Posts Tagged ‘Heian court’

‘The Night of the Stain’, from “A Seasoning of Lust”

January 16, 2015
Japanese Lovers

Japanese Lovers

THE NIGHT OF THE STAIN

Izumi hid in the willow greenery

cascading to the ground.

Hair of blackbird gloss

Trailing in the grass

Black and green tangled

In the layers of her hems.

Her maid searched for her,

Full of duty to her mistress.

These peaceful moments now rare.

“My Lady! I found the most beautiful

Robe in the bottom of a chest.

It will be perfect for your wedding.”

Yes, her wedding.

(Better she shave her head and become a nun)

Izumi parted the willow,

Looked without interest,

Her maid holding

A pale jade silk kimono

Embossed tarnished silver embroidery,

Seed pearls gleaming from

Gossamer folds.

Izumi’s breath caught in her throat.

Hands trembling

She opened the kimono.

There it was, faded with time-

A blood stain.

He was dead now, her greatest love.

Closing her eyes

She remembered his face,

His hair black as a raven,

His sandalwood perfume, still faintly trapped

In the jade bo silk.

Through tears leaking

From shadowed lids,

She remembered that night-

The night of the stain,

When locked in his powerful arms

She screamed out—

Scattering the servants listening outside the shoji.

She had bled from

The strength of their passion.

Now she was to marry an old man,

Arranged through the court.

Scandal and poverty, Ah!

The two banes of life.

She would marry in the stained kimono.

It wouldn’t matter anymore.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011-2015

Ono no Komachi, Sensual Poems of a Medieval Woman Poet

March 13, 2014

Tanka Presentation #2

Crabapple/Peach Tree in back yard, Spring

Crabapple/Peach Tree in back yard, Spring

Ono no Komachi….Sensual Poems of a Medieval Woman Poet

Ono no Komachi continues to capture my interest as a woman and a poet.  For me, she personifies this very Japanese concept called mono no aware.  This is translated as “the sorrow of human existence’ but perhaps can be better translated as ‘a sensitivity to things’ mostly meaning an understanding of the perishability of beauty and human happiness.  Ono no Komachi’s poetry certainly was deeply based in this concept.

Briefly, she lived from 834?-??.  It’s not clear when she died.  She served in Japan’s Heian court as a lady in waiting to the Emperor’s consort and was one of the dominant poetic geniuses. Komachi’s father was a lord in Dewa, in the northwest of Japan, probably in the region known as Akito. She, like so many young girls, was sent to the court when very young, perhaps as young as ten years old.  This was common practice and a good place for her to find a husband with position within the court.

There are stories about Komachi, that she was a great beauty, attracted many lovers, but was very cruel to them. A few of her poems express her deep sorrow where one or the other died before she could make her peace with them.  But these are just stories passed down from centuries.  And, there is a final story, where when she was very old, and had lost all her beauty and was poor, she lived in a hut and people came to stare at this once great and famous beauty.  But perhaps, as was the custom for women of a certain class, she shaved her head and became a nun. Perhaps she lived out her life in a monastery.

 She is also in the great Man’yoshu, a collection of 4515 poems.  This was ordered by the Emperor to be compiled around the 9th century.

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.  She is counted as one of the “100 Famous Japanese Poets”.

These poems 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 31 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.

The fun and excitement of studying the tanka form and studying the examples of Komachi’s gives way to the development of our own verse.  These below are of no comparison to Komachi’s but they help a poet to write inspired by her beautiful work.  There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact, is of the great precedent that was common during her time.  These below are mine.

Oh my wife!
My feet take me over mountains
In the service to our lord
But my heart stays tucked in the bosom
Of your robe.

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.

Last night I thought of you–

My face still bears the blushes.

You thought it was good health?

No, just reflects the liberty

of dreams.

My laughter is as hollow

as that stricken tree by the pond.

I have not laughed for a long time.

It strangles in my throat.

Bolts of lightning flash!

The sky brightens like the day-

too soon it darkens.

My eyes opened or closed see

the futility of love.

