Poetic Spotlight: Ariwara no Narihira

Ariwara no Narihira

Ariwara no Narihira (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you ready for a real time warp? Heading back perhaps farther than we yet have before on the Waking Den’s scope of literary history, today all things poetic are revolving around a poet from the 9th Century–Japanese Waka (tanka) poet Ariwara no Narihira, a man of many works, and many titles.

I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.

He was a noble of the highest order, the son of Princes and connected to Emperors. Though he appears not to have been terribly prominent on the political stage–it seems affairs, even back then, could do that to a person–what we do know of him indicates a man highly prone to the affections of the heart. In fact, he and his affairs are often believed to be at the heart of the Tales of Ise–a collection of Japanese tanka poems and narratives, of which Ariwara has been suggested as the otherwise nameless central character. Many of his waka poetry–tanka, a form generally subscribed to this structure: 5-7-5-7-7, typically done without rhyme–were included therein.

Is this not that moon?
And Spring: is as the Spring of old
Is it not?
Only this body of mine
Is as it ever was…

What we know for certain of Ariwara is that he has been included among the Japanese Six Best Waka Poets, and holds a place among the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals. These lists, composed for imperial knowledge, still allow us to track some of the Japanese greats today.

Even when the gods

Held sway in the ancient days,

I have never heard

That water gleamed with autumn red

As it does in Tatta’s stream.

~Ariwara no Narihira

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