Posts Tagged ‘Lady Nyo’

“The Kimono”, Chapter 20

September 14, 2018

Kimono Proof Copy photo

“The Kimono” will be on Amazon.com probably by the end of next week or shortly after.  hara-obi  is a wide obi that was used to support the belly of a pregnant woman.  It has gone out of favor, but in some regions is still used.

It was a chilly spring morning, the first day of the month of Uzuki. The fog had disappeared and fierce winds whipped the cherry trees. Petals filled the air and fell like snow. The sounds of ducks and geese could be heard near the castle.

Lord Tetsu had called a council of his closest advisors: Lord Ekei, Lord Yoki and Lord Nyo. Lady Nyo was also requested to attend but she was uncomfortable in the presence of the lords. She was not one of Lord Tetsu’s advisors and, as a woman, she was, of course, out of place. For what purpose was she there? She knelt behind her husband, arranged her kimono hems and sleeves with restrained movements and settled in to listen.

Lady Nyo bowed her head, as a proper wife should, but watched the men carefully. The movements of Lord Yoki caught her attention. This was a strange bird! She thought he probably drank more than his share of sake. His large red beak was a tell-tale sign of that. His kimono, though of good quality, was filthy and splattered with stains, and he had a disgusting habit of hacking and spitting on the floor. Lady Nyo shuddered. At least he could carry some paper handkerchiefs and use them, she thought.

The men’s voices droned on. They talked of how many soldiers they could gather, which vassals were dependable and who would have to be nudged, bribed or threatened. Everyone was in obeisance to Lord Tetsu but some had to be reminded of their obligations. Lord Tetsu was a powerful lord and these past years had been peaceful. Lord Kiyama threatening Lord Tetsu would be terrible. If the situation continued to deteriorate, Lord Tetsu would have to respond with war. Lady Nyo felt her head would crack. By the gods! thought Lady Nyo. All this talk of war! There are so many obstacles to a quiet life!

The Shōgun had decreed that no daimyo could wage war against another. That was common knowledge. Exile or death would be the fate of any foolhardy daimyo who dared to breech the edict of Heaven. The region of Akita, however, was far from the capitol. Bounded by the Ōu and Dewa mountain ranges to the south, it took months for important visitors to arrive at the castle. If Lord Kiyama blocked the mountain passes with his vassals there would be battles and hardships aplenty. It was quite the chore for Lord Tetsu to gather his men and make the trek to Edo every two years but the Shōgun demanded it, to keep the daimyos from each other’s throats. With Lord Kiyama, however, the strategy was not working.

Lady Nyo had been to the capitol once before and was dazzled by the splendor of the Shōgun’s court. The silks, colors, sumptuous robes and elegant manners were enough to fill her head with wild dreams! She was always glad, however, to leave Edo and return to her humble house in the mountains of Akita. One could take just so much pomp and splendor.

Lady Nyo was descended from a powerful samurai family that was once close to the Heian court centuries ago. Her family had suffered the swings of fortune and though she was from a minor wing of the Fujiwara clan, she could hold up her head with pride. Her father had been a court official and her marriage to her lord considered a good one. Though she had no children, she was still of breeding age. She prayed and left small offerings at shrines in the hope of one day having a baby. Ah! Fate would rule and fate was obviously on the side of men. Meek Lady Nyo knew she was just a pawn in the larger game of life.

The conversation continued. Lord Yoki was still hacking and spitting. He looked like an unwashed goblin!

Lady Nyo fixed a small smile on her face. She had too much breeding to reveal her true sentiments. She wondered, though, about Lady Mari. What kind of breeding did she have? Where did she come from? Her husband told her not to ask questions regarding Lady Mari but to serve with total devotion. She understood that. She had been given a great task and responsibility. Her Lord Tetsu had honored her with his confidence in her humble abilities but she still had her private, innermost thoughts and no lord could stop her from thinking.

There were many things about Lady Mari that were a mystery. Lady Nyo had to admit that she was rather envious of her. How did Lady Mari happen to capture the eye of Lord Tetsu? There were many other women who would be proper concubines or even a wife for this desirable lord. Why the rather plain Lady Mari? She was not educated as a court woman. No, she would embarrass the plainest court in the land. It was only recently that Lady Mari had even learned to kneel properly! Where did she come from? Who were her family? She never talked about that and that was of the utmost importance under Heaven! And…she was rather strange-looking. Too tall and thin for a proper woman. Of course, Lady Mari had been sick with the loss of the child but there was still something odd about her womanliness. She simply didn’t have the right amount of femininity.

Lady Nyo smiled to herself. She had heard the great Lord Tokugawa call Lady Mari ugly! Of course, he was drunk at the time but that certainly was no stain on him. Most men got drunk (some, every night) and such a great lord as he would be above any reproach. Nonetheless, he had called Lady Mari ugly and she had been present! Oh, what a loss of face for the Lady Mari!

