Mute Swan
"How can I vanish before meeting someone, like a water bubble ceaselessly
flowing on a stream of thoughts." (Mute Swan, Cygnus olor)

LADY ISE
On a Stream of Thoughts: Waka Poetry by Lady Ise
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translations from various sources with introduction from
"Japanese Women Writers: A BIO-CRITICAL SOURCEBOOK"
edited by Chieko I. Mulhern, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1994.

"The woman known variously as Ise, Ise no go (Lady Ise), or Ise no miyasudokoro, was born to Fujiwara no Tsugukage, who was a third-generation descendant of Manatsu (d. 829)... Ise's father was... one of the mid-level officials known as 'zuryô.' Tsugukage spent part of his career moving from region to region as governor of the provinces of Ise, Yamato, Satsuma and Oki successively. (His daughter's sobriquet was acquired when she entered court service during his tenure as governor of Ise.) As was the custom with such officials, Tsugukage received special training in history and Chinese classics at the Heian equivalent of university (daigakuryo) and went on to fill posts that required skill in writing. His father, Iemune, left his mark in history as the founder of Kikaji Temple at Hino, south of the capital Kyoto; and Ise's uncle and cousin both served as head of the university (daigaku no kami). Ise's upbringing amid a family of such prominent scholars and poets inevitably had an effect similar to what Murasaki Shikibu and the other famous literary court ladies were to experience several decades later.

"The presence of such a talented woman as Ise would hardly have gone unnoticed at Heian court, especially by ambitious nobles in the highest positions of power and prestige. Ise's poetic reputation was, in fact, established while she served as a lady-in-waiting for Onshi (872-907), the consort of Emperor Uda (r. 887-97) and daughter of Regent Fujiwara Mototsune...

"Ise, a master wordsmith, was able to use her literary ability to her own advantage in refusing the advances of those mainstream Fujiwaras who might have sought to profit from her court position. She is believed to have been a woman of great beauty, noted also as a first-rate musician. In any case, Ise seems to have been a focus of male attention throughout her life....The loftiest of Ise's loves was Emperor Uta himself, who sired her an imperial prince, who died in childhood. Her last lover was Uda's fourth son and a notable poet, Prince Atsuyoshi (887-930), for whom she bore a daughter. Inheriting her parents' talents, the child went on to prove herself an accomplished poet known as Nakatsukasa and won fame in her own right."


1
Nagara Bridge
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I hear they are rebuilding
Nagara Bridge in Naniwa.
What is left
For me now
To compare myself to?


2
Stream of Thoughts
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How can I vanish
Before meeting someone
Like a water bubble
Ceaselessly flowing
On a stream of thoughts.

3
Thread of Pearls
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Hanging from the branches
Of a green willow tree,
The spring rain
Is a
Thread of pearls.

4
Field Burnt-Over
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My body is like
A field wasted by winter.
If only
I, like the field burnt-over,
Awaited the return of spring.

5
A Flowerless Country
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Lightly forsaking
The spring mist as it rises,
The wild geese are setting off.
Have they learned to live
In a flowerless country?

6
Abstraction
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A flower of waves
Blossoms in the distance
And ripples shoreward
As though a breeze
Had quickened.

7
Boat on the Pond
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If it is you there
In the light boat on the pond,
I long to beg you
"Do not go; linger a while
among us here in this place."

8
Bamboo Interval (Interlude)
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What are you saying?
That I cannot meet you --
Not even for a time
Brief as the space between joints
On the reeds of Naniwa?

9
Hidden Immortal (Near A Waterfall at Ryumon)
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Hidden immortal,
Whose garment has no break or seam,
If you have gone from us
What mountain princess is this
Displaying to us her white robes?

Natural Sounds in Early Japanese Women's Poetry
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Photo by earlywomenmasters.net, a nonprofit, educational website