Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi – 02
「貞明と綏子 陽成院」 (Sadaakira to Yasuko Youzei In)
“Sadaakira and Yasuko – Former Emperor Youzei”
The loose continuity Uta Koi features in its second episode is rather nice, giving it an unexpectedly cohesive feel and an added depth . More than that though, the use of poetry is thoroughly explored as a means to express one’s true desires and feelings – it’s both tragic and cowardly at the same time, and the fact Narihira is the one to point this out lends even more meaning to the poem he dedicated to Takaiko. His contribution to the Hyakunin Isshu is certainly not the first poem to detail a hidden message, and another famous poem worthy of mention that deals with double meanings is Whoso List to Hunt by Sir Thomas Wyatt. On the surface, the sonnet is about a hunter growing weary of his chase, a female deer. But deconstructing the metaphor and taking note of the context, one finds a story of a man falling into despair due to a love he cannot have. The Hyakunin Isshu is ripe with poems that tell a hidden story, using all sorts of imagery that stand as a symbol for different things, as well as various “tricks” such as homonyms present in the Japanese language to mask the intended meaning of the poem. Uta Koi serves to present the poems in context, so that some of the symbolism in the poem becomes better understood. This is particularly the case here, as Sadaakira’s (Morikubo Shoutaro) use of Mount Tsukuba in his poem gains deeper meaning when the significance of the mountains is explained.
From Tsukuba’s peak,
Falling waters have become
Mina [River]‘s still, full flow:
So my love has grown to be
Like the river’s quiet [depths] (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu)
So, first: Mount Tsukuba. Narihira’s description of the mountain serves as the basis of the poem, and sets up the overall theme – love grows over time, much like the streams that widen into the river and the ocean. Compared to Narihira’s own contribution to the Hyakunin Isshu, and even Yukihira’s metaphorical declaration of love, Sadaakira’s poem lacks the eloquence and wealth of vivid imagery present in the other two. There is however, something to said for the simplistic sincerity of the poem – the fact its meaning is so easy to understand speaks to the honesty of the former emperor’s emotions, and lends a different perspective to the usual antagonistic Sadaakira. The imagery is quite straightforward, and the key elements that reinforce the theme of the poem are understandable and not overly difficult to pick out. Falling waters indicate a sense of chaos and disorganization, which could indicate the storms of passion in young love, or the uncertainty of one’s emotions. The latter is the case for Sadaakira and Yasuko (Takaragi Kumi), as the two have not gone through proper courtship, and their relationship is further complicated by political machinations and some serious trust issues on Sadaakira’s part. The “still, full flow” of the rivers then, would indicate the opposite – this is the calm after the storm, the maturation of emotions that were once too wild to control. It’s a nice metaphor for the ex-emperor’s progression as a person, as well as a lover. Love has a larger meaning for Sadaakira than it did for Narihira and Yukihira, so it seems apt to broaden the scope of the poem and apply it to his personal growth, as I feel his relationship with Yasuko is instrumental in and essentially interchangeable with maturity in Sadaakira’s case.
One other notable image would be the one presented in the fourth and fifth line that uses the “deep” or “depth” of the river as a measure of love. It may be a metaphor common to the point of triteness, but it is nevertheless effective and its widespread usage serves to add to its charm. Because it’s so easy to understand, it becomes more relatable, and possesses a quaint charm akin to your next-door-girl/boy – on the surface there’s nothing extraordinary, but that’s precisely the quality that makes them, and the metaphor, that much more attractive. It’s familiar, and taking into account Sadaakira’s inability to connect with people and his generally tyrannical behavior, it’s a fairly powerful image to use.
To talk about the poem on a more general level though, as Teika states at the end, this entry in the Hyakunin Isshu seems to be a stark – and I mean stark – contrast to how Sadaakira is portrayed in history. There were glimpses of how wild his reign was, but it was toned down considerably. If Narihira’s declaration that poetry is a way to “speak freely” is true, then it brings to question which Sadaakira is the “real” one – the episode seems to imply the boy who wrote the love poem is closer to the real one as opposed to the terrifying prince that roamed the castle doing whatever he wanted. Of course, this doesn’t vindicate his reputation as a tyrant, but it does serve to complicate the popular historical portrayal.