Posts Tagged ‘Lady Nyo’

Poems of tanka form but not tanka.

July 9, 2017

 

kohut-bartels-ls-19b

So lonely am I

My soul like a floating weed

Severed at the roots

Drifting upon cold waters

No pillow for further dreams.

 

 

The truth of longing

Has nothing of nice logic.

A matter of hearts

So uneven, exciting!

But most painful, nonetheless.

 

 

The moon floats on wisps

Of clouds extending outward

Tendrils of white fire

Blanketing the universe

Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

 

When nature is known
Reason for awe can be found
In familiar sights.
Intimacy at the core—
Astounding revelation!

 

 

Human frailties

wounds that bleed such heated blood

leave a dry vessel.

Without the moisture of love

the clay reverts to the ground.

I can no longer
tell my dreams from fantasy.
Which world shall I wake?
Will it be within your arms,
bewildered by last night’s lust?

The act of writing
is a powerful gesture.
Women who write poems
weave tapestries of wisdom
and form up lives that endure.

This is the problem!
Never give your precious life
into a man’s hand.
Plant your roots in deep water.
Don’t let sweet whispers seduce.

In the beginning
I offered my heart to you.
You held it lightly.
Unseen, it fell in the dirt,
made bitter by its journey.

 

In my heart’s black depth

I kept our secret smothered

although today I suffered

the usual pangs

needing to hear it aloud.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

 

 

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016

‘Lady Nyo’s Torment’, from “Song of the Nightingale” an episode.

June 19, 2017

Song_of_the_Nightingale_COVER

(This  is a watercolor of mine called “Savannah Birds”.  I gave it to a person who apparently didn’t care for it. I found it under a bed with frame and glazing broken. I brought it home.  A few years later it became the cover of “Song of the Nightingale”.  One can never account for another’s taste.)

 

Two years ago, I published “Song of the Nightingale”, a book containing 13 episodes of poetry describing the life of a 16th century Samurai couple in Japan.  People who had read excerpts of this book loved it, but I didn’t give it enough attention when I published it in 2015. (I went on to publish another book, “Seasoning of Lust” 2sd edition in 2016 and have recently almost finished “Kimono” a long time-warp novel.) Having been a reader of the “Man’yoshu”, a 8th century document of over 4500 poems, I was taken by the beautiful and very modern verse in this great document.  I had the story already in my mind for a few years, but the Man’yoshu gave me a very human element to  understand how people don’t really change over a 1000 years ago.  Human nature, and emotions remain mostly the same. Both of these books, “Song of the Nightingale” and “Seasoning of Lust” can be bought on Amazon.com.

 

“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.”

—verse of Lady Nyo, 16th century

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 she was,
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.”

And:

“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, 2015-2016, (Song of the Nightingale” a tale in 13 episodes can be obtained at Amazon.com)

 

“Song of the Nightingale”, episode 2

August 23, 2016

Japanese Woman

It’s been a while since I wrote tanka, so this morning I attempted one.  It violates some tanka ‘rules’  (kigo word, etc.) but I offer it to my tanka-loving friends and poets anyway.  Tanka can be a gift. Since it started as song, folk song, it developed into written verse, and was given back and forth by lovers.

“Mist drifts in waves

Ribbon-ing maple branches

The rise of the moon

Make Egrets shimmer silver-

Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.”

Lady Nyo

 (actually, mentioning ‘maple branches’ would  be a kigo word:  Aki, Fall.)

THE STILLNESS OF DEATH

 

 

“My heart, like my clothing

Is saturated with your fragrance.

Your vows of fidelity

Were made to our pillow and not to me.”

—-12th century

 

Kneeling before her tea

Lady Nyo did not move.

She barely breathed-

Tomorrow depended

Upon her action today.

 

Lord Nyo was drunk again.

When in his cups

The household scattered.

Beneath the kitchen

Was the crawl space

Where three servants

Where hiding.

A fourth wore an iron pot.

 

Lord Nyo was known

For three things:

Archery-

Temper-

And drink.

 

Tonight he strung

His seven foot bow,

Donned his quiver

High on his back.

He looked at the pale face

Of his aging wife,

His eyes blurry, unfocused.

He remembered the first time

pillowing her.

 

She was fifteen.

Her body powdered petals,

Bones like butter,

Black hair  trailing bo silk.

The blush of shy passion

Had coursed through veins

Like a tinted stream.

 

Still beautiful

Now too fragile for his taste.

Better a plump whore,

Than this delicate, saddened beauty.

