Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi – 05
「東下り 小野小町」 (Azumakudari Ono no Komachi)
“Eastward – Ono no Komachi”
Regrets – there is not one person in the world who does not have them. It is human nature to long for things we cannot have, and to always wonder the “what-ifs”, especially at a fork in the road – it is impossible not to wonder about the road not taken, to wonder what waited for them at the end of the pathway they never took. More than Yoshiko’s poem, I find Robert Frost’s Road Not Taken or Nothing Gold Can Stay more apt to apply to this episode, since the two poems both encapsulate the emotions faced by the characters – Narihira and Yoshiko more than Yasuhide. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Yasuhide is an inherently optimistic person; it was evident from last episode that when everything was said and done, Yasuhide was probably a happier person than Narihira was – he may not have had the status and influence his fellow poet had, but in the end Yasuhide walked away with a sense of self-worth and assuredness Narihira lacked; this episode seems to further indicate he has a sense of contentment with his life that is absent from Yoshiko and Narihira.
Age is a frightful thing for many, since not only does it represent physical restrictions and dwindling freedom, it also dampens mental aptitude and brings about an inevitable bout of regret and melancholy. As years pass by, people grow less passionate, as obstacles youth made invisible become clearer than ever with age and experience – it’s no longer so easy to love, or to live without abandon. A wiser, more cautious perspective replaces the previously vivacious one, and without a sense of contentment, firm roots that define their life at this time, people can face an existential crisis as they question their lives. This is particularly true for people who have had to choose between two equally important, great things – people make sacrifices all the time, but some sacrifices are ultimately bigger and hence have more impact.
Poem of the Week: Hyakunin Isshu #9 by Ono no Komachi
Color of the flower
Has already faded away,
While in idle thoughts
My life passes vainly by,
As I watch the long rains fall
To put it simply, the poem is about beauty fading away with old age. Whether or not that is the true theme is up for debate. Flowers are often used as symbols of beauty, and it’s certainly used in a similar way here, to denote the sheer transience of its color. But they’re also used to illustrate the frailty of life when pitted against time; more often than not, a flower in bloom is used to depict life in full swing, and the its brief lifespan is used to bolster the carpe diem motto (e.g. To The Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Kerrick). What the flower stands for in this poem however, is a fair question: is it simply beauty, or standing in as a symbol for something bigger, like the concept of life and time? The poem can seem very superficial if the image of beauty is taken at face value – as a flower wilts with time, beauty is but a brief vanity that disappears with age. However, if the idea of the flower’s beauty is to be taken as a person’s identity – what defines them – instead, the poem suddenly gains more gravitas in terms of impact and importance. It really depends on how deep one wants to dig into the poem, and what they perceive the flower’s color to mean.