Falling leaves

Chūka jakuboku shishō 中華若木詩抄 ("Selection of Chinese and Japanese poetry") is a 16th-century-ish example of the shōmono 抄物 genre: books explaining classical or otherwise elevated literary works in the contemporary vocabulary. This shishō in particular is a sort of intro to Zen poetry for new initiates.

Number 218 in Ōtsuka Mitsunobu 大塚光信, Ozaki Yūjirō 尾崎雄二郎 and Asakura Hisashi 朝倉尚's 1995 edition for Iwanami Shoten is "Falling leaves" (落葉) by a 14th-century Rinzai monk from Tosa named Gidō Shūshin 義堂周信, and goes like this:


The night is rainy — seu seu — into the early morn
Within the gloom I heard it all, and now the dawn is here
I open up the door, just to see what lies outside
The truth: the sound I heard was just the falling wutong leaves

Seu seu 蕭々 is, very conveniently, mimetic for lonely natural sounds and atmospheres in general, not just rain.

The bulk of the Chūka jakuboku shishō's commentary on this poem is about the fact that it contains its own title. Generally, we are told, it's better for this not to happen, although it's not so bad if it does. Better to use the title in the poem than to go to such tortuous lengths to avoid it that the poem itself suffers. On the other hand, if the characters of the title must be used in the poem, they should at least not appear together. Or maybe it's okay for them to appear like that if it's at the start of the first line, because after all that's how the Classic of Poetry is presented, and Du Fu was prone to this editorial technique too. But in this poem it appears in the fourth line! But this is an old (上古) poem, from the days before Jueju were "beautifully ordered". All in all, today's students should be wary of following its example too blindly.

(The editors of the Iwanami edition observe in a footnote that the schizophrenic back-and-forth in this passage looks like multiple editors arguing with each other, but the text itself does not delineate different voices.)

Incidentally, according to the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, the jakuboku 若木 in the title of this book originally (i.e. in Chinese) referred to a mythical tree at the westernmost extremity of the Earth, behind which the sun set. How did this come to mean "Japan"? Simple confusion with fusō 扶桑, a mythical tree at the easternmost extremity of the Earth, which had a much more logical association with Japan.

Popularity factor: 3


I disagree with the Iwanamis; I think the back-and-forth looks just exactly like a single college professor giving advice.


Incidentally: Matt how do you usually read kanbun (as in the sounds in your head)? Ondoku, kundoku, Mandarim? Reconstructed Chang’an Late Middle Chinese :)?


To my shame and detriment, my default way of reading a classical Chinese sentence is kundoku style, rearranged into SOV order and everything. I have to concentrate in order to read it in the proper (Chinese) order, in which case I just use the on reading for everything.

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

LU d'R
Mail d'E

All fields optional. E-mail address will never be displayed, resold, etc. -- it's just a quick way to give me your e-mail address along with your comment, if you should feel the need. URL will be published, though, so don't enter it if it's a secret. You can use <a href>, but most other tags will be filtered out. (I'll fix it in post-production for you if it seems necessary.)