 

He drew back the bow

In quick succession

Let five arrows pierce

The shoji.

Each grazed the shell ear

Of his wife.

 

Life hung on her stillness.

She willed herself dead.

Death after all these years

Would have been welcome.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted , 2013-2016

 

Ono no Komachi, A Sensual Medieval Japanese Poet, one of the “100 Immortals”

August 27, 2015

Tanka image

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.

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, now published in “Song of the Nightingale”, Amazon. com, 2015.

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, 2015

Song_of_the_Nightingale_COVER

Recently published by Createspace, Amazon.com

http://amzn.to/1Cm8mZi

Introducing:  MIA, our new doggie.  She was a rescue, pregnant and HW positive. 4 years old.  Sweetest dog in the universe.

“Ten Thousand Leaves, Love Poems from the Man’yoshu”, From “Song of the Nightingale”

July 29, 2015

Song_of_the_Nightingale_COVER

http://amzn.to/1Cm8mZi

“Ten Thousand Leaves, Love Poems from the Man’yoshu”

“Thick and fast stream my thoughts of you

Like the layers Of endlessly falling snow

Upon the cedars.

“Come to me at night, my man.”

—– from the Man’yoshu

It was the first golden age of Japanese civilization.  In the eighth century appeared the great metropolis of Nara, (the imperial capital) its broad avenues lined with magnificent temples. Culture rushed in from Korea, China and over the Silk Road, from as far away as Persia, and even from Venice.

We think of Japan in isolation, as it was to become centuries later, but in the 7th to the 10th centuries (approximately) the cultural influences were vast and wide and foreign.

In the 8th century, Japan found it’s first voice, a clear and powerful voice to become one of the most impressive, sophisticated and frank compilations of poetry the world has ever seen.  (There are other earlier and then later collections of poetry, but the Man’yoshu is considered to be the best of the poetry collections.  There are many reasons (cultural and court changes, etc) but this is a long study and can’t be done in this short presentation.

There are not 10,000 poems (leaves) but over 4,500.  Most of these are love poems, where lovers speak with disarming frankness and clarity, speak to us across 1300 years as if they were us.

Actually, the poems express a decided lack of neurosis that we have come to view sex in the last few centuries.  There is nothing of barriers when it comes to the human heart, longing, emotions and sexuality in these poems.  Many of them are openly, expressly erotic.

The authors or contributors of these poems extended from Emperors, Empresses, courtesans, samurai, priests, beggars, fishermen, peasants: a cross section of remarkable variety.  A truly democratic endeavor.  This was never again to happen in Japan, not at least to this extent.

Otomo No Yakamochi (718-785) is considered to be the main compiler of the Man’yoshu.  These poems actually span a 130 year history, from around 630 AD to 759 AD.

There are three basic divisions of the poetry in the Man’yoshu.

 

Banka: elegy on the death of an Emperor or a loved one.

Somon:  mutual exchanges of love or longing poetry.

Zoka:  Poems of Nature, hunting, etc.

This short presentation will focus only on the Somon form.

Generally the Man’yoshu poetry is considered to be declarative rather than introspective, imagistic rather than abstract.  There is an incredible freshness to it all.

There are basically two forms of poetry in the Man’yoshu: choka (long poem, 5-7-5-7-5-7, etc. ending in 7-7) and tanka.  (5-7-5-7-7). The ‘long poem’, choka (which isn’t very long by our modern and Western standards) died out of fashion, and tanka became the predominant form of Japanese poetry for the next 1200 years.

Although one would think so, there isn’t a lot of Buddhist influence in the poems.  If any religion, there is more Shinto influence especially in the Zoka form, but even that isn’t large.  This may seem strange to us, with our notions of culture in Japan, but even centuries later, with the Priest-Poet Saigyo, there is little Buddhist thought within his poems.  Religion just doesn’t play such a dominant role in most Japanese poetry, especially at this time.

“Going over the fields of murasaki grass That shimmer crimson, Going over the fields marked as imperial domain, Will the guardian of the fields not see you As you wave your sleeves at me?”

— Princess Nukata

This poem is considered by many to be one of the greatest poems in the Man’yoshu.  It is presented near the beginning of the collection, giving it prominence.  The answer by her former husband (she is now married to the Emperor) Prince Oama, (his brother) is a beautiful poem in its own right.

“If I despised you, who are as beautiful

As the murasaki grass,

Would I be longing for you like this,

Though you are another man’s wife?”

