Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi – 08
「末の松山 清原元輔／実方と諾子 藤原実方朝臣」 (Suenomatsu Yama Kiyohara no Motosuke/Sanekata to Nagiko Fujiwara Sanekata Choushin)
“Mount Suenomatsu Kiyohara no Motosuke/Sanekata and Nagiko The Honorable Fujiwara Sanekata”
Love is a force that ebbs and flows like the tide, following the course of nature rather than the desires of those involved. “Feelings” are often the most difficult to put into words, as there’s never really any “rational” or “logical” explanation for the things human beings feel. Love is much the same way – when it starts, the only comprehensible emotion is one of happiness, one so great and effervescent that colors the whole world pink without any legitimate reason. And when it ends, love leaves behind a blankness and a myriad of questions that have no answer. A lover left behind can concoct a dozen different scenarios to try and make sense of the parting, but nothing will provide the same amount of satisfaction and completeness as the feeling of being with the other person. But what’s ended is ended, and much like Nagiko’s (Chihara Minori) brother Munenobu (Toyonaga Toshiyuki), it’s difficult to find the way to move forward.
His tale, however, is not the centerpiece of this week’s Uta Koi. That honor belongs to Nagiko and Sanetaka (Koyasu Takehito) – while the beginning of their tale wasn’t too fantastic and the setup rather weak, it was backed up by a strong middle and a fantastic finish, reminiscent of the end of Narihira and Takaiko’s love story: unfulfilled, but memorable.
Munenobu’s story is merely a prelude to Nagiko’s, providing the backstory to the philosophy and ideals that eventually shaped her life. The influence her brother’s tragic love story had on her can be easily discerned in the way she conducts herself in her own vignette, and particularly near the end. Perhaps that was the most heartbreaking part of it all – even as a little girl, Nagiko had the preconception that love was inconstant. Or rather, it was something that would end somewhere along the line, no matter how strong or passionate the feelings that birthed it were. Ideally, someone would have come one day and swept her off her feet, showing Nagiko that love isn’t as brittle and capricious as she first assumed. Unfortunately that vision of love never comes through for her and she is let down not once, but twice. The hope and love she harbored for Sanetaka was palpable, and the betrayal and hurt she felt when he never came back is unimaginable – their love met such an abrupt, tragic end. Tragic not because their parting was some dramatic fanfare that resulted in the death of nearly all its cast (ahem, Romeo and Juliet), but because it was so understated and meant something so great for both parties. The end of their love represented something for both of them, and hurt each of them in such a way that it becomes difficult to determine who suffered more: the one who left or the one that got left behind?
Sanetaka’s Big Sacrifice is the epitome of noble and romantic, in that he values Nagiko’s happiness far before his own. Had he held on to her, it’s possible to say they would have been happy. But how real is that happiness when he’s fully aware of the boundless potential she has? Nagiko needed someone to encourage her and cultivate her knowledge and her potential, rather than someone she could simply stand beside for the rest of her life. It’s unfortunate Sanetaka couldn’t be the one to help her spread her wings and be the one she could spend the rest of her days with, but not being able to have everything we want is one of life’s most basic yet cruel lessons. The saddest thing about their parting is the sheer unfulfilled sentiments it has – it was not a goodbye that was agreed upon by both parties. It was a necessary parting, but it left so many things unsaid and left behind a seedling that just never got a chance to grow. This is also their story’s greatest beauty however, and it’s encapsulated perfectly in their reunion some time later.
Hyakunin Isshu #51 by Fujiwara no Sanetaka
(Ogura Hyakunin Isshu)
First off, the fire plant. Some might disagree with translating “mugwort” in such a way, but purely in terms of the effect in English, “fire plant” is much more impactful and is much “friendlier”. Not only does “mugwort” sound rather… unattractive, it loses much of the intended symbolism when it is simply referred to by its name. By using “mugwort”, a reader must first know what the plant is. Then they would also have to have knowledge of how the plant tastes to appreciate the poem in its entirety. “Fire plant”, while a slightly awkward on paper, affords a much more symbolic atmosphere to the verse and eases the readers into understanding the key imagery that explains the speaker’s sentiments. “Fire” is easily associated with the fierceness of his love, how uncontrollable and powerful it is.
The general image of fire works rather well for this poem not only because it portrays the magnitude of the speaker’s love, but also because of the verb “burns”, because that’s precisely what fire does: burn. This implies his emotions are a double-edged sword – while his love is grand and passionate, its flames are simultaneously causing him great pain. The pain stems from the fact his ladylove is seemingly unable to understand his feelings due to whatever circumstance. But the speaker’s inability to give his feelings an adequate voice and the subsequent agony resulting from it imply an unfortunate circumstance of some sort, one where it’s not simply about being unable to convey his love, but one where he simply can’t. The longing he feels is crystal clear, and contrasting his immense desire with his inability to act on them provides an open window into understanding the speaker’s frustration and the futility of his emotions.