Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, also called Hyakunin Isshu, is an
anthology of a 100 poems by 100 different poets. The poems are
all "waka" (now called "tanka").
Waka are five-line poems of 31 syllables, arranged as 5, 7, 5,
7, 7. The waka represented in Hyakunin Isshu were court poetry,
which almost exclusively used the waka format from the earliest
days of Japanese poetry until the..seventeensyllable haiku came
into prominence in the seventeenth century.
Hyakunin Isshu is said to have been compiled by>1:he famous
thirteenth-century critic and poet Fujiwara no Sadaie (also
known as Teika), though his son Fujiwara no Tameie may have had
a hand in revising the collection. Teika also compiled a waka
anthology called Hyakunin Shuka (Superior Poems of Our Time),
which shares many of the same poems as Hyakunin Isshu. The
hundred poems of . Hyakunin Isshu are in a rough chronological
order from the seventh through the thirteenth centuries. The
most famous poets through the late Heian period in Japan are
Hyakunin Isshu has had an immense influence in Japan. In Donald
Keene's phrase, the poems have "constituted the basic knowledge
of Japanese poetry for most people from the early Tokugawa
period until very recent times. This meant, in a real sense,
that Teika was the arbiter of the poetic tastes of most Japanese
even as late as the twentieth century." The influence of
Hyakunin Isshu was particularly extended through the card game
based on the collection, called uta karuta, played especially at
New Year's day.
Among foreign critics and translators there have been differing
opinions about the value of Hyakunin Isshu. Arthur Waley thought
that the collection "is so selected as to display the least
pleasing features of Japanese poetry. Artificialities of every
kind abound." Kenneth Rexroth is more temperate: "[It] is a very
It contains some of the most mannered poetry of classical Japan,
but it also contains some of the best." Donald Keene offers this
summary: "It can hardly be pretended that all the poems deserve
the immortality Teika bestowed on them, but many are fine poems,
and his choices do no harm to his reputation as a critic."
"Poetry has its seed in the human heart and blossoms forth in
innumerable leaves of words ... it is poetry which, with only a
part of its power, moves heaven and earth,
by Dr. Angelee Deodhar
Oe no Masafusa
On that far mountain
On the slope below the peak
Cherries are in flower.
Oh, let the mountain mists
Not arise to hide the scene.
Minamoto no Toshiyori
It was not for this
I prayed at the holy shrine:
That she would become
As pitiless and as cold
As the storms on Hase's hills.
Fujiwara no Mototoshi
As dew promises
New life to the thirsty plant,
So did your vow
Yet the year has passed away,
and autumn has come again.
Attendant to Empress Koka
After one brief night -
Short as a piece of the reeds
Growing in Naniwa bay ¬
forever long for him
With my whole heart, till life ends?
Like a string of gems
Grown weak, my life will break now;
For if I live on,
All I do to hide my love
May at last grow weak and fail.
Attendant to Empress Inpu
Let me show him these!
Even the fishermen's sleeves
On Ojima's shores,
Though wet through and wet again,
Do not so change their colors.
Fujiwara no letaka
To Nara's brook comes
Evening, and the rustling winds
Not a sign of summer left
But the sacred
For some men I grieve;
Some men are hateful to me;
To me, with all my sadness,
Is a place of misery.
Emperor Juntoku (1197-1242)
In this ancient house,
Paved with a hundred stones,
in the eaves;
But numerous as they are,
My old memories are more.
Dr. Angelee Deodhar