Final Selections from Carter’s Traditional Japanese Poetry

Kyogoku Tamekane. On “Spring Rain,” composed when he held a poem contest at his home

On an evening
set aglow with the crimson
of plum blossoms,
the willow boughs sway softly;
and the spring rain falls.

Retired Emperor Fushimi. On “wind in the pines”

To avoid getting wet
I took cover a moment
in the shade of pines–
where the rain made me listen
to the sound of the wind

Bishop Shinkei. Winter

A pitiful sight–
that smoke rising at evening
from a brushwood fire.

His charcoal sold at market,
a man heads back into the hills.

Takarai Kikaku

Stories about ancestors
spoken on a frosty night.

In fading lamplight
dead spirits are beckoned back
into the world

Same author. Summer

Evening summer–
and gazing out into it,
a woman alone.

More Selections from Carter’s Traditional Japanese Poetry

Fujiwara no Teika, “Winter Morning”

After a full year
of gazing out, one morning
I open my door–
to at thin snowfall, frozen–
the far edge of loneliness.

The Go-Kyogoku Regent and Former Chancellor Fujiwara no Yoshitsune

A cricket cries out
near my straw mattress, in the cold
of a frosty night–
as I spread my robe
to spend the night alone.

Minamoto no Sanetomo, Winter, on the topic “white”

On a white sandspit
where seagulls have come to earth
snow has been falling–
and in the clearing sky above,
the clear gleam of the moon.

Same author, “Black”

In midnight gloom
as black as leopard-flower seeds,
off beyond the clouds,
hidden behind layers of cloud–
I hear wild geese calling.


In my limited experience of Japanese poetry, Saigyo, a monk writing during the 12th century, is by far my favorite poet. A few selections, again from Carter’s Traditional Japanese Poetry:


On a roadside
next to a clear flowing stream
in a willow’s shade
I stopped–for a moment, I thought–
but ended up staying on


It creates a heart
even in those among us
who think of themselves
as indifferent to all things–
this first wind of autumn.

Spring. Written when people were composing on the topic “Blossoms Falling in a Dream” at the home of the Kamo Virgin:

In a dream I saw
the winds of spring scattering
the cherry blossoms–
and after I woke, the sound
was still rustling in my breast.

Winter. “Leaves falling at dawn”:

Raindrops, I first thought
as I lay awake in my bed–
but what I heard
was the unbroken patter
of leaves giving in to storm winds.

More Japanese Poetry

Again, from Carter’s Traditional Japanese Poetry

Sugawara no Michizane

Idle Thoughts on a Winter Night

Beneath eaves of white thatch, before the hearth–
the servant boy who was at my side leans against the wall, asleep.
My calendar says only a month of winter remains–
which means I have been magistrate here now for three years.
By nature I don’t like wine–but sorrow it hard to dispel;
with my heart set on poems, I cannot conduct government.
So with a thousand thoughts about my plight I sit–
while beyond the window the sky announces dawn’s approach.

An anonymous poet, from the Spring sequence of Kokinshu

It is not as though
springtime came to some villages
and not to others.
Why then may we see flowers
blooming and failing to bloom?

Another poem from the same sequence, by Tsurayuki

Observe how the haze
of spring spread its gauzy mantle
on Miwa Mountain:
might flowers be blooming there
of which men have no knowledge?

Japanese Poetry

As a change of pace, some selections from Traditional Japanese Poetry trans. Steven D. Carter

A poem written by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro when Prince Karu took lodging in the fields of Aki

Off to the eastward,
the first shimmer of daylight
rises on the fields–
and when I turn round to see,
the moon is sinking away

Another by the same author

You wave-plovers
of dusk on the Omi Sea–
each time you cry out
my heart withers within me,
set on things of long ago

By Sami Mansei, one of my favorites in the whole collection:

Our life in this world–
to what shall I compare it?
It is like a boat
rowing out at break of day,
leaving not a trace behind.