With that striking success at discussion (thusfar a tie with the 0 responses from the closed-door panel), I thought I’d try once more just to have something mildly more accessible than the tortuous and over-built Kojiki before I give up. Tonight’s readings came from a collection of poetry from first-millenium Japan called the Man’youshou. There are some gorgeous verses in there, and I’ll post one or two clips of the shorter ones to give you an idea. For the full effect of Yamanoue’s work you may have to take a trip to the library, but it is worth it.

From “Dialogue on Poverty” by Yamanoue:


But the night is cold. And he,
the man more destitute
than even I, on such a night
his father and mother
must be starving, bodies chill and numb;
his wife and children moaning softly in the dark;
Yes, you – at times like these
how do you manage to go on,
how do you get through your life?

Does it come to this –
is it such a helpless thing,
the path of man in this world?

Though we may think
our lives are mean and frustrate
in this world of men,
we cannot fly into the air,
it being so we are not birds.

By Lady Outomo no Sakanoue:

There are no mountains
and no seas to cut us off –
How then can it be
that even times to meet and talk
are so desperately few?

From Takahashi no Mushimaro:

To where eagles dwell
on the Mountain of Tsukuha,
up to the haven,
the haven of Mohaki,
Urging each other
with shouts, the youths and the maidens,
thronging together,
go to match songs in the song-match.
Since with others’ wives
I shall be keeping company,
so with my own wife let others banter as they will.
The gods that keep
this mountain from of old
have never interposed
their ban against these usages.
This one day alone,
sweetling, do not look at me,
do not question what I do.

Over Male God Peak
clouds boil up, hang in the air,
rain comes scudding down;
but though I end up sopping wet,
will I go home for that?

I was pleased to see a development of many of the elements I noticed in the Kojiki excerpts, including much more attention towards the individual and nature. Even the royal posts were seemingly justified by the relationship between the ruler and the land. If the Takahashi no Mushimaro poem is any indication, the pandoran curiosity of men is still prominent. However, I was interested to see that the following poem about the song-matches contains an injunction against Takahashi’s wife looking on his ceremonial transgressions. He seems to spend enough time excusing himself that you really have to wonder how guilty he feels and how far the meaning of “keeping company” stretches here. Still, the scrupulously accurate attention to personal details and relationships was exciting. Apart from sharing lady Outomo’s sentiments about time, my favorite verses were Yamanoue’s lament for his dead son and his “Dialogue on Poverty.” Perhaps this is simply my natural bent towards medical care and society overshadowing the other poems, but these two seem particularly perceptive. In the case of the latter, I was impressed by Yamanoue’s ability to write eloquently from another’s perspective; this does not seem to be much of a concern for the other authors.

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