A HUNDRED VERSES FROM OLD jAPAN - the "Hyaku-nin-isshiu" or "Single Verses by a Hundred People"
THE Hyaku-nin-isshiu, or 'Single Verses by a Hundred People', were collected together in AD 1235. They are placed in approximate chronological order, and range from about the year AD670. Perhaps what strikes one most in connection with the Hyaku-nin-isshiu is the date when the verses were written; most of them were produced before the time of the Norman Conquest (AD 1066), and one cannot but be struck with the advanced state of art and culture in Japan at a time when Europe was still in an elementary stage of development.
The Collection consists almost entirely of love-poems and what the editor calls picture-poems, intended to bring before the mind's eye some well-known scene in nature. Each poem has the original Japanese as well as the English translation and is accompanied by a pen and ink sketch. On the opposing page you will find a background to the poet and the poem.
Some show the cherry blossoms which are doomed to fall, the dewdrops scattered by the wind, the mournful cry of the wild deer on the mountains, the dying crimson of the fallen maple leaves, the weird sadness of the cuckoo singing in the moonlight, and the loneliness of the recluse in the mountain wilds; while those verses which appear to be of a more cheerful type are rather of the nature of the 'Japanese smile', described by Lafcadio Hearn as a mask to hide the real feelings.
Although written in the TANKA format (5-7-5-7-7), for this translation the editor has adopted a five-lined verse of 8-6-8-6-6 metre, with the second, fourth, and fifth lines rhyming, in the hope of retaining at least some resemblance to the original form, while at the same time making the sound more familiar to English readers.
Japanese Tanka poetry has five lines and thirty-one syllables, arranged thus: 5-7-5-7-7 which is an unusual metre for Western ears.
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