 –

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

” A Short Presentation on Tanka”

February 15, 2013

Autumn in all its glory

National Haiku Month still:

The young plum has died
white blossoms never opened
Mockingbirds homeless


A daffodil moon
sails across a charcoal sky
Dawn-it comes too close!

Lady Nyo

A little more than a year ago, I was asked by a poetry group, “OneShotPoetry” to do a presentation on tanka. I have been studying this early Japanese form of poetry for the past five or more years. I love this form to distraction, and my own poetry has gone through many changes as I learned. I always feel that the study of tanka is a life long endeavour. It took me years to finally come to grips with the ‘hidden’ concepts, which aren’t really very hidden. The structure of tanka is rooted in the earliest poetry in Japan, before the 6th century, but blossoming into its fullest beauty before the 12 century. In my opinion, this has many reasons, in part because of the contributions of women poets in Japan. This is well before the advent of Confucianism, where the freedoms of women were corralled and their creativity also demeaned.

Lady Nyo


TANKA PRESENTATION FOR ONESHOT

The morning wren sings
I stand in the moonlit dawn
Kimono wrapped close
Last night I made my peace
Now free from all attachments

Lady Nyo

To understand tanka one should go back into the Japanese literary history of the 8th and 9th century. Poets of this time, male poets, were writing in a Chinese poetic technique. They were still not able to use the language skillfully enough to present their own emotions. This would take another century but by the 10th century, women were using a new written language to write their poetry. For the next two centuries, excelled in it.

Tanka, earlier name waka, was described in this way: “ Japanese verse is something which takes root in the soil of the heart and blossoms forth in a forest of words.”

Tanka, if nothing else, was the medium for lovers: written on special paper, a fan, wrapped around a small branch of a flowering plum or cherry, it was communication between a man and a woman.

Married couples in a certain class didn’t live together. Perhaps a wife had her own quarters in a compound, or in another town. A tanka was composed, a personal messenger delivered the poem, waited, was given a drink, flirted with the kitchen maids, and an answering poem was brought back.

People were judged as to how “good” their poetry was.

During the Heian court of the 12th century, tanka became one of the greatest literary influences. Large and prestigious competitions were developed by nobles and priests alike, striving for the most ‘refined’ tanka. This led to restricted poems because of limited themes thought ‘proper’. Praise of nature, the Emperor, and loyalty were much the court poems.

However, it was still the written form of communication between lovers. Poetry from that time, outside the court issue, still exalted the passions—made connection between hearts — fertilized the soil of humanity.

Ono no Komachi, Izumi Shikiba and Saigyo are a few of the great tanka poets of the early Heian period (8-12th centuries).

The first two court women, great poets, and the third was a Buddhist priest. Saigyo is perhaps the most influential poet to come out of Japan. Even the famous haikuist Basho (17th century) said he studied Saigyo .

Saigyo came from the Heian Court in the 12 century. He was of a samurai/warrior family and at the age of 23 became a priest. He was always worried his warrior background (he did serve as samurai) would ‘taint’ his Buddhist convictions. He left the court when the Japanese world was turning upside down with politics and civil war.
For those who want a deeper history of Saigyo, read William LaFleur’s “Awesome Nightfall” about the life and times of Saigyo.

Saigyo’s wandering all over Japan was not so unusual. Saigyo travelled with other priests and welcomed their company on the lonely treks through mountains and remote terrain. Some were spies for the Court. Many priests wore a large woven basket over their heads, extending down past their shoulders. Some were Shakhauchi flute players who would play their wooden flutes under the basket as they walked.

Generally Saigyo adheres to the 5-7-5-7-7 structure of tanka . I will give the original in Japanese of one poem, because the translation into English doesn’t necessarily follow the 5-7-5 etc. structure when translated.

1.
Tazunekite
Kototou hito no
Naki yado ni
Ko no ma no tsuki no
Kage zo sashikuru

“This place of mine
Never is entered by humans
Come for conversation.
Only by the mute moon’s light shafts
Which slip in between the trees.

2.
(Remembering a lover)
The moon, like you,
Is far away from me, but it’s
Our sole memento:
If you look and recall our past
Through it, we can be one mind.