Lady Nyo furrowed her brow. What could be the attraction of Lord Tetsu to this woman? Was it possible he saw something beyond her awkward, unpolished ways and had fallen in love with this creature? Who knew what repelled or attracted a man? Was it possible Lady Mari could cast a spell like a mountain spirit? Surely the great Lord Tetsu was immune to such things. Once, when drunk on sake, her husband said Lord Tetsu had his own magic. Ah, there were so many mysteries in the air!

What is it that makes a man and a woman know that they, of all other men and women in the world, belong to each other? Is it no more than a chance meeting, no more than being alive in the same place at the same time? Do clan, family, position and status mean nothing?

Suddenly, Lady Nyo felt sad. She had a good marriage but her lord was not of the best temper. No, he was a man and little of the heart could be expected of men. Men were strange and cruel creatures and her lord was no exception. Year after year, it was as if she were holding her breath, waiting for something to happen, for life to change. Other women had children and she had none. They drew comfort from their babies, their growing children. She had none of this comfort. No, none of this comfort. If she were to have a child, she feared that her esteemed mother-in-law and even her own mother would nag her to name the child Kusako, “Shit Child”, if a girl, or Akoguso, “Cute Little Shit”, if a boy. All to keep the demons away.

Lady Nyo sighed audibly. She threw her hand to her mouth in embarrassment. She glanced at Lord Tetsu but he was listening to the others. Only her husband, who twitched his shoulder, showed that he had heard.

Finally, the council ended. Lady Nyo rocked back on her heels and rose, now feeling a bit stiff. She bowed to Lord Tetsu who motioned for her to come to him. She approached with her eyes cast down.

Lord Tetsu looked upon this tiny, plump woman, her hair floating down her back, tied with a paper ribbon. “How does the Lady Mari fare, Lady Nyo? Is she in pain?”

Ah! This is why he wanted me here, thought Lady Nyo. I will tell him what I know. “To my eyes, she is well, my lord. The doctor gave me a potion to give to her. Lady Mari now sleeps through the night with only a long nap during the day.”

“And the doctor predicts that she will fully recover?”

“He is hopeful, my lord, that Lady Mari will soon regain her full strength.”

Lord Tetsu grunted approval. “Since these are matters of women, I will rely upon your experience, Lady Nyo.”

Lady Nyo bowed in gratitude.

“However, I am sure Lady Mari will be bored before long and as I have issues with Lord Kiyama to attend to, I will not be able to give her much attention. Do you understand?”

“Of course, my lord. Perhaps Lady Mari could compile her poetry in a book. She could ‘talk to the paper’ and perhaps that will spur her interest in life.”

“Has she become despondent, Lady Nyo?”

“Oh, my lord, I do not presume to have such powers of observation! However, an enjoyable task would surely improve her health.”

Lord Tetsu grunted again. Whether he was expressing approval or not was hard to tell. Such is the way of men. “Has the doctor explained why she lost the child?”

Lady Nyo was surprised at the directness of his question. Men were not usually interested in such things. She had her own ideas as to why Mari lost the baby. “If I may venture a thought, my lord, and it is only my own…”

“Granted. Tell me your thoughts.”

Lady Nyo recognized thin ice when she saw it but she pushed on. “My lord, perhaps it would have been auspicious to present Lady Mari at the temple on the Day of the Dog. She was in the fifth month of childbearing and Lady Mari had neither the blessings of the priests nor the protection of wearing the hara-obi. Without these, Lady Mari may have been beset by evil spirits.”

Lord Tetsu’s eyes narrowed.

Had her explanation angered him? It’s true, though, thought Lady Nyo. The blessings of the priests and the donning of the hara-obi is done in the presence of both grandmothers but since Lady Mari appeared out of thin air with no family or clan…well, it is all rather confusing…and improper.

 

 

Tanka Introduction for the Curious, Part II

January 7, 2018

Japanese Lovers II

 

Like the lithe bowing

Of a maple sapling

My heart turns to you,

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.

Lady Nyo

 

 

Structure

Today the standard form is generally noted to be (in syllables) 5-7-5-7-7.  This is both in English and Japanese.  (Translations of Japanese into English don’t necessarily fit this rule, but usually a reading of the tanka in the original Japanese will be of the 5-7-5, etc. format)

It is said that this format is the most natural length for a lyric poem expressing emotion for the Japanese.

