Classic Piece of Poetry for World Culture Project Japan
Ariwara no Narihira was a traditional Japanese poet who lived from 825–880 A.D. He wrote part of the Kokinshu, which is one of the most influential Japanese poetry compilations done at the Imperial Emperor Uda’s request. This style of poetry would eventually turn into the traditional Japanese haiku. This famous collection of Japanese poetry divided itself into seasonal and love poems. The collection took many years to put together and was published in 905 A.D. Ariwara no Narihira was one of four court poets who wrote the entire collection. Traditional Japanese poetry was written as a result of a collaborative process with two or more poets contributing verses to larger volumes of work. One would begin by composing the beginning line, often in the form of what we now call haiku, and then another poet would finish with a stanza. Ariwara no Narihira was quite famous for his work in the bottom section of the Kokinshu.
If, in this world of ours
All the cherry blossom
The heart of spring
Might find peace.
Had I not come today,
Tomorrow, in a blizzard
They might be falling.
Not to melt away, but,
Would they still seem the flowers?
Soaked through, and
Heedless of it, I plucked this:
For this year
Spring, is all but
Gone: or so I felt.
If well planted,
And Autumn came not
Would it still bloom-of course, it would!
And the flowers scatter
Were it to wither to the root?
Impassionate gods have never seen such Tatsuta River, crimson that flows above, the water below
Ariwara no Narihira
This poem is part of the collection in autumn. It can also be considered a love poem. It sounds as if he is writing about the scenery of autumn but it has a much deeper meaning. The poem is about a passionate love that had faded over time, like autumn. But the love is still there shining red like leaves hiding the flowing water underneath. Crimson symbolizes the red leaves that hide the water, or the passionate love, just under the surface. The imagery is quite vivid and incredibly sensual in nature, once you understand what the writer is actually talking about.
You can infer many things about the Japanese culture from this piece.
*The Japanese place a high value on appreciating nature.
*Cherry blossoms are still incredibly popular for spreading romance in Japan.
*The Japanese value modesty and talk about passion in terms of sweet ideas like flowers blooming, instead of vulgar representations.
*In 868 A.D. The Japanese put a great deal of money and time in developing poetry about beauty and nature, while other countries were still trying to agree on an alphabet.
*You could make a living in Japan 250 years ago by writing poetry. The Japanese value the creative arts.
There are many revealing connections between Issun-boshi, the one inch samurai, and these traditional Kokinshu poems written much later. Issun-boshi appreciated everything he had in the world and was grateful for his surroundings and nature even though he was so small it was difficult for him to make his way in the world. There are common themes in Japanese folks tales. One of the most popular is that people who are good and appreciate what they have will get their wishes. Another theme is that the accomplishments of chosen people are incredible and they achieved almost every task they try, like heroes. The old woman in the story “loved and appreciated her life but wanted a child to share with.” Because she was such a good woman she got her wish. Another factor that is similar in both the poems and the folktale is that elderly people are well thought of. In the poems people living in the autumn of their life find love and passion. The poem says, “If well planted and autumn came not would it still bloom -of course it would!” This section is talking about finding love later in life by having faith that it will come just like the elderly couple had faith that they would have the child. A great love of nature and appreciation for everything you have on earth including beautiful flowering trees and autumn leaves or in Issun-boshi’s world a used bowl to go down the river and find his way in the world.