4.
Here I’ve a place
So remote, so mountain-closed,
None comes to call.
But those voices! A whole clan
Of monkeys on the way here!

This is only a teaser of Saigyo’s superb verse, but shows the brilliance, power and inventiveness of the short burst of tanka.

Ono no Komachi (8th century) and Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?) wrote during the times of the court culture’s greatest flowering. As with Saigyo, Ono no Komachi mostly writes in the 5-7-5-7-7 form of tanka.

1.
No way to see him
On this moonless night—
I lie awake longing, burning,
Breasts racing fire,
Heart in flames.

No way to see her lover without the light of the moon, perhaps she dare not strike a light. But the repeated imagery of light: flames, fire, burning clearly relays her desire. “Heart in flames” is common, but “Breasts racing fire” pushing this poem up a notch.

2.
Since this body
Was forgotten
By the one who promised to come,
My only thought is wondering
Whether it even exists.

Do we exist independently of the one we deeply love? Would we exist without them?

3.
I thought to pick
The flower of forgetting
For myself,
But I found it
Already growing in his heart.

Izumi Shikibu is a poet that can make one uncomfortable in the reading. Her poems are so personal, so erotic.

1.
Lying alone,
My black hair tangled,
Uncombed,
I long for the one
Who touched it first.

2.
In this world
Love has no color—
Yet how deeply
My body
Is stained by yours.

3.
If only his horse
Had been tamed
By my hand—I’d have taught it
Not to follow anyone else!

This last poem quoted is hard to read. Shikibu’s daughter Naishi has died, snow fell and melted. The reference to ‘vanish into the empty sky’, is the smoke of cremation.

4.
Why did you vanish
Into empty sky?
Even the fragile snow,
When it falls,
Falls into this world.

The next section will be about the formation of tanka, with classical examples and a few of my own.

Lady Nyo ( who is also Jane Kohut-Bartels)

Copyrighted, 2012-2013

‘The Temptation of Lady Nyo’, posted for d’versepoets.com

October 3, 2011

 

The character Lady Nyo (from the unfinished novel, “The Kimono”) has attracted an admirer at court.  When attending court, women were secured behind open, ornate carved screens, or painted and decorated silk screens.  Since these women were ladies-in-waiting of the Empress and other relatives, they were allowed to attend events and to be called upon for various activities there. Dancing and playing music, reciting poetry were especially desired by the court.  They spent a lot of time behind these screens arranging their layered hems and sleeves of their many kimonos, (usually 12 ); colorful, scented butterflies to lessen the boredom of a routine court. 

Of course it was also to attract admirers:  married women led in this activity and poems were left (placed in the carvings of the screens) next to the hems of a desired women by a courtier, etc.  Poems, tanka, were inked upon fans and also left where they would be found by the desired.  (in her carriage was one place). 

It was necessary for the success of an admirer that the verse be considered ‘elegant’ and the stationary appropriate.  Perhaps a branch of a budding cherry or plum tree was attached or in the fall, long marsh grasses or colorful leaves.  Not only the poetry and layering of seasonal color in kimono was applauded, but the mixing of perfumes appropriate to the season was also of great value.

Lady Nyo has a certain ‘revenge’ upon her brute of a husband.  She has attracted the interest of a particular man, but she must show her distain first.  The level of his poetry would determine  whether he would be of any interest to her.  In most cases, the man would not be revealed as to whom he was until that first visit at night in her bedroom.  Sometimes it would be the husband who would coming courting. 

The Temptation of Lady Nyo

 

1.

 

Yesterday I found a fan with a poem

Stuck in the screen.

Today I found another one placed

On my cushion at court.

Do you have a death wish?

Do  you desire the death of me?

You know my husband is known for his temper.

Would I end my life so dishonored?

 

2.

 

I see you are as persistent

As the rain in Spring.

Have you no fear?

What is your interest?

Surely I am just another painted face.

 

3.

 

I read your poem.

I could do nothing else.

This time it was inked upon

MY fan.

 

4.

 

“The wind blows from the north

Chilling my heart.