— Prince Oama

“Do not let men find out

By smiling at me so apparently,

Like the clouds that clearly cross

Over the verdant mountains.”

— Lady Otomo Sakanoue

There are more poems by this poet than any other woman in the Man’yoshu.  What is remarkable are the amount of women poets included in the Man’yoshu.  This is only possible because the Confucian philosophy was not prominent yet in Japan.  When it became influential, women lost much status: before they were allowed to own property, title, name, divorce, to keep custody of their children.  After, they were relegated to indoors, stripped of much power and status.-

“Whose words are these,

Spoken to the wife of another?

Whose words are these,

That bade me untie

The sash of my robe?”

— Anonymous

Many of the poems in the Man’yoshu were folk songs, or parts of folk songs. And this repeated interest in ‘the wife of another’ was an object of male desire; the Man’yoshu is full of this theme.

“As I turn my gaze upward

And see the crescent moon,

I am reminded

Of the trailing eyebrows

Of the woman I saw but once.”

— Otomo Yakamochi

This was written by Otomo at the age of 16!

“I have fallen into a yearning

With no requite,

For a girl who, when night comes

Sleeps pillowed in another’s arms.

— Anonymous-

“If men can touch

Even the untouchable sacred tree,

Why can I not touch you

Simply because you are another’s wife?”

— Otomo Yasumaro

To finish with some anonymous poems:

“The flowers of the plum,

Were covered with fallen snow

Which I wrapped up

But when I tried to have you see

It was melting in my hands.”

“This body of mine

Has crossed the mountain barrier

And is here indeed!

But this heart of mine remains

Drawing closer to my wife.”

“The moon crossed the sky

And I saw him only once In its pale ligh

t Yet, the person whom I saw

Does appear to me in dreams.”

“I shall not take a brush

To this hair that lies

Disheveled in the morning,

For it retains the touch

Of my dear lord’s arms that pillowed me.”

— Anonymous

I’ll prime the pot with one of my own

“Glimpse of a white wrist

Feel the pulse of blood beneath-

This is seduction!

But catch a wry, cunning smile

One learns all is artifice.

Or something a bit different.  Many of the poems were built one upon the other, answers brushed upon a fan, or something suitable, even a large leaf. In the ‘spirit’ of this method that is found in the Man’yoshu, I offer this modest poem:

Thick and fast stream my thoughts of you

Like the layers

Of endlessly falling snow

Upon the cedars.

“Come to me at night, my man.”

Come to me

If  only in my dreams

Where my head rests upon my arm

And not yours–

Let this veiled moon

Above and these dark, brooding pines below

“Be witness to our love, my man.”

Jane Kohut-Bartels (aka Lady Nyo)

Copyrighted, 2015

“The Stillness of Death”, from “Song Of The Nightingale”

July 23, 2015

 

Song_of_the_Nightingale_COVER

It’s taken 4 years to complete, but “Song” is now available to the public.  Hope there is enjoyment in the reading of this saga.  There are also two essays at the end:  “The Man’yoshu” and “Building Upon the Man’yoshu”.

Nick Nicholson’s photos are wonderful inside, and he did a great job formatting and designing the book.

The cover painting, another painting inside and the calligraphy are mine.

Lady Nyo

(link to Amazon.com/ Song of the Nightingale)

http://amzn.to/1Cm8mZi

This is the second episode of “Song Of The Nightingale”.

THE STILLNESS OF DEATH

 

 

“My heart, like my clothing

Is saturated with your fragrance.

Your vows of fidelity

Were made to our pillow and not to me.”

—-12th century

Kneeling before her tea

Lady Nyo did not move.

She barely breathed-

Tomorrow depended

Upon her action today.

Lord Nyo was drunk again.

When in his cups

The household scattered.

Beneath the kitchen

Was the crawl space

Where three servants

Where hiding.

A fourth wore an iron pot.

Lord Nyo was known

For three things:

Archery-

Temper-

And drink.

Tonight he strung

His seven foot bow,

Donned his quiver

High on his back.

He looked at the pale face

Of his aging wife,

His eyes blurry, unfocused.

He remembered the first time

pillowing her.

She was fifteen.

Her body powdered petals,

Bones like butter,

Black hair like trailing bo silk.

The blush of shy passion

Had coursed through veins

Like a tinted stream.

Still beautiful

Now too fragile for his taste.

Better a plump whore,

Than this delicate, saddened beauty.

He drew back the bow

In quick succession

Let five arrows pierce

The shoji.

Each grazed the shell ear

Of his wife.

