Michizane Poem from the Hyakunin Isshu

This is a small, off-schedule post today. As I continue my read of the Hyakunin Isshu poem anthology famous in Japan, I wanted to share one poem by the famous scholar Sugawara no Michizane, who is the subject of a few posts here in the blog as of late and someone I happen to admire as a fellow scholar. This is poem number 24:

このたびは kono tabi wa
幣もとりあへず nusa motori aezu
手向山 tamuke yama
紅葉のにしき momiji no nishiki
神のまにまに kami no mani mani

One translation reads as follows:

Plain hemp will not do
For a mountain offering
As our excursion begins –
Surely the gods will be better pleased
To accept a brocade of autumn leaves.

While another states:

At the present time,
Since I could bring no offering,
See Mount Tamuke!
Here are brocades of red leaves,
As a tribute to the gods.

The poem is signed as Kanke (菅家), which is the Sinified way to read Sugawara’s Family name (lit. “House of Sugawara”). You see similar names used for the Taira Clan (e.g. Heike 平家) and Minamono Clan (e.g. Genji 源氏) in later times.

According to the commentary in the book I am reading, the poem was composed by Michizane after going on an excursion with his patron, Emperor Uda, and because he had little time to prepare, he couldn’t make a propering offering to the gods for a safe trip. The term nusa (幣) means a special staff used in Shinto ceremonies. But Michizane, admiring the beautiful autumn scene on Mount Tamuke, hopes that this will make a suitable offering instead. Sadly Michizane would be disgraced and exiled only a short time later.

Anyway, while not autumn yet, I thought the poem was rather nice and hope readers will enjoy. :)

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