The sense of loss in this Japanese poem is unquenchable. Written by Kakinonoto Hitomaro in 7th century Japan, it speaks of emptiness so great there is no hope or comfort. Hitomaro was a poet of the Asuka period [538-710], serving as court poet to the Empress Jitō, and is considered to be one of the four greatest poets in Japanese history along with Fujiwara no Teika, Sōgi and Bashō.
‘I loved her like the leaves,
The lush green leaves of spring
That pulled down the willows
on the bank’s edge
where we walked
while she was of this world.
I built my life on her.
But man cannot flout
the laws of this world.
To the shimmering wide fields
hidden by the white cloud,
white as white silk scarf
she soared away like the morning bird,
hid from our world like the setting sun.
The child, the gift she left behind –
he cries for food; but always
finding nothing that I might give him,
I pick him up and hold him in my arms.
On the pillow where we lay,
My wife and I, as one,
I pass the daylight lonely till the dusk,
the black night sighing till the dawn.
I grieve and grieve and know no remedy.
I ache and know no road where I might meet her.
[NB. This poem features in two editions of poems that I own and, owing to different translations, there are variations]
The poem features in many anthologies, including my own The Picador Book of Funeral Poems and The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse.
Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:-
‘Alone’ by Dea Parkin
‘A thousand years, you said’ by Lady Heguri
‘After a row’ by Tom Pickard
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A #poem to read in the bath: ‘I loved her like the leaves’ by Kakinonoto Hitomaro https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dY via @SandraDanby