Only the thought of a touch of your sleeve

Warms me.”

Very nice, but my sleeves are not interested.

 

5.

 

“I throw acorns

To the darting carp.

With each nut I say a

Prayer for your health.”

Lovely sentiment, and I am

Always grateful for prayers,

But do you think of my reputation

And what you risk?

 

6.

 

I see no poetry this morning

Though I searched for your usual offering.

I knew your interest was as capricious

As a flight of moths.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2011, from “A Seasoning of Lust”, published by Lulu.com

“Mirror For The Moon”….A little poetry of Saigyo.

August 4, 2011

 

This is a very  little of Saigyo, the Heian-era priest and poet.  Reading, studying Saigyo is like falling into the rim of the Universe: you have no idea where you will land nor what you will learn.  But the trip will  profoundly change you.

In “Mirror For the Moon”, a collection of translations by William LaFleur of Saigyo, one gets the idea that Saigyo transcended the usual route, the accepted and comfortable route of poet/priests of that era.

There were tons of poetry written by many poets, officials, etc. about the moon, nature, flowers, etc.  But Saigyo’s poetry had an ‘edge’, a difference:  his view of blossoms, moon, nature, was not just the usual symbol of evanescence and youthful beauty:  his view of blossoms, nature, were more a path into the inner depth of this relationship between humanity and nature.   He spent 50 years walking the mountains, road, forests, fields all over Japan and his poetry (waka) reflected his deep understanding of the physicality of nature:  all seasons were felt and experienced not from the safety and comfort of a court, surrounded by other silk-clad courtier/poets,  but out there in the trenches of nature.  His poetry is fomented in the cold and penetrating fall and spring rains, the slippery paths upon mountain trails, the ‘grass pillows’ and a thin cloak, the deep chill of winter snows upon a mountain, the rising  mists that befuddle orientation,  and especially, the loneliness of traveling without companionship.

Saigyo became a poet/priest, but before that he was and came from a samurai family.  He was, at the age of 22, a warrior.  He always struggled with his past in his long years of travel, wondering how this  former life impacted on his religious vows.  His poetry reflects this issue.

I have begun to re-acquaint myself with Saigyo and his poetry, having first come across his poems in 1990. There is something so profound, different, that calls down the centuries to the heart.  His poetry awakens my awe and wonder of not only nature-in-the-flesh, but in the commonality of the human experience.

Lady Nyo

Not a hint of shadow

On the moon’s face….but now

A silhouette passes–

Not the cloud I take it for,

But a flock of flying geese.

Thought I was free

Of passions, so  this melancholy

Comes as surprise:

A woodcock shoots up from marsh

Where autumn’s twilight falls.

Someone who has learned

How to manage life in loneliness:

Would there were one more!

He could winter here on this mountain

With his hut right next to mine.

Winter has withered

Everything in this mountain place:

Dignity is in

Its desolation now, and beauty

In the cold clarity of its moon.

When the fallen snow

Buried the twigs bent by me

To mark a return trail,

Unplanned, in strange mountains

I was holed up all winter.

Snow has fallen on

Field paths and mountain paths,

Burying them all

And I can’t tell here from there:

My journey in the midst of sky.

Here I huddle, alone,

In the mountain’s shadow, needing

Some companion somehow:

The cold, biting rains pass off

And give me the winter moon.

(I love this one especially: Saigyo makes the vow to be unattached to seasons, to expectations, but fails and embraces his very human limitations)

It was bound to be!

My vow to be unattached

To seasons and such….

I, who by a frozen bamboo pipe

Now watch and wait for spring.

(Love like cut reeds:)

Not so confused

As to lean only one way:

My love-life!

A sheaf of field reeds also bends

Before each wind which moves it.

(And Love like fallen leaves….)

Each morning the wind

Dies down and the rustling leaves

Go silent: Was this

The passion of all-night lovers

Now talked out and parting?

From “Mirror For the Moon”, A Selection of Poems by Saigyo (1118-1190)

 

Mirror for the Moon: More Saigyo’s poetry.