Life hung on her stillness.

She willed herself dead.

Death after all these years

Would have been welcome.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted , 2015, available from Createspace, Amazon.com

‘Introduction to the Characters’, From “The Nightingale’s Song”

March 3, 2015

Samurai in Battle on Horse

Some time in late March I will publish “The Nightingale’s Song”.  Actually, Nick Nicholson and I will publish it.  Nick is travelling the US in a black Mustang convertible, having the time of his life.  Nick comes from Canberra, Australia, and in his last trip here, formatted “Pitcher of Moon” (April, 2014). 

I wrote this saga three years ago, but have added chapters to it, and some essays on the Man’yoshu, the great 8th century Japanese document of poetry that inspired so much of “Nightingale”.

It is good to have this work finished. The cover painting is done, and there are a few surprises inside in the form of graphics.  We will publish this book at Createspace, Amazon.com.

Lady Nyo

1

INTRODUCTION TO THE CHARACTERS….

 

 

In Old Japan there was an even older daimyo called Lord Mori, who lived in the shadow of Moon Mountain, far up in the Northwest of Japan.  Lord Mori ran a court that did little except keep his men (and himself) entertained with drinking, hawking and hunting.  Affairs of state were loosely examined and paperwork generally lost, misplaced under a writing table or under a pile of something more entertaining to his Lordship.  Sometimes even under the robes of a young courtesan.

Every other year the Emperor in Edo would demand all the daimyos travel to his court for a year.  A clever demand of the honorable Emperor. It kept them from each other’s throats, plundering each other’s land, and made them all accountable to Edo and the throne.  This only worked on paper for the nature of daimyos was to plunder and cut throats where they could.

Lord Mori was fortunate in having an exemption to attend the Emperor. He was awarded this exemption with pitiful letters to the court complaining of age, ill health and general infirmities.  He sent his eldest, rather stupid son to comply with the Emperor’s demands. He agreed to have this disappointing young man stay in Edo to attend the Emperor.  Probably forever.

Lord Mori, however, continued to hunt, hawk and generally enjoy life in the hinterlands.

True, his realm, his fiefdom, was tucked away in mountains hard to cross. To travel to Edo took months because of bad roads, fast rivers and mountain passages. A daimyo was expected to assemble a large entourage for this trip: vassals, brass polishers, flag carriers, outriders,  a train of horses and mules to carry all the supplies, litters for the women, litters for advisors and fortune tellers, and then of course, his samurai. His train of honor could be four thousand men or more!

But this tale isn’t about Lord Mori. It’s about one of his generals, his vassal, Lord Nyo and his wife, Lady Nyo, who was born from a branch of a powerful clan, though a clan who had lost standing at the court in Edo.

Now, just for the curious, Lord Nyo is an old samurai, scarred in battle, ugly as most warriors are, and at a loss when it comes to the refinement and elegance of life– especially poetry.  His Lady Nyo is fully half his age, a delicate and thoughtful woman, though without issue.

But Lord and Lady Nyo don’t fill these pages alone. There are other characters; priests, magical events, an old nursemaid, women of the court of Lord Mori, an ‘invisible’ suitor, birds and frogs, samurai and a particularly tricky Tengu who will stand to entertain any reader of this tale.

A full moon, as in many Japanese tales, figures in the mix. As do poetry, some ancient and some written for this tale.  War and battles, love and hate.  But this is life.  There is no getting one without the other.

The present Lady Nyo, descended from generations past.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

“Building Upon, Inspired by the Man’yoshu”, poetry from the 8th century Japan

February 26, 2015

Savannah Birds

Cover painting for “The Nightingale’s Song”, by Jane Kohut-Bartels, watercolor

In July, 2015, “Nightinggale” wi8ll be published  “The Nightingale’s Song” a saga in twelve episodes.  I present here on the blog a short section of poems that inspired my  writing of “Nightingale”.  The Man’yoshu is such a passionate work of 4,515 poems from the 8th century that one can not read and not be inspired in a ‘call and answer’ form.

Lady Nyo

“Building Upon, Inspired by the Man’yoshu”

 

(Some of these poems, both from the Man’yoshu, and those of my own, will appear in “The Nightingale’s Song”)

 

It is right and proper to draw inspiration from other poetry. It pulls your own poetic voice into the mystery of love and passion. Therefore I have taken the words from poems from the great 8th century Man’yoshu and either fashioned an answer…or a continuation of the top poem. What I believe to be termed “call and answer”.

