Japanese Love Poems by Jean Bennett, ed., Scott Cumming, illus.
Date read: 1-8 January 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Challenges: 2016current 2016transl
Hardback, x, 104 pages
Published 1976 by Doubleday & Company
Source: Humane Society Thrift Store, Bend, OR, $1.00
- Night; and a doorway left ajar . . . 7
- A memory of nothingness . . .
- I think of you always . . . 4
- That which fades away . . . 1
- The maze of love . . . 2
- Together . . .
- Index of first lines
I enjoyed this book and the 1.5 page preface was worth the $1.00 price of admission by itself. It talked about how:
“Ancient Japanese poetry was the poetry of the court, which enjoyed two distinct kinds of love: marital and illicit. Because most marriages were arranged in childhood, marital love was often a deep affection and regard which grew after marriage, forming an unbreakable bound. Many of the poems in this volume express devotion in marriage (which is cherished and idealized), the sorrow of parting from a spouse, or the joy of reunion. On the other hand, love affairs were common (most ladies of letters were courtesans), and a great deal of Japanese poetry refers to this kind of love. Clandestine meetings, the sacrifice and suffering that must be endured for one night of illicit love, the pain of separation in the early hours of the morning, the agony of unrequited love for all common themes, allowing for the expression of great passion which by its very nature is short-lived” (ix).
It goes on to discuss the influence of both Shintoism and Buddhism on Japanese love poetry. I would like to read a more intermediate or expanded beginner introduction to these topics.
The collection covers eight named periods from the Archaic Period (before A.D. 700) to the Tokyo Period (1868 to present [~1975]).
I am not convinced the sections work well as divisions but they do seem at least semi-coherent within themselves. There is just no description of why/what whether as division or to what is included. Also, both marital and illicit love poems are in each section with no clear distinctions made. It is generally easy to tell but some are not.
I marked fourteen poems as especial favorites. The numbers behind the section titles above represent the number of poems I marked from each section.
I did quite enjoy many more but—as expressive of fully acceptable human emotions as much of the illicit love poetry is—those are not the emotions of my relationship. I can, though, relate to them.
Most poems are quite short, only two to three are a page or longer; two pages being the longest.
There are a handful of illustrations throughout the book at the section headings and on the cover by Cumming. There are also four small sections of color plates of (I am assuming) famous Japanese prints.
== From Night; and a doorway left ajar . . . ==
The memories of long love
Gather like drifting snow,
Poignant as the mandarin ducks,
Who float side by side in sleep.
Lady Murasaki Shikibu (10th century)
Heian Period (4)
Rain and Snow
For ever on Mikane’s crest,
That soars so far away,
The rain it rains in ceaseless sheets,
The snow it snows all day.
And ceaseless as the rain and snow
That fall from heaven above,
So ceaselessly, since first we met,
I love my darling love.
Archaic Period (7)
Though it rains,
I won’t get wet:
I’ll use your love
For an umbrella.
Japanese folk song (15)
== From I think of you always . . . ==
I wish I were close
To you as the wet skirt of
A salt girl to her body.
I think of you always.
Yamabe no Akahito (8th century)
Nara Period (38)
Messaged to Sara on 4 January
== From That which fades away . . . ==
From long ago
I had heard that to meet in love
Could only mean to part,
And yet I gave myself to you
Unconscious of the coming dawn.
Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241)
Kamakura Period (59)
== From Together . . . ==
Today it seems to me that all my friends
Have won distinction more than I in life,
However, I have flowers bought
And love my wife.
Ishikawa Takuboku (1885-1912)
Tokyo Period (92)
Recommended as an entry-level book of Japanese love poetry.