However, earlier tanka, (and tanka as a name didn’t come into being until the 19th century in the poetry reform movement) was called waka, and the earliest  examples could be 3,4,6, in ‘syllable’ progression from the first line.  But syllable in English doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing in Japanese poetry.  Onji is more a ‘mora” like a sound than a syllable.  (This part can be disputed)

More to the point, tanka is actually not one poem, but two. It’s a combination of two poems, or thoughts, etc.  The first three lines are called  Kami-no-ku  (upper poem). The lower poem…the last two lines of 7-7 is called Shim-no-ku.  They are joined together by that middle 5 syllable pivot line, called  kakekotoba.

The kakekotoba is an interesting invention.  It is a pivot or bridge between the two main poems.  It should be part of the upper verse AND the lower verse in thought or poetry.  The pivot line is both the last image and end of the upper verse as well as the first image and beginning of the lower verse.  Both poems, read divided…the top from the bottom, should be able to stand on its own.

In my example on the top, the first three lines could be a poem in its own right:

 Like the lithe bowing

Of a red maple sapling

My heart turns to you.

(you can see the ‘haiku’ form of it which raises a question…)

 

Taking the bottom lines and topping them with the pivot line:

 

My heart turns to you,

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.

 

This is not the finest example but it’s about as best as I can do right now.  Oh!  Tanka usually has no punctuation.  However, English-speaking poets feel stronger in their poetry with punctuation.  I find that true for myself, even writing tanka and haiku.

 

This last unit of 7-7 is used as a repetition or summary of the top poem.  I think of this shim-no-ku  more as a re-enforcement or continuation of the sentiment of the whole poem.

 

To further complicate the form of tanka, it usually contains a Kigo which is a word that reveals the season without making it plain.  Or not. In the example above, perhaps the ‘red maple’ gives a hint of the season, but I wasn’t carrying that ‘rule’ in my head when I wrote this tanka.

 

I don’t want to set up stumbling blocks to the thrill of composing tanka for modern, English speaking poets.  These are the forms that many learn in the beginning, and perhaps later discard.  But it’s good to learn them and to try to formulate your tanka in the classical sense.

 

 

Savannah Birds

Rhythm

As to rhythm in tanka, there are two distinct rhythmic parts (top and bottom) separated by a major stop at the 12th onji.  Then the rhythm starts out again to the end of the poem.

Basically, in reading a tanka out loud it is done in 2 breathes:  the first three lines complete the first breath and the last two, the second breath.  However, this is more applying to Japanese than English poets.

 

Rhyme

There isn’t any in Japanese poetry.  It would be too simple as most Japanese words end in one of the five open vowels.  But that shouldn’t dismiss the poems of other poets who do use a rhyming scheme in their works.

 

Subjects

 

Things changed with the passage of centuries but nature, (especially the moon), seasons and their lifecycles, the rustle of leaves, the sighing of the wind, the crickets, frogs, reflections of the moon in the frog-pond.   Expressions of love and devotion, yearning, mourning and love loss, plum blossoms, cherry trees, death poems, praise of Emperors, poems upon aging, illness, things of an personal interest, were some of the topics of ancient tanka. They still stand for tanka of today. Saigyo came along and added the ‘common element’ by his writing of fishermen, prostitutes, nuns (sometimes the same thing…) laborers, beside the moon and nature, and certainly we read his very personal expressions of longing, loneliness, and self-doubt.

Tanka has that pointed ability to embrace every topic, but to compress, to distill or refine our words and work.

Later in the 19th century jiga-no-shu, poems about the ego, were beginning to be written. There was a poetry reform movement around 1900 in Japan where many new developments in tanka and haiku were read.  A nascent women’s movement developed from the writings of one woman poet, Akiko, who wrote ‘uninhibited compositions of sexual passion and love, and this came from the core of her poems, called jikkan, which means writing from the emotions that the writer is actually experiencing.  Since this was confusing to me when I read this early in my study of tanka, I think I have come to an understanding.  Then, in 1900, the forms were more ‘polite’….though you will read a lot of bitching in classical tanka!….and to write about direct emotional experience would possibly be new?  But in a way this denies the beautiful poems of Komachi, Shikibu, etc.  Well, maybe I don’t have a clue here.

 

To some eyes, tanka seems too simple, sometimes falling into platitude. Japanese poetry depends on the subtlety of its effects.   It is a poetry of sensibility.  And according to Kenneth Rexroth, (One Hundred Poems From the Japanese) If these effects are extended and diluted, the sensibility easily degenerates into sentimentality. (And this was a problem with many (most…) of the Victorian translators. They devolved into sentimentality, kicking sensibility aside for effect.  Except for Arthur Waley.  I LOVE his translations.   In part because he translates the structure of the tanka….2sd line/ 4th line, etc. showing that when we read a Japanese tanka, it isn’t like we perceive:  The lines read differently.  Waley was the place where I began my study and language.  Anyone who likes a good translation should read him for myriad reasons.  That’s not to take anything from Keene/Burton/etc.  They are all good. 1/8/18)

A poetry of sensibility no longer seems as strange as it did.  If you think of a poet like Emily Dickinson, Whitman, you see this ‘immediate experience’.