The Man’yoshu poems are in bold type. All my poetry continuing are in italics.  These poems are a small part of poems I am working in this fashion. Some of these poems, both from the Man’yoshu and my own are used to head up the 12 sections of “The Nightingale’s Song”.

The last section was poetry written for the plot of “The Nightingale’s Song”.

Lady Nyo

“My heart,

like my clothing

Is saturated with your fragrance.

Your vows of fidelity

Were made to our pillow and not to me.”

—-

 

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.

Does he know?

Does he know?

Does he know about the letters? –

 

“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.”

 

Strong man as I am,

Who force my way

even through the rocks,

In love I rue in misery.

—Man’yoshu

 

Perhaps a strong man

Should not offer love without

Having love returned

But this grieving ugly warrior

Still finds his love is growing

–Man’yoshu

 

“The cicada cries

Everyday at the same hour

But I’m a woman much in love

and very weak

And can cry anytime”

—Man’yoshu

 

My thoughts these days

Come thick like the summer grass

Which soon cut and raked

Grows wild again.

Oh, I wish these

Obsessive love-thoughts

Would disappear!

As they fill my head

They empty my sleep!

I who have counted me

For a strong man

Only a little less than heaven and earth,

How short of manliness that I love!

On this earth and even heaven

This weakness in love

Turns my sword Into a blade of grass. —

Come to me

If even only in my dreams

Where my head rests upon my arm- not yours.

Let this veiled moon

Above and these dark, brooding pines below

Be witness to our love, my man.”

Come to me,

When the rocks have disappeared

Under sheets of snow,

The moon appears through tattered clouds.

I will be listening

For the sound of

Your footfall in the dark.

Come to me, my man,

Part the blinds and come into my arms,

Snuggle against my warm breast

And let my belly

Warm your soul.

And a few of a more random nature….

Otomo no Sakanoe no iratsume:

I swore not to love you,

But my heart is as changeable

As cloth of hanezu dye.

Have I ever stopped?

Have I ever begun?

My tears tell you

The truth of the matter.”

Lady Ukon:

I am forgotten now.

I do not care about myself,

But I pity him

For the oaths he swore,

And his forsworn life.

His words were fire

To my belly.

When he withdrew

His warmth

My heart withered.

Murasaki Shikibu:

This life of ours

would not cause you sorrow

If you thought of it as like

The mountain cherry blossoms

Which bloom and fade in a day.

But each year

The mountain cherry

Renews itself.

Am I to suffer forever?

Akazome Emon:

It would have been better that I slept

The whole night through

Without waiting for him

Than to have watched

Until the setting of the moon.

My heart raced

All night on the ghostly Clouds.

In the morning

My spirit was wan.

Sei Shonagon:

Since our relations

Are like the crumbling Of Mount Imo and Mount Se,

They, like the Yoshino River

In that ravine

Shall never flow smoothly again.

Too many boulders

To climb over

And the waters within

Run too cold.

Daini no Sanmi (daughter of Murasaki)

From Mt. Arima,

Over the bamboo plains of Ina,

The wind blows

Rustling the leaves.

How shall I ever forget him?

It would have been

Better for me never

To have met.

The wind blew a bad kami

That season.

 

Lady Suwo:

Pillowed on your arm

Only for the dream of a spring night,

I have become the subject of gossip,

Although nothing happened.

It was all in my mind!

Only a waking dream

Full of ecstasy and torment

Offered up by a ghost!

 

Yokobue:

How can I complain

That you have shaved your hair?

Since I can never again

Pull your heartstrings

Like a catalpa wood bow,

I have become a nun

Following your Way.

Your interest dried up

Over the course of three seasons.

Winter came too soon.

I was left shivering in the cold.


Lady Horikawa:

How long will it last?

I do not know’

His heart.

This morning my thoughts are as tangled with

Anxiety As my black hair.

How long did it last?

Only until love became

Difficulty.

 

The Daughter of Minamoto no Toshitaka

For the sake of a night of little sleep

By Naiwa bay,

Must I live on longing for him,

Exhausting my flesh?

In my dreams and waking dreams

Opening the bamboo blinds

I see his face over and over

For the first time.

Imazizumi Sogetsu-Ni

How beautiful the Buddhist statues At Saga.

Half hidden in falling leaves.

