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

Samurai Woman

Samurai Woman

… The poetry in this part of “The Nightingale’s Song” is from the Man’yoshu and my own original poetry.

Lady Nyo


 “The cicada cries

Everyday at the same hour

But I’m a woman much in love and very weak

And can cry anytime”


The rain cleared, the sun came out

And all was polished bronze.

Leaves sparkled, the air shining.

Lady Nyo would visit a shrine,

Had her palm-leaf carriage

With the white ox made ready.

There on the carriage cushion

Was a bone-white fan.

“How strange. And here

In my carriage!”

Lady Nyo opened the fan,

Saw the character

And her face went from

Pale to red,

Changing with the speed of a squid.

Oh! How elegant!

How sublime this character!

Of an excellent hand,

Surely a noble one,

Of great depth and emotion.

Then she recovered herself.

How fickle she was!

How shallow,

How low her nature

That it would allow her to be

Swayed by a stranger’s painted fan!

She would  not  answer this

She would end it.

She would remain

A virtuous wife,

Would not sully these long years

Of marriage with a trifler.

Let her dreams be enough passion,

Let her unbidden dreams keep her warm.

But could she live like that?

Better to be a shave- headed nun

Take up the staff with iron rings–

Hold a begging bowl!

At dusk,

Lady Nyo took to her inkstone,

And in her journal

Wrote poems,

Verse she hoped would

Cleanse her soul,

Rest her mind–

Calm her heart.

“While I wait for you

With longing in my breast

Back here at home

My bamboo blinds are fluttered

By the blowing autumn breeze.”

“The moon has risen

To that predetermined point

And I am thinking:

The time has come to go outside

And wait for his arrival.”


“Even the breeze

Increases painful longing

Even the breeze

But I know he will come

So why feel grief in waiting?”

So lonely am I

My soul like a floating weed

Severed at the roots

Drifting upon cold waters

No pillow for further dreams.

The autumn air floated

Down from nearby Moon Mountain,

A holy place where no woman

Could tread the path.

The darkening dusk

Fused the color of leaves, pines

And a Corn Moon mounted the sky.


The morning wren sings

I kneel in the moonlit dawn

Kimono wrapped tight

Last night I made my peace

Now free from all attachments


Lady Nyo knelt on the veranda

A paper lantern behind her–

Monstrous shadows in the night-gloom.

She would wait for her husband

She would wait until the winds

Of dawn blew down from Moon Mountain

And brought with them

The return of her mate.

“From the high mountain

The sound of a crying stag

Carries down valleys

How inspiring is his voice

Like yours, my loving lord.”


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011, 2013


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

  1. Caliban's Sister Says:

    Wonderful. How delicate and sensitive she is; meanwhile, her husband tries his own handing at writing poems to his wife. Fans left in carriages, and thoughts of shave-head nuns. I love this Man’ Yoshu call and response. Lady Nyo is better than cicadas. She can cry anytime. There has to be something holy in that, no?


  2. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! Yes! There has to be something of an ultimate feminine gift in the ability to cry. Recently a man was telling me that he felt robbed by life: as a man, he was not supposed to cry, yet he was an ex-soldier, had seen war, and he came home stoppered up with so much trauma. Now? He’s crying, when he needs to, but he does it in private because in his culture, men just don’t cry. Openly. In most cultures, actually, men don’t cry. So I think it’s a big breakthrough for this man.

    Something holy, as you say…for women AND men.

    Ah! We don’t know if her husband has been leaving the poems, etc. It might be that secret admirer who has vanished?? LOL! that is part of the mystery of these poems. Will he turn up again and cause trouble for Hana Nyo?

    There was little for women of this age, century and culture to do besides marriage and childbearing. Becoming a nun was a common thing to do amongst certain classes. And shaving their head was considered the ultimate sacrifice, because women had long, long hair and this was a mark of distinction and great beauty. So, it is significant shaving the head bald.

    I’ve (am) learning so much from that huge 4500 plus poem document, the Man’yoshu. Not just about the form of poetry then, but about the culture and life with men and women. Nothing much changes and there is something comforting in that. Humanity has some very specific and common emotional traits.

    Thank you for reading and your lovely comment, CS. I learn more from other readers and their take on these poems than I learn from writing them!



  3. Caliban's Sister Says:

    I didn’t realize that the document was that huge! That is an epic embarkation you are on, looking there for inspiration and exchange. Ahhh–could it be clumsy Lord Nyo leaving these? There is a line of thought that tears are holy because they cleanse. xxCS


  4. ladynyo Says:

    There are a couple of large documents…collections of poems, from the 7th century, (or earlier, the Kojiki for example) that are collections of poetry and history) but these are of a very much Chinese influence. Written in a form of Chinese language, they are generally praise for the Emperor and family.

    The Man’yoshu (year 758 or so…) was very different. In Japanese (mostly) and democratic. By this, I mean poems were included in this great collection from aristocrats, court attenders, courtesans or women of the court, merchants, priest-poets, even fishermen. (this last is more from the folk songs which are poems in of themselves.)

    Most interesting to me is that there was very little Buddhist influence in the Man’yoshu. This is because Buddhism was an imported and alien religion, and mostly adopted by the aristocrats, court, etc. The general religion was Shinto with their various earthly gods and goddesses. This was Japan’s earliest religion. Think Roman Kitchen Gods!

