The autumn wind

Here's an example from the Kokin shū of the "tiresome poetry, lower than punnery" (しやれにもならぬつまらぬ歌) that Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規 famously waxed caustic about.

The poem in question is number 239, in the "Autumn" section, and is by (Fujiwara) Toshiyuki no Ason (藤原)敏行朝亜. What you need to know in advance is that Eupatorium fortunei is called fujibakama ("wisteria [→ purple] trousers") in Japanese.

Nanibito ka/ kite nugi kakeshi/ fujibakama/ kuru aki goto ni/ nobe o niowasu
What manner of man/ has removed and left here/ these purple-trousers?/ Every time the autumn comes/ their scent doth fill the fields

That's it. Toshiyuki no Ason noticed that the word fujibakama literally meant "purple trousers" and wrote a poem that says "hay guise i wonder whose trousers these were LOL." The fact that Heian noblefolks scented their clothes and so that final line isn't straight-up slapstick is important, but not redeeming. (I will quietly admit that I like the second line's angular, lively nature. But that's it.)

And of course there were replies, taking the conceit further, such as this one by Minamoto no Sanetomo 源実朝, who as third shogun of the Kamakura shogunate should have known better.

Fujibakama/ kite nugi kakeshi/ nushi ya tare/ toedo kotaezu/ nobe no akikaze
Who was it/ who removed and left/ their purple trousers here?/ I ask, but it does not reply:/ the autumn wind in the fields

Note also that Sanetomo was assassinated by his nephew Minamoto no Yoshinari 源善哉 a.k.a. Kugyō 公暁. I'm not saying that there's a direct connection. I'm just saying. And let's all be glad that sakura weren't named "pink-trousers" or something, because if that were the case the Japanese poetic tradition would look very different.

Popularity factor: 11

L.N. Hammer:

I kinda like Yoshinari's riff -- not only a better ending, but his inverting the first three lines.


L.N. Hammer:

Dang it -- I meant Sanetomo, of course.

Leonardo Boiko:

I think this example was in Keene:

ware wo kimi / naniwa no ura ni / arishikaba / ukime wo mitsu
no / ama to nariniki

It’s about a woman who grew sad that her husband stopped liking her, and became a nun in the Mitsu temple, Naniwa bay. The thing is full of double meanings:

Naniwa no ura ni→ at the bay of Naniwa, but suggests urami “grudge”, the reason she had to go there.

ukime: either a kind of floating algae 浮き海布、 or 憂き目 hardship. ukime wo mitsu: the algae [at] Mitsu [temple], but suggests ukime o miru = to have a hard time.

ama: nun, or fishermen.

So roughly: Because of the grudge you had against me, I took refuge in Mitsu at Naniwa bay, where the fishermen fish algae, and became a nun. One need to understand the puns to even make sense of it.


Poor Sanetomo. Never catches a break, even in internet comments.

Leonardo Boiko:

and I thought L. was saying assassination is the best poem.


That's less Heian and more Meiji-by-way-of-French Symbolism, really.

L.N. Hammer:

Assassination is the best poem -- if you're a ninja.



Hey, I've seen this poem listed in histories of ninja:

http://bit.ly/jBE76H (relevant section of McCullough)


LNH -- if you changed that to "the most exalted poem" it'd scan as 5-7-5, too. A sort of James Bond haiku, if you would.


I think that haiku might have been in "Shibumi".

L.N. Hammer:


Comment season is closed.