Fractured and split in two

I entered a Shinto Temple

Unsure I would be welcome

With round eyes and graceless ways

But the priests were wise

Thinking me a bit worthy,

And with kindness and humor

Helped knit back my parts

And taught me to pray.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

 

A Short Presentation of the History and Form of Tanka, Part 1

January 27, 2015

DSCF2585

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 must go back into the Japanese literary history of the 8th and 9th century. Poets of this time, male poets, the only ones who counted in court anthologies, 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- kanji-something definitely Japanese, to write their poetry. And they, for the next two centuries, excelled in it. We’ll go over some of these poets who made such a mark on the literature of Japan, especially in the development and formation of tanka verse.

Tanka, whose earlier name was 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.”

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

There are so many social aspects of Japanese society to consider: married couples for a certain class (usually court people) didn’t live together. Perhaps a wife had her own quarters in a compound, or perhaps she lived 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.

In the court, especially during the Heian court of the 12th century, tanka became one of the greatest literary influences. It developed great adherents to the form and large and prestigious competitions were developed by nobles and priests alike. Usually the striving was for the most ‘refined’ tanka composed. This lead to some very restricted poems because there were limited themes thought to be ‘proper’ amongst these competitions. Praise of nature, the Emperor, and more praise of the Emperor were pretty much the court poems.

However, it was still the written form of communication between interested parties and lovers. Poetry from that time, outside the court issue, still exalts the passions—makes connection between hearts —it fertilizes the soil of humanity.

Before I go into the ‘form’ of tanka, its development stylistically, I want to reveal the poets that drew me to tanka form. There were many early Japanese tanka writers, and some excellent verse written by Emperors, but these poets below have found their way into my heart and have become great influences in my own work. Ono no Komachi, Izumi Shikiba and Saigyo .

The first two were 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 as his base for poetry.

Saigyo came from the Heian Court in the 12 century. He was of a samurai/warrior family and at the age of 23 he became a priest. He was always worried that his warrior background (he did serve as samurai) would ‘taint’ his Buddhist convictions and practice.   His solution was to wander the mountains and roads of Japan for decades. He left the court when the whole Japanese world was turning upside down with politics and the beginnings of civil war. He was dissatisfied with the poetry coming out of the court, and since he had developed a taste for tanka, he took this on the road with him, as he went across Japan and wrote his observations of the landscape, the moon and the people in tanka form.

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. There were many groups of priests who went out to beg and some to write poetry and their observations. Saigyo travelled with other priests and welcomed their company on the lonely treks through mountains and remote terrain. Some were spies for the Court. One couldn’t really tell, because 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.

What was so different about Saigyo was his interest in the common man. He wrote tanka about fishermen, laborers, prostitutes, nuns (who sometimes were prostitutes); more than the general poems of lovers, court, emperors, landscape. Of course the terrain he passed through figured as a background in his tanka, but he wrote so much more. Tanka is a vehicle for very expressive, emotional verse. Saigyo’s tanka spoke of his loneliness, his conflict as to his samurai background and how it would effect his Buddhist beliefs, and so much more over the decades of his roaming.

Generally Saigyo adheres to the 5-7-5-7-7 structure of tanka, but he is not shy about throwing in a ‘mora’ or two extra. 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.

The mind for truth

Begins, like a stream, shallow

At first, but then

Adds more and more depth

While gaining greater clarity.

3.

(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!

5.

(On 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?

I find Saigyo to be such a wonderful, human and humane poet that I can fill my head and eyes with his poetry and be satisfied. This is only a teaser of his superb verse, but in a definite way shows the brilliance, power and inventiveness of the short burst of tanka. Of course, in the hands of Saigyo, the common becomes memorable and he is just one, but perhaps the best of tanka writers. There is so much more to and of Saigyo, and of his tanka, but there are others I want to mention in this segment.

Quoting from “Ink Dark Moon”, Hirshfield and Aratani:

“Ono no Komachi (834?-?) served at the imperial court in the capital city of Heian-kyo (present day Kyoto) during the first half century of its existence; her poetry, deeply subjective, passionate, and complex, helped to usher in a poetic age of personal expressiveness, technical excellence and philosophical and emotional depth. Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?) wrote during the times of the court culture’s greatest flowering; a woman committed to a life of both religious consciousness and erotic intensity, Shikibu explored her experience in language that is precise in observation, intimate, and deeply moving. These two women , the first a pivotal figure who became legendary in Japanese literary history, the second Japan’s major woman poet, illuminated certain areas of human experience with a beauty, truthfulness and compression unsurpassed in the literature of any other age.”

There is so much more to be learned about these two women poets, but perhaps it is enough to give examples of their poetry here without further delay.

