“Call and Answer to Ono no Komachi”


(J Kohut-Bartels,  1995, ‘Birds’, watercolor)

Tonight is OLN (Open Link Night) at dversepoets pub.  I don’t know who is tending the bar tonight because I am posting this early, but they are sure to give a good reading of poems there and a stiff drink to boot.

“Call and Answer” is a work in progress…my attempt to riff in verse with Ono no Komachi.  One of my very favorite poets of any age.  She was a fascinating person and poet.  I included an essay on her in the ‘essay section’ of “Song of the Nightingale”, published 2015.  She is slippery, though.  Different translations of the same poem can give a variation in message.  I have found, for her, the best translations are done by Hirshfield and Aratani.  Jane Hirshfield became a mentor to me, of sorts, when I first started writing tanka.  From her it was: “Good start. Still not tanka yet.”  This was helpful.

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.



How long will it last?

I know not his hidden heart.

This morning my thoughts

Are as tangled as my hair.

My blushes turn my face dark.”

……Lady Nyo (from “Kimono”, work in progress…)


When my desire

Grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

Inside out,

Dark as the night’s rough husk.


No moon tonight

Only a cold wind visits.

Murasaki robe

Stained the color of grass

Invisible on this earth.

……Lady Nyo   (Murasaki is the color purple.  it is also a grass that has dark lavender tops.  It was used as a dye.)


At least no one can blame me

When I go to you at night

Along the road of dreams.


Come to me, my man,

Part the blinds, come into my arms,

Snuggle against my warm breast

Let my belly

Warm your dreams.

…..Lady Nyo


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.



When my need denied

Burns my breasts-torments me

I tear open robes

To lie naked in moonlight

The wind your hands, caressing

……Lady Nyo



Night deepens

With the sound of calling deer,

And I hear

My own one-sided love.’



Autumn wind startles–

Lowered to an ominous

     Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!

     The fat mountain deer listen-

   Add their bellowing sorrow.

…..Lady Nyo


The cicadas sing

In the twilight

Of my mountain village—

Tonight, no one

Will visit save the wind.



Tonight, foxes scream

Cued by a howling wind.

Maple leaves quilting

A lonely time of season

No one to share the moonlight.

……Lady Nyo




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?



So lonely am I

My soul like a floating weed

Severed at the roots

Drifting upon cold waters

No pillow for further dreams.

…..Lady Nyo



Is this love reality

Or a dream?

I cannot know,

When both reality and dreams

Exist without truly existing.



Dreams, reality

How can one truly know?

I stumble through dreams

I stagger through the lost days

Tell me: what has more substance?

…..Lady Nyo

Ono no Komachi just begs for a call and answer.  Her poetry is sublime.  I just had to take this opportunity.  She inspires on the deepest level.

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

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

Tags: , , , ,

28 Responses to ““Call and Answer to Ono no Komachi””

  1. Janice Says:

    Your answers are beautiful…you are very in sync with her writing.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Janice. She (and others…especially Saigyo and Issa) are very inspiring. Komachi speaks a thousand years into our lives today. Who could not feel this? Humankind doesn’t change that much, especially in emotions, over the centuries. Thank you so much for reading and sending a very appreciated comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Maureen Sudlow Says:



  4. ladynyo Says:

    THank you, Maureen. Too many people don’t know of her….and that’s today’s poets!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) Says:

    I have to say I both love the interpretations of Ono no Komachi (my favorite was the one of wearing the bed clothes inside out) and your responses was so very inspired… the no sharing moonlight was a great turn…


  6. kanzensakura Says:

    This is gorgeous Jane! I love the back and forth and yes, you are beautifully and wonderfully synced. Hugs.


  7. Beverly Crawford Says:

    So interesting to see your lovely responses to her inspiration. Thank you for sharing.


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Bjorn. the bed clothes would be another layer of kimono in an era where women wore up to 12 silk kimonos…yikes! But that poem is one of her most famous. Breasts racing with fire! What a thought!
    And thank you for liking my responses….frankly, this was way too much fun!


  9. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Beverely, it was a lot of fun to attempt this.


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Sweetie? Coming from you I take that as a great honor. Some of my responses were tanka form but some not. Which is ok. Who can not be inspired by Komachi? Only Murasaki S. can be as sublime. thank you, Toni.


  11. hypercryptical Says:

    Your answers are indeed beautiful and your entire post the most beautiful read.
    I have not heard of Ono no Komachi, so many thanks for introducing her to me.
    I have investigated and (some of) her work is available on Amazon – I shall order after clicking your comment button!
    Anna :o]


  12. Grace Says:

    I love the call and responses between the poet and your words Toni ~ My favorite part:

    So lonely am I

    My soul like a floating weed


  13. Glenn Buttkus Says:

    Jazz & the Blues both use “call & respond” techniques. Often I write dialogue poems, but each speaker is fictional as the dialogue becomes the muse, and the universe(s) are too tiny to even suggest the parameters. I enjoyed this very much; thanks for sharing.


  14. sarahrussellpoetry Says:

    I agree. The call/response is perfect. So well done!


  15. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Sarahrussell!


  16. ladynyo Says:

    You are welcome.


  17. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Grace…..I’m Jane, not Toni, LOL! But I am honored to be addressed as her.


  18. ladynyo Says:

    Oh Anna! You are in for a great treat! Also, look for Murasaki Shikibu. Excellent in the same ways. Thanks so much for reading and your comment.


  19. Sreesha Divakaran Says:

    Out of your poems, I like the one with the line “Let my belly warm your dreams” the best. Out of Komachi’s works, I like the first one the best.
    Nicely compiled! Thank you for sharing this with us 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Brendan Says:

    Call and answer is an interesting way to put it, because there is always a conversation between poet and Beloved or Other. But these aren’t lovers whispering to each other on the water but translations of a sort of the same singer: mirror-reflections of that cast breath. All so delicately urgent. Loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Walter J. Wojtanik Says:

    Stunning and outstanding call and response! Well presented!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Walter.


  23. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Brendan. That’s a good way of putting it. And yes, urgent is a good word for it all.


  24. ladynyo Says:

    And thank you for reading.


  25. frankhubeny Says:

    This is the first time I’ve heard of Ono no Komachi. The last one about whether love is reality or a dream and your question about what has more substance suggests to me that love might be the substance out of which both reality and dreams are made.


  26. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Fun introduction to her poems and then your inspired partners were fantastic


  27. ladynyo Says:

    Hi, Sabio. I don’t know what was fun about the introduction, but I’ll take it. LOL! She is quite the poet, quite he woman for 9th-10th century Heian society. There is so much that can be said about her, but there is so much more that can be inspiring in her works. I believe she came from Akito, the north west region of Japan…her father a governor or something, can’t remember right now. She was sent to the court as most young women of breeding were at a very young age. So glad you enjoyed the post. I have done other ‘call and answers’ to both Shikibu and Saigyo just because they are so inspiring. Issa, too.


  28. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Frank. First, thank you for reading and your thoughtful comment. Oh! you are in for a treat if you read more of Komachi. She is wonderful. Inspiring. And yes, I agree….love might be the substance out of which both reality and dreams are made. LOL! It’s easy to riff with her because she digs deep and comes up with alternative answers.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: