Waka (和歌) part1

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May 26, 2016 20:56
I would like to talk about Waka (和歌/ the song of Japan) in this entry. As I mentioned before, Hyakunin Isshu follow the formality of Tanka (短歌/ short song). It is a kind of Waka. I read a book (谷知子『和歌文学の基礎知識』(角川学芸出版、2006年) with regard to the basic knowledges of Waka. I found good explanations in it. I try to introduce the essence of it to you. I hope it helps you to understand Hyakunin Isshu.

First of all, there are the classic waka and the modern waka. To begin with, I’ll tell you about the classic waka to which Hyakunin Issshu belongs.

Waka has some rhetoric; Kakekotoba (掛詞), Jyokotoba (序詞), Makurakotoba(枕詞), Mitate(見立て), Engo(縁語) etc.. They have their own respective meanings, but they are linking each other in the essential part.

※Here I do not use “rhetoric” in the historical meaning derived from Europa, but in the sense of something rhetorical forming a part of humanity as long as human being is a homo loquens. It is said that latter meaning has universality.

The most important rhetoric of waka is a fixed form of verse: 5-7-5-7-7.
The role of this formality is to distinguish its world from daily life. This rhythm is unusual or uncommon even for Japanese people. The classic waka is required to be refined and graceful. Therefore, there are the words writers cannot use in it, that is, the words used in daily conversation.

What about people had expressed by using these rhetoric in those days?
Even though it seems, at first glance, that a poetry concerns with nature or feeling of human, it expresses neither nature itself nor bare feeling insofar as it is waka. The nature appearing in it are often the one created by imitating pictures of such as Japanese gardens or scenic spots. Here the figure of real nature is not important. In this sense waka does not follow an artistic principle called realism. Japanese people of other days understood what natures were and how they felt by looking at natures through the cultural filter. Namely, waka is an equipment for Japanese in order to understand natures and their hearts.

Then, I’ll talk about one of its rhetoric, Kakekotoba. Kakekotoba is a paronomasia. It enables to represent natures and human’s feelings by using a word that has the same sound and more than two meanings, which express natures and feelings. For instance, o思ひOmohi (to think of/ to feel) and 火Hi(fire)/日Hi(sun), 松Matsu (pine) and 待つMatsu (to wait), 秋Aki (autumn) and 飽きAki ( to get bored), 恨みUrami (grudge) and 浦見(to see seashore), 降るFulu (to rain) and 経るFulu (time goes by/ to spent time), 長雨Nagame (long rain) and 眺めNagame (to look at/ a view) etc..

I show one of Hyakunin Isshu using Kakekotoba.
花の色はうつりにけりないたづらにわが身世にふるながめせしまに (by Ono no Komachi)
Hana no iro wa utsuri ni keri na itazura ni waga miyo ni fulu nagame sesi ma ni
※降るFulu (to rain) and 経るFulu (time goes by/ to spent time) as well as 長雨Nagame (long rain) and 眺めNagame (to look at/ a view).

I’ll try to translate this song to modern Japanese at first, then to translate it to English.
The color of flowers has faded before I know it while raining for a long time.

All right, I’ll try to translate kakekotoba used in this song, and then to translate it to English.
My beauty has faded while spending time to look at the world idly and being lost in deep thought.

And I also quote a translation by a researcher below.
As certain as color
Passes from the petal,
Irrevocable as flesh,
The gazing eye falls
Through the world

I am glad if you understand how difficult to translate Japanese poetries. To understand them not easily is a matter of course—even for Japanese.