    But so many of the poems are lovely, speak to us directly through 1200 years and to our human condition. I have used a few (several or more) from the Man’yoshu for “The Nightingale’s Song” to inspire the episode, but have also written my own poetry from this same inspiration. There is so much in there, CS, that one could spend a lifetime in discovery, not only of poems, but of the cultural mentality.

    Lord Nyo is….clumsy, but he’s trying to reform. LOL! I have no idea whether he is leaving the poems, but I think these poems left on her fan, addressed to her sleeves, etc…(lol) are really rattling poor Lady Nyo. She is determined not to be caught up in this web of deceit. She has good reason for this, too, because Lord Nyo can take her head off with one swipe of his short sword….or longer one. And it would be within his ‘right’ to do so by law. However, I think he loves her, it’s just that he has forgotten what love is about with all these wars and battles in the service of his lord daimyo. Goes back to this concept of ‘giri’. Everything is sacrificed to this, even the life of his family.

    Thank you for reading this poem and your challenging questions, CS. I am learning as we go here.

    Lady Nyo


  5. Caliban's Sister Says:

    This is fascinating Jane. I wish you’d write a critical book about this poetic tradition. You’ve done so much research; you could combine history, poetry, research. Maybe you already are at work on this. Gee, I don’t think you’re being ‘productive’ enough! (joke). I lit a candle last night for Thumper and asked Lord Jizo to escort him to his siblings. And I asked whatever is out there to ease your pain a little from all these creaturely losses of late. To fill your spirit with the knowledge of what a caregiver you are. love CS


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Ah, you’re making me cry. Thank you, and Thumper/Sophie/Rose thanks you, too.

    Funny, I have never found comfort in Christianity, with all the saints, etc…but with Lord Jizo, just him….there is comfort. I recently (couple of months ago) got a book, “Jizo Bodhisattva” written by a Buddhist nun, and upon opening it up, I couldn’t get through the first chapter because of tears. I’m going to try again. I need, for my own spiritual life, to go in much deeper here.

    As to writing any critical book….I have to laugh! I am only 6-7 years into the research, study and attempts to form my own poetic work, and there are so many better people who have done the above! I am really just at the beginning of this study and discovery. But I have done some presentations on Tanka and the great Man’yoshu for two poetry groups over the past few years. I was surprised how many people, as poets, didn’t know much about tanka or choka, or other forms. They knew haiku, for it seems to be something very popular …or was a few years ago. Funny, this morning even my brother, whom I have little contact, sent me a very funny haiku. Didn’t know he knew anything about the form, but was pleasantly surprised!

    Of course, most people who write haiku have not come across the great Japanese haikuists like Basho, Buson and Issa, the three I think are necessary at least to start any study of Haiku with. Some have read Basho, because he is the most popular, but there are great differences in style with the three of them. A lot of our haiku sounds like fortune cookie stuff…and the ‘rules’ of haiku are ignored as much as other Japanaese forms by us. I generally stay away from haiku because I find it too difficult. The form I love most is tanka (waka) and the greatest writer of that form for me is Saigyo. But there are also many Heian era women poets that are as great: Ono no Komachi, Izumi Shikibu, to name only two.

    One of my favorite poems of Shikibu: This heart is not/a summer field,/and yet…/how dense love’s foliage/has grown.

    And a famous one of Komachi’s: Since this body/was forgotten/by the one who promised to come/my only thought is wondering/whether it even exists.

    I could happily spend the rest of my life just reading these three: Saigyo, Komachi, Shikibu. Of course, they propel one to try a hand at tanka, this highly emotional poetry, but it seems that emotional uproar, the perils of an unhappy love is the fertile ground for such beautiful poetry. If you haven’t such uproar, sometimes the poetry produced is rather…well, plain. LOL! At least mine is.

    However, in my third book: “White Cranes of Heaven” though most of this 50 seasonal poems are free verse, there is a section of Tanka/Moon poems that I just couldn’t ignore. I am thinking that next year I will put out a book just on tanka and some haiku. It took me 5 years to understand some of the ‘rules’ of tanka and to see why they were there, but now? It’s easier.

    For any one who wants to get a good handle on these forms, I think it essential to read Shuichi Kato’s “A History of Japanese Literature, The First Thousand Years”. This is essential because he lays bare all the cultural impulses around the literature, the influences from China and Korea, and then the great surge towards an indigeous Japanese literature. It’s not easy reading but he goes into “The Age of the Man’yoshu” heavily. that is a great starting place. Of course, it is no substitute for reading various editions of the Man’yoshu itself, and they are easily obtained from different online sources.

    For pure beauty and pleasure, the marvelous book :”Love Songs from the Man’yoshu” can’t be beat. This illustrated (with paper cuts, but beyond our idea of paper cuts!) by Miyata Masayuki, Commentary by Ooka ZMakoto, translations by Ian Hideo Levy and with an essay by Donald Keene is invaluable. But more, just holding this beautifully bound and colored book is a pure sensual delight!

    “The Ink Dark Moon” Love poems by Komachi and Shikibu” is another wonderful book to study. Easier too, than Kato’s History.

    There is just so much to read in this delightful literature of a culture that most of us have little knowledge. There is little I can add to it because there are so many good sources out there, but it is my favorite area of study.

    Thank you,CS, for reading, prodding me, and your delightful comments!!!

    PS: I think my feeble attempts to do this: combine history, poetry, etc, is incubating in my unfinished (so long unfinished….) novel “The Kimono”. It’s challenged and changed me over the 6 years of writing this book, so perhaps someday it will bear this particular fruit. But I don’t know. There is just so much to learn about this culture and the fruits of this culture.


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