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  • A Translation of Sōgi’s Oi no Susami (Part 2)A Solace in Old Age
  • Steven D. Carter

Among the verses of experts of our time1 are these:

12 裏か表か 衣ともなし
しののめの あしたの山の 薄霞
ura ka omote ka
koromo to mo nashi
The back? Perhaps the front?
—no, not a robe at all.

shinonome no
ashita no yama no

In the dim dawn light
of a mountain at morning—
a thin swath of haze.

In this case the logic of the maeku (previous verse) is so opaque that it presents a real challenge. “Thin swath of haze” succeeds, first of all, in making sense.3 Yet that alone would not be enough to add any overtones4 to the link. So the poet begins with [End Page 295] “In the dim dawn light of . . . morning,” making one think of when the first light of dawn, barely perceptible at all, comes out on the mountain; then he adds the scene of thin haze trailing across—meeting well the challenge of “not a robe at all.”

13 我が故郷と 鳥ぞさへづる
誰植ゑし 木末の野べに 霞むらん
waga furusato to
tori zo saezuru
“This is our home now,”
the birds twitter away.

tare ueshi
kozue no nobe ni

Who planted them:
those trees out in the fields
enveloped in mist?

Standing in complete ruin is a village in the fields, where trees planted long ago are now enveloped in haze, and no trace remains of the former inhabitants. Seeing the birds in the trees—now the only remaining occupants of the place—the author has put great feeling into linking to the verse “‘This is our home now,’ / the birds twitter away.” The stylistic conception of the link is ingenious and at the same time deeply moving.

14 簾の内の 衣の音なひ
軒近き 花の匂ひに 月更けて
sudare no uchi no
kinu no otonai
From within bamboo blinds,
the rustle of silken robes.

noki chikaki
hana no nioi ni
tsuki fukete

Near the eaves—
a fragrance of blossoms
in deepening moonlight.

Although creating a link to “the rustle of silken robes” presents a real challenge, that phrase is so crucial that one cannot ignore it. The sound of robes coming from inside blinds as the flowers bloom fragrantly in the moonlight shining on the nearby [End Page 296] eaves—that makes for a scene one can easily imagine. The tsukeku (two-verse link) by itself is both elegant and ingenious.

15 思はぬ色を 心にぞ見る
夕まぐれ 友のまれなる 花に来て
omowanu iro o
kokoro ni zo miru
In my heart I discover
an unexpected color.

tomo no mare naru
hana ni kite

As dusk gathers,
only the rare friend comes
to see the blossoms.

In this case the link hinges on the word “color” in the phrase “unexpected color.”8 The meaning is this: In the daytime, many people come to view the blossoms, but after those people have left, if you stand beneath the trees in the quiet of dusk and gaze at them all alone, the color of the blossoms will be piercing. At such a moving time, you see in your own heart that those who hurriedly looked at the blossoms and departed do not have the quality to be properly moved. To “discover” in one’s heart means to “understand” in one’s heart. A link of deep feeling, I would say.9

16 奥山住みも 春ぞ知らるる
鳥の鳴く 朝戸開くれば 花咲きて
okuyamazumi mo
haru zo shiraruru
Even mountain dwellers
are aware of springtime.

tori no naku
asato akureba
hana sakite

A bird calls,
and I open the door at morning
to flowering trees.

[End Page 297]

There is nothing special to elucidate here. Yet how well the scene of someone living far back in the mountains links to “A bird calls, / and I open the door . . .”! Noticing things of this sort is the essence of this Way. People think only of grand and imposing things as good. Most unfortunate!11

17 とはれぬほどの 奥山もがな
花を風 いづくに咲かば 吹かざらん
towarenu hodo no
okuyama mogana
Ah to be beyond reach,
far back in the mountains.

hana o kaze
izuku ni sakaba

Is there nowhere
flowers bloom but are not blown
by the wind?

This link expresses the idea that “Everywhere / one resents the wind / and the world. / Even in Yoshino’s recesses / flowers scatter and fall.”13...


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pp. 295-369
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