The coldest line in the Man’yōshū isn’t actually in a poem. It’s in the note about the author that comes afterwards. Here it is with the poem for context; this is MYS 8/1428, in a “Spring: Miscellaneous” section. Original orthography taken from Man’yōshū kensaku, the latest iteration of the venerable MYS search system from Yamaguchi University.


忍照 難波乎過而 打靡 草香乃山乎 暮晩尓 吾越来者 山毛世尓 咲有馬酔木乃 不悪 君乎何時 徃而早将見

(ositeru / nanipa wo sugwite / uti-nabiku / kusaka no yama wo / yupugure ni / wa ga kwoye-kureba / yama mo se ni / sakyeru asibi no / asikaranu / kimi wo itu si ka / yukite paya mimu)


The content is fairly unremarkable:

One poem about Mount Kusaka [part of Mount Ikoma]

Passing Oshiteru [Cranston suggests “[of the] Shining Waves”] Naniwa, Mount Kusaka I cross as evening falls; crowding the mountain in bloom, the ashibi (Japanese andromeda) are not bad; when shall I arrive and see not-bad you next?

The first two thirds of the poem are all leading up to asikaranu (not bad), which puns on asibi (modern ashibi or asebi, and functions as a pivot to get us from the vivid but objective description of the journey to the inner thoughts of the journeyer. Who indeed has not longed for their not-bad beloved after extended separation?

(Since the actual text of the source is just 不悪, i.e. not represented phonemically, some people use another reading of 悪 to render the relevant word nikukaranu [“not loathsome”], but this doesn’t really do it for me.)

Moving on, here’s the note about the author:

The author of the preceding poem being of low status, their name is omitted

Not “unknown,” but “omitted.” Intentionally. I guess this is what happens when your commitments to literary meritocracy and aristocracy conflict. I’m sure the poet was promised a lot of exposure, though.

(According to Satake Akihiro et al, who edited the Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 新日本古典文学大系 edition of the MYS, this is the only such note in the collection.

Tan-tan Tanzaku

Happy Tanabata! Here’s a poem by Noguchi Ujō 野口雨情 in honor of the occasion. According to Aozora Bunko, this was first published in the July 1933 edition of Shōgaku Ninensei (“Elementary school second-grader”) magazine.

Mainen shichigatsu
Nanoka ni wa

Tan-tan Tanabata
Hoshi matsuri

Tan-tan Tanabata
Kita naraba

Tan-tan tanzaku
Uta kaite

Tanzaku tsurushita
Take tatete

Tan-tan tanabata

And in quick and inelegant English translation:

Every year in the seventh month
On the seventh day

Tan-tan Tanabata
The star festival

Tan-tan Tanabata:
When it has arrived

Tan-tan tanzaku:
Write a poem

The tanzaku hung,
Raise the bamboo

Tan-tan Tanabata:
Let’s celebrate

Ujō is often praised for the mysterious and somewhat melancholy depth of his writing for children, but as this example shows he was not above straight-ahead soundplay.

“Raise [literally “stand up”] the bamboo”: Back in the Edo period, people really took this seriously. A picture like this (Hiroshige, 1857) shows clearly that the tanzaku-laden bamboo was raised well above the roofs. Now even the de facto official Tanabata song, “Tanabata-sama,” has the tanzaku swaying nokiba ni, “eaves-LOC,” which is at best “by the eaves” and more naturally “under (i.e. hanging from) the eaves.”

Beorht wæron burgræced   burnsele monige
heah horngestreon   heresweg micel
meodoheall monig   mondreama full
oþþæt þæt onwende   wyrd seo swiþe