Yone no zeni

Here's a tanka by Tachibana Akemi 橘曙覧, 19th-century man of letters, entitled "Times of poverty" (銭とぼしかりける時):

Yone no zeni/ nao tarazu nari/ uta o yomi/ fumi wo tsukurite/ uri-arikedomo
For rice my funds do not suffice/ Though poetry I do compose/ And writings put to paper/ All to peddle as I roam

I love that "though" (roughly corresponding to the nao in the original), as though traveling poetry salesmen were supposed to be on easy street.

The other interesting part of this poem is the spelling 泉 (usually meaning "spring (of water)") for zeni, "coins, money," usually spelt 銭 (the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of which, /sen/ is apparently the root of zeni itself). My edition of Tachibana's poetry (the Iwanami Bunko one, edited by Mizushima Naobumi and Hashimoto Masanobu) says that this spelling derives from imagery of money flowing like water. (Contrast with another old euphemism for money, 御足, "legs [+honorific]", allegedly because without money you won't go very far and/or because money gets around.)

Two poems later, he gets a bit Freudian:

Yowagoshi ni/ namamono tsukuru/ emishibito/ wa ga hi no moto no/ tachi ogami miyo
O ye barbarians with poorly-made swords at your waists, bow your heads before the swords of the Rising Sun

Given the time period, emishibito refers to us white people. It's a fair cop; I understand that our swords sucked in comparison.

But Tachibana's not all bad. He really liked fish:

Waza o nami/ shizuka ni asobu/ uo zo yoki/ yonaka akatsuki/ itsu mite mo hata
Having nothing to do/ they quietly sport/ how worthy are fish!/ at midnight, at dawn/ whenever you look at them, there they are

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L.N. Hammer:

I really like that last one. Especially the lower half.



I know! Because, fish, right? I think you would get a kick out of this guy's work, actually.

L.N. Hammer:

I assume there's an Aozora Bunko collection?



That last one has some Buckaroo Banzai profundity.

Sgt Tanuki:

Re: "this spelling derives from imagery of money flowing like water"

Is this why you wash money at places like Zeniarai Benten in Kamakura? Is there a kind of metonymic thing going on?

I love that first poem. Like you say, there's something touching in the idea that he actually expected that peddling verse wouldn't leave him starving in a ditch.


I assume there's an Aozora Bunko collection?

They're working on one of his books (the one that Shiki raves about), but no ETA as far as I know.

Sgt Tanuki: Huh, maybe. I thought that was the much simpler "magical water enmagicks everything it touches" system, though.

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