June 18, 2010

I have written a very little here on Saigyo, the Heian-era priest and poet.  Reading, studying Saigyo is like falling into the rim of the Universe: you have no idea where you will land nor what you will learn.  But the ‘trip’ will probably profoundly change you.

In “Mirror For the Moon”, a collection of translations by William LaFleur of Saigyo, one gets the idea that Saigyo transcended the usual route, the accepted and comfortable route of poet/priests of that era.

There were tons of poetry written by many poets, officials, etc. about the moon, nature, flowers, etc.  But Saigyo had an ‘edge’:  his view of blossoms, moon, nature was not just a taken symbol of evanescence and youthful beauty:  his view of blossoms, nature, were more a path into the inner depth of this relationship between humanity and nature.   He spent 50 years walking the mountains, road, forests, fields all over Japan and his poetry (waka) reflected his deep understanding of the physicality of nature:  all seasons were felt and experienced not from the safety and comfort of a court, surrounded by other silk-clad courtier/poets,  but out there in the trenches of nature.  His poetry is fomented in the cold and penetrating fall and spring rains, the slippery paths upon mountain trails, the ‘grass pillows’ and a thin cloak, the deep chill of winter snows upon a mountain, the rising  mists that befuddle orientation,  and especially, the loneliness of traveling without companionship.

I have just begun to acquaint myself with Saigyo and his poetry, but there is something so profound, different, something that calls down the centuries to the heart.  His poetry awakens my awe and wonder of not only nature-in-the-flesh, but in the commonality of the human experience.

Lady Nyo

Not a hint of shadow

On the moon’s face….but now

A silhouette passes–

Not the cloud I take it for,

But a flock of flying geese.

Thought I was free

Of passions, so  this melancholy

Comes as surprise:

A woodcock shoots up from marsh

Where autumn’s twilight falls.

Someone who has learned

How to manage life in loneliness:

Would there were one more!

He could winter here on this mountain

With his hut right next to mine.

Winter has withered

Everything in this mountain place:

Dignity is in

Its desolation now, and beauty

In the cold clarity of its moon.

When the fallen snow

Buried the twigs bent by me

To mark a return trail,

Unplanned, in strange mountains

I was holed up all winter.

Snow has fallen on

Field paths and mountain paths,

Burying them all

And I can’t tell here from there:

My journey in the midst of sky.

Here I huddle, alone,

In the mountain’s shadow, needing

Some companion somehow:

The cold, biting rains pass off

And give me the winter moon.

(I love this one especially: Saigyo makes the vow to be unattached to seasons, to expectations, but fails and knows his very human limitations)

It was bound to be!

My vow to be unattached

To seasons and such….

I, who by a frozen bamboo pipe

Now watch and wait for spring.

(Love like cut reeds:)

Not so confused

As to lean only one way:

My love-life!

A sheaf of field reeds also bends

Before each wind which moves it.

(And Love like fallen leaves….)

Each morning the wind

Dies down and the rustling leaves

Go silent: Was this

The passion of all-night lovers

Now talked out and parting?

From “Mirror For the Moon”, A Selection of Poems by Saigyo (1118-1190)

Ono no Komachi (834?-?)

January 21, 2010

Ono no Komachi

Komachi was one of the pillars of Japanese Heian era poetry. She served in the court in the capitol city of Heian-kyo (present day Kyoto).

Komachi’s poetry was extremely passionate, deeply subjective and complex.  She was  of a poetical society that  developed the form with  philosophical and emotional depth.

My study of Komachi is just beginning and it’s  better we allow her words to lead us into her world.

Lady Nyo

Ono No Komachi

Did he appear

because I fell asleep

thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming,

I’d never have wakened.

2.

When my desire

grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

inside out,

dark as the night’s rough husk.

3.

No way to see him

on this moonless night–

I lie awake longing, burning,

breasts racing fire,

heart in flames.

4.

Though I go to him constantly on the paths of dream,

never resting my feet,

in the real world

it doesn’t equal a single glance.

5.

The cicadas sing

in the twilight

of my mountain village–

tonight, no one

will visit save the wind.

—-From “The Ink Dark Moon”, Hirshfield and Aratani


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