And further from Rexroth: “Classical Japanese poetry is read in a slow drone, usually a low falsetto; this is the voice is kept lower and more resonant than its normal pitch, with equal time and stress on each syllable. And this is quite unlike spoken Japanese.”

Somewhere I read the way to compose tanka was to grab a lover, a friend, break off a plum branch and contemplate, grab even your wife!, and dig deeply into your soul.

 

Tanka can be a deep, contemplative statement of observation, declaration, etc.  In other words, today tanka can incorporate any theme.

Basically, I have said nothing (or little) about Japanese aesthetics in tanka.  That is a fundamental and important study for anyone who wants to compose tanka instead of some lovely freeverse.  My tanka suffers from that ‘disease’ but it sometimes hits properly.  This study is a life time study (yugen, sabi, mono no aware, etc.)  and I have only begun. I am hoping that someone much more versed in this important subject of aesthetics will contribute to this presentation.

 

 

Finally, tanka means “short (or brief) song”.  To me, it’s a colorful burst, a declaration, like a songbird trilling in the dead of winter.  It can startle us, shock us, it can be memorable, like that sudden burst of birdsong.

But the real essence is the myriad possibilities of creativity with tanka.  Don’t get too hung up in form, or trying to understand all the ins and outs of classical tanka.  I believe even the greatest poets learn and abandon some of them to fly beyond a cultural standard.

I want to end with some poems, some tanka from “Love Songs from the Man’yoshu” one of the most influential books I have come across, and one of the most erotic in poetry. I will also offer my own tanka.

 

Have fun with tanka. It will enrich the soul.

 

Lady Nyo

 

Man'yoshu image II

Image from “Love Songs from the Man’yoshu”

 

From the Man’yoshu, 8th century anthology.  (Man’yoshu means “The Collection of a Thousand Leaves”)

 

“Tonight too

Does my woman’s pitch-black hair

Trail upon the floor

Where she sleeps without me?”

–Anonymous

 

“As I stay here yearning,

While I wait for you, my lord,

The autumn wind blows,

Swaying the bamboo blinds

Of my lodging.

—Princess Nukata (8th century)

 

“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.”

—The Maiden Osata Hirotsu

“Your hair has turned white

While your heart stayed

Knotted against me.

I shall never

Loosen it now.”

—Hitomaro

 

“Oh for a heavenly fire!

I would reel in

The distant road you travel,

Fold it up,

And burn it to ashes.”

—The Daughter of Sano Otogami

 

“I dreamed I held

A sword against my flesh.

What does it mean?

It means I shall see you soon.”

—Lady Kasa

 

“The flowers whirl away

In the wind like snow.

The thing that falls away

Is myself.”

—Kintsune

 

“Brave man like the catalpa bow

That, once drawn,

Does not slacken—

Can it be that he is unable to bear

The vicissitudes of love?”

—Anonymous

 

“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

 

—–

 

The tanka to the end is mine, some published in “White Cranes of Heaven” by Lulu.co,  Spring, 2011. And also in “A Seasoning of Lust”, 2sd edition, Amazon.com, December, 2016.

Shooting star crosses

Upended bowl of blue night

Imagination-

Fires up with excited gaze!

A moment– and all is gone.

I wander the fields

Snow covers barren soil

Sharp winds play pan pipes

A murder of crows huddle

Black laughing fruit hang from limbs

 

A mourning dove cries

It is such a mournful sound

Perhaps a fierce owl

Has made it a widow.

Oh! It breaks my heart, her cry.

Like the lithe bowing

Of a maple sapling

My heart turns to you,

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.

 

 

This grim November

The month of my father’s death

Always bittersweet.

My memories float, weak ghosts-

Haunting the fog of life.

 

So lonely am I

My soul like a floating weed

Severed at the roots

Drifting upon cold waters

No pillow for further dreams.

Season of silence

Muted nature frost bitten

Black limbs empty, still

A vast field of whiteness

No music comes from the wind.

 

The full moon above

floats on blackened velvet seas-

Poet’s perfection!

But who does not yearn for a

crescent in lavender sky?

 

Perhaps a strong man

Should not offer love without

Having love returned

But this grieving warrior

Still finds his love growing

 

(this last tanka is from “Song of the Nightingale”, 2015, Amazon.com, by Jane Kohut-Bartels)

Jane Kohut-Bartels (who is also Lady Nyo)

Copyrighted, 2018

Song Book cover

 

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

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Recently published by Createspace, Amazon.com

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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

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“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

 


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