(These are not my translations: I am continuing to study the Japanese language, but my abilities are sorely short here. I can recognize many words, but Japanese is particularly difficult in the arrangement. These translations are from “Ink Dark Moon”, mentioned above.)

As with Saigyo, Ono no Komachi mostly writes in the 5-7-5-7-7 form of tanka.

1.

Hito ni awan

Tsuki no naki yow a

Omoiokite

Mune bashiribi ni

Kokoro yake ori

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

What is so striking about this poem is the imagery. 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.

We have all been there: this feeling of unreality, surreal, even, in our relationship to another. Do we exist independently of the one we deeply love? Would we exist without them?

 

This next one is something so universal it needs no explanation.

3.

I thought to pick

The flower of forgetting

For myself,

But I found it

Already growing in his heart.

 

These are only a few examples of her unmatched poetry. She is so much fuller as a poet and woman then what I have quoted here.

Izumi Shikibu is a poet that can make one uncomfortable in the reading. Her poems are so personal, so erotic , you feel at times like a voyageur.   There is an emotional depth, a vibrancy that sings through her verse and goes deep into the heart of human experience.

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.

When a lover was sent a purple robe he left behind:

 

Don’t blush!

People will guess

That we slept

Beneath the folds

Of this purple-root rubbed cloth.

4.

If only his horse

Had been tamed

By my hand—I’d have taught it

Not to follow anyone else!

There is no wilting flower in the poem above!

This last poem quoted here is hard to read. Shikibu’s daughter Naishi has died, snow fell and melted. The reference to ‘vanish into the empty sky’, is referring to the smoke of cremation. The grief felt in this poem is overwhelming and speaks across the centuries.

Why did you vanish

Into empty sky?

Even the fragile snow,

When it falls,

Falls into this world.

These are just a few examples of the rich literary tradition of Japanese Tanka. To me, they speak cross cultures and time. They speak directly to the human heart.

The next section will be about the formation of tanka, the classical measures within tanka, the pivotal words, and other issues. I will end with some examples of my own tanka.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

“Ten Thousand Leaves, Love Poems from the Man’yoshu”

January 23, 2015
Samurai Woman

Samurai Woman

I love Japanese poetry, especially the poetry of the Man’yoshu, a collection of remarkable and ‘democratic’ poetry, in other words, poetry that was included in this great document by priests, courtesans, samurai, peasant songs, fishermen, nobles and many other sections of Japanese society from the 7th and 8th centuries of Japan.  In fact, this great document is also an incredible collection of poetry by women:  this is the first time women’s voices were heard in such length. 

In late March, 2015, I will publish “The Nightingale’s Song” a book and story inspired by this great document.  One can not read the Man’yoshu without being inspired by the passionate and spirited poetry of this document.  I also include some of my own poetry at the end of this essay that will be in “The Nightingale’s Song”.

Lady Nyo

“Ten Thousand Leaves, Love Poems from the Man’yoshu”

 

“Thick and fast stream my thoughts of you

Like the layers

Of endlessly falling snow

Upon the cedars.

Come to me at night, my man.”

—– from the Man’yoshu

It was the first golden age of Japanese civilization. In the eighth century appeared the great metropolis of Nara, (the imperial capital) its broad avenues lined with magnificent temples. Culture rushed in from Korea, China and over the Silk Road, from as far away as Persia, and even from Venice.

We think of Japan in isolation, as it was to become centuries later, but in the 7th to the 10th centuries (approximately) the cultural influences were vast and wide and foreign.

In the 8th century, Japan found it’s first voice, a clear and powerful voice to become one of the most impressive, sophisticated and frank compilations of poetry the world has ever seen. (There are other earlier and then later collections of poetry, but the Man’yoshu is considered to be the best of the poetry collections. There are many reasons (cultural and court changes, etc) but this is a long study and can’t be done in this short presentation.

There are not 10,000 poems (leaves) but over 4,500. Most of these are love poems, where lovers speak with disarming frankness and clarity, speak to us across 1300 years as if they were us.  Actually, the poems express a decided lack of neurosis that we have come to view sex in the last few centuries. There is nothing of barriers when it comes to the human heart, longing, emotions and sexuality in these poems. Many of them are openly, expressly erotic.

The authors or contributors of these poems extended from Emperors, Empresses, courtesans, samurai, priests, beggars, fishermen, peasants: a cross section of remarkable variety. A truly democratic endeavor. This was never again to happen in Japan, not at least to this extent.

