Ono no Komachi, A Sensual Medieval Japanese Poet

My beautiful picture

Autumn colors from my bathroom window today


I’ve written before on this blog about Ono no Komachi. She continues to capture my interest as a woman and a poet.

Briefly, she lived from 834?-??. It’s not clear when she died. She served in Japan’s Heian court (then in Kyoto) and was one of the dominant poetic geniuses. She is also in the great Man’yoshu, a collection of 4500 poems.

She lived when a woman was considered to be educated once she composed, memorized and could recite 1000 poems. Her poetry is deeply subjective, passionate and complex. She was a pivotal figure, legendary in Japanese literary history.

The form: these are written in tanka form…the usual form of poetry most popular.

Don’t be put off by the lack of syllables or more than for the lines. These poems are translated into English and they don’t necessarily fit the form exactly.

There are parts of the world where her poetry is still studied and read. These cultures are richer for the doing, as are their poets.

Lady Nyo

Did he appear

Because I fell asleep

Thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming

I’d never have awakened.

When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.

My longing for you—

Too strong to keep within bounds.

At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.

One of her most famous poems:

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.

The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.

A diver does not abandon

A seaweed-filled bay.

Will you then turn away

From this floating, sea-foam body

That waits for your gathering hands?

Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.

My personal favorite:


The autumn night

Is long only in name—

We’ve done no more

Than gaze at each other

And it’s already dawn.

This morning

Even my morning glories

Are hiding,

Not wanting to show

Their sleep-mussed hair.

I thought to pick

The flower of forgetting

For myself,

But I found it

Already growing in his heart.

Since this body

Was forgotten

By the one who promised to come,

My only thought is wondering

Whether it even exists.


All these poems were compiled from the Man’yoshu and the book, “The Ink Dark Moon”, by Hirshfield and Aratani.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

copyrighted, 2016



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9 Responses to “Ono no Komachi, A Sensual Medieval Japanese Poet”

  1. Brian Says:

    I wake – reach for you
    mind dreams insist you were there
    covers cold as death
    hot tea steeps – steam curls question
    plump for winter – chickadee

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ladynyo Says:

    Absolutely a fine tanka. The fifth line…exactly what was supposed to be a ‘fine’ finish. Something of the haiku in it.

    What I find interesting is this: take your tanka….to the first three lines. A haiku! Take the last 3 lines…starting from the third. That pivot line. Another fine haiku!

    I have always believed that tanka, in some of its finest poems were two haiku sandwiched together. That is how I wrote tanka for a long time…and then went off that beaten path.

    Also…an most importantly. Your tanka carries out the earliest and finest tradition in my opinion: a continuation…a call and answer if you will….and a fine conversation between two (and more) tanka writers. Building upon the original poem and then expanding the scenery! Bravo, Brian.


  3. Brian Says:

    Thank you very much Jane. I really like your essays about poets because it challenges me and allows me to read about your interests and poets I’ve never met. I don’t normally spend a lot of time writing my poetry, this tanka was done in less than a minute. I also think that poetry suffers from too many labels and styles. I’m going to post this on my blog later today.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ladynyo Says:

    Good, Brian. I wish more people would do this. Poetry would benefit greatly.

    And I am glad you enjoy the posts on these different poets that I scrounge up. I love, love, love the medieval Japajnese poets. I love Komachi, Shikibu, Saigyo and a few more the most! While I realize that my tanka form isn’t proper….I try. LOL! And I will read your post when you post it. I am delighted!


  5. time cannot erase love | There Are More Poets than Stars in the Firmament Says:

    […] response to an essay about Ono no Komachi on Lady Nyo’s blog. I have always enjoyed leaving poems as comments. I believe poetry should […]


  6. Mother Willow Says:

    I love reading about the various poets Jane.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ladynyo Says:

    Bon! and I like researching them and learning about them…and writing about them. I wish more people would do this, Helene. We certainly can learn from these ancient poets that speak down the centuries to our own hearts and behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mother Willow Says:

    Thank you for posting these, I am in love with this reading nod the poetry is divine.


  9. ladynyo Says:

    thank you Helene!

    Liked by 1 person

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