry, and other things that go into this art form.

    Saigyo also gives much instruction, but not quite with the exactitude of Basho. Of course, Basho is talking about haiku; Saigho tanka….but the points are easily seen.

    I have always felt that this ‘giri’ is part, very much so, of the creative process in Japanese culture. Right now I am reading Lafcadio Hearn’s ‘Japan PPsychological’ from a new anthology of his writings (“Japan’s Great Interpreter”) and think that we can’t read enough about the underpinnings of Japanese culture for forming our poetry in these ‘styles’.

    But that is very much part of the problem I think: I used to get sent haiku and tanka from other poets fresh on the usage of these forms…and when I asked if they had studied something of the forms, some said that ‘these rules were too restrictive of my creative process, so no. They didn’t.” LOL!

    Well, early on in my own attempts at especially tanka, I did the same…and they WEREN’T tanka at all…something as a famous tanka writer said: “Good first drafts”. LOL! I had to go back and really study and dissect the form. From that I was able to do the piece: Introduction to Tanka for OneShot Poetry. It’s there on the blog somewhere, about two year ago, but if you are interested I will send you the entry. It’s not that complex because when we fall to that, people’s eyes cross and their minds shut down, and with this, it’s not necessary.

    People can ‘get’ something like kigo (seasonal word) in a poem, but they struggle with some of the harder stuff: yugen, etc..which is more a sentiment (for lack of the proper word this morning) and is part also of the bones of this poetry. It takes years I think, or at least it has for me, to start to understand why the underpinnings of this poetry is so important. In tanka, there is a top and bottom poem, joined together with a pivot line, and this makes or breaks the form. Why ignore all this? It’s just a device for a particular form and within this, there is great freedom and challenge. And IF our poetry doesn’t challenge us and our thought process, what are we doing?

    I am just (after 6 years~ slow learner here…) just beginning to learn things without resentment! LOL! Perhaps that comes with maturity..these structures (rules) aren’t there to limit us, to inhibit us, but to direct and push our work forward. I will leave you will one tanka that I wrote that was a break through for me:

    Autumn wind startles–
    Lowered to an ominous
    Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!
    The fat mountain deer listen-
    Add their bellowing sorrow.

    Well, this isn’t a great example but it’s close at hand. I played with the structure (of mora) in the third line, traditionally the pivot line, but it works. I used to think that the point was to learn the rules and then you can break the rules. I don’t think that right anymore. Besides, I have come to embrace the rules. LOL!



  10. Caliban's Sister Says:

    “In tanka, there is a top and bottom poem, joined together with a pivot line, and this makes or breaks the form.”
    I read your post on Basho awhile back; the idea of bones of a poem, is fascinating. Many writers are big on learning rules so you can break them. It’s become an affectation. Much tougher and mor pure, if you’re working within or to honor a particular tradition that HAS rules, to learn to use them to express your own immediate reality. That is a challenge–the “mora,” the pivotal line–what a useful concept, for all kinds of things, painting, writing prose perhaps as well. Thinking in these ways can bring elegance to many forms of “apprehension” of our world and environment. xo CS


  11. ladynyo Says:

    I agree, CS. With especially Westerners…we think that ‘we can do better’…by ignoring the form, but we don’t realize or understand the many centuries that have proved the form for what it is: elegance, simplicity, far reaching beyond our immediate thoughts…the Man’yoshu does some of this for me.

    I know a poet, an old man, actually, who insists his poetry is perfect the way he puts it on the page. Frankly, his poetry is generally effusive garbage. He claims that the Japanese do the same thing, ancient poetry, but he doesn’t know how hard these ancient poets revised, continually revised, their poetry. If you read Saigyo, or Basho, or Issa, etc…you read about their constant efforts to refine their verse. Their great doubts IF they have found the correct and best words to express what is necessary in their poems. So, to me, the issue is constant study of form and revision of our thoughts in our poems. What is the road, the path to the clearest and simple clarity of thought?

    In a sense, a real sense, the attempts to immediacy is a effort that takes work! There is a lot of learning and study to do this behind scenes. And that is the point of paying attention to these aesthetics.

    For instance, yugen is a complex thing: it has different senses….dim, deep, but what I take from this is yugen is something that is not immediately seen, it’s ‘beyond’ the words…but nothing metaphysical. It’s within the world but not stated. I think yugen is one of the most important concepts for our poetry…and something that isn’t exactly within the western concept of ‘abstract’. It’s something else. But to study these forms of tanka, haiku, etc. I believe is dependent upon studying these Japanese aesthetics. To avoid that is to impoverish our poetry, and they apply to non-Japanese forms, also. I think William Stafford does some of this in his own poetry. But it’s very American poetry, and good stuff, too! His verse ‘goes beyond the words’.

    And I agree! I think this pivot is already done in music, neh? I don’t know about anything else, but it seems to be a pretty complete concept to play around with!

    Thank you so much CS, for your reading and your insightful comments. I enjoy so much your vision and interpertation of these concepts.

    Lady Nyo


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