Otomo No Yakamochi (718-785) is considered to be the main complier of the Man’yoshu. These poems actually span a 130 year history, from around 630 AD to 759 AD.

There are three basic divisions of the poetry in the Man’yoshu.

Banka: elegy on the death of an Emperor or a loved one.

Somon: mutual exchanges of love or longing poetry.

Zoka: Poems of Nature, hunting, etc.

This short presentation will focus only on the Somon form.

Generally the Man’yoshu poetry is considered to be declarative rather than introspective, imagistic rather than abstract. There is an incredible freshness to it all.

There are basically two forms of poetry in the Man’yoshu: choka (long poem, 5-7-5-7-5-7, etc. ending in 7-7) and tanka. (5-7-5-7-7). The ‘long poem’, choka (which isn’t very long by our modern and Western standards) died out of fashion, and tanka became the predominant form of Japanese poetry for the next 1200 years.

Although one would think so, there isn’t a lot of Buddhist influence in the poems. If any religion, there is more Shinto influence especially in the Zoka form, but even that isn’t large. This may seem strange to us, with our notions of culture in Japan, but even centuries later, with the Priest-Poet Saigyo, there is little Buddhist thought within his poems. Religion just doesn’t play such a dominant role in most Japanese poetry, especially at this time.

“Going over the fields of murasaki grass

That shimmer crimson,

Going over the fields marked as imperial domain,

Will the guardian of the fields not see you

As you wave your sleeves at me?”

====Princess Nukata

This poem is considered by many to be one of the greatest poems in the Man’yoshu. It is presented near the beginning of the collection, giving it prominence. The answer by her former husband (she is now married to the Emperor) Prince Oama, (his brother) is a beautiful poem in its own right.

“If I despised you, who are as beautiful

As the murasaki grass,

Would I be longing for you like this,

Though you are another man’s wife?”

===Prince Oama

“Do not let men find out

By smiling at me so apparently,

Like the clouds that clearly cross

Over the verdant mountains.”

—–Lady Otomo Sakanoue

There are more poems by this poet than any other woman in the Man’yoshu. What is remarkable are the amount of women poets included in the Man’yoshu. This is only possible because the Confucian philosophy was not prominent yet in Japan. When it became influential, women lost much status: before they were allowed to own property, title, name, divorce, to keep custody of their children. After, they were relegated to indoors, stripped of much power and status.

“Whose words are these,

Spoken to the wife of another?

Whose words are these,

That bade me untie

The sash of my robe?”

—-Anonymous

Many of the poems in the Man’yoshu were folk songs, or parts of folk songs. And this repeated interest in ‘the wife of another’ was an object of male desire; the Man’yoshu is full of this theme.

“As I turn my gaze upward

And see the crescent moon,

I am reminded

Of the trailing eyebrows

Of the woman I saw but once.”

—-Otomo Yakamochi

This was written by Otomo at the age of 16!

“I have fallen into a yearning

With no requite,

For a girl who, when night comes

Sleeps pillowed in another’s arms.

—-Anonymous

“If men can touch

Even the untouchable sacred tree,

Why can I not touch you

Simply because you are another’s wife?”

—-Otomo Yasumaro

To finish with some anonymous poems:

“The flowers of the plum,

Were covered with fallen snow

Which I wrapped up

But when I tried to have you see

It was melting in my hands.”

“This body of mine

Has crossed the mountain barrier

And is here indeed!

But this heart of mine remains

Drawing closer to my wife.”

“The moon crossed the sky

And I saw him only once

In its pale light

Yet, the person whom I saw

Does appear to me in dreams.”

“I shall not take a brush

To this hair that lies

Disheveled in the morning,

For it retains the touch

Of my dear lord’s arms that pillowed me.”

—-Anonymous

I end with some poems of my own inspired by the verse below:

Thick and fast stream my thoughts of you
Like the layers
Of endlessly falling snow
Upon the cedars.
“Come to me at night, my man.”

….Man’yoshu, 8th century

– 

Come to me

If even only in my dreams

Where my head rests upon my arm

And not yours–

Let this veiled moon

Above and these dark, brooding pines below

“Be witness to our love, my man.”

 

Come to me,

When the rocks have disappeared

Under sheets of snow,

The moon appears through tattered clouds.

I will be

Listening for the sound of

Your footfall in the dark.

 

Come to me, my man,

Part the blinds and come into my arms,

Snuggle against my warm breast

And let my belly

Warm your soul.

Above poems of Lady Nyo to be included in “The Nightingale’s Song”

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011-2015


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