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The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan

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These translated poems were written by two ladies of the Heian court of Japan between the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D. The poems speak intimately of their authors' sexual longing, fulfillment and disillusionment. These translated poems were written by two ladies of the Heian court of Japan between the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D. The poems speak intimately of their authors' sexual longing, fulfillment and disillusionment.


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These translated poems were written by two ladies of the Heian court of Japan between the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D. The poems speak intimately of their authors' sexual longing, fulfillment and disillusionment. These translated poems were written by two ladies of the Heian court of Japan between the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D. The poems speak intimately of their authors' sexual longing, fulfillment and disillusionment.

30 review for The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gaurav

    Japanese poetry is said to be originated in human heart and mind and grows in to the myriad leaves of words. The collection of poems The Ink Dark Moon is from the Heian era of Japanese literature, the era is considered as Golden Age in the history of Japanese literature. The language in that era was very inflected language- grammatical constructions are often contained within the words themselves, usually in their endings as in Latin, English on the other hand is partially inflected language s Japanese poetry is said to be originated in human heart and mind and grows in to the myriad leaves of words. The collection of poems The Ink Dark Moon is from the Heian era of Japanese literature, the era is considered as Golden Age in the history of Japanese literature. The language in that era was very inflected language- grammatical constructions are often contained within the words themselves, usually in their endings as in Latin, English on the other hand is partially inflected language so the linguistic structural differences in both the languages affect sound qualities- both within words and in the way sound functions in poetry. In Japan's imperial Heian Court, female poets had a voice and could establish a reputation for themselves in literary circles. It was a culture that valued the art, the antithesis of present day America. Matters of the heart and spirit and the transient nature of time and existence are the dominant themes of this collection of love poems by two leading female literary figures of Japan's Heian era. Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu lived in an age when (surprisingly) women authors were predominant figures, it is Japan’s Heian era which lasted till 1185 A.D. During the Heian era, most of the poets endeavored to bring art to everyday communication but only a few truly excelled acquiring extraordinary prestige and charisma. Ono no Komachi became a subject of legend from the time of her death. Legends, folktales and songs add that Komachi was not only outstanding woman poet of her time but also the most beautiful and desirable of women. Ono no Komachi served at imperial court in the capital city of Heian-kyo (Kyoto nowadays), she had developed a form of poetry which is deeply subjective, passionate, and complex, helped to usher in a poetic age of philosophical and emotional depth. Izumi Shikibu created her space in the poetic sphere of Japanese art during the time of the court culture’s greatest flowering; she married twice and was the lover of both Prince Tametaka and Prince Atsumichi, Tametaka’s brother. Her poems and correspondence, part of a tradition of court love poetry, frequently combine erotic and romantic longings with Buddhist contemplation. In her famous Diary, a mixture of poetry and prose, Shikibu recounts the beginning of their love, through the time when Astumichi persuaded her to move into his compound despite the unusually vigorous protestations and eventual departure of his primary wife. Later, after Astumichi’s death in an epidemic ended the central relationship of Shibiku’s life, during the period of mourning she wrote over 240 poems to her departed lover. These two women, the first a pivotal figure who became legendary in Japanese literary history, the second Japan’s major woman poet, illuminated certain areas of human experience with a beauty, truthfulness, and compression unsurpassed in the literature of other age. Both authors were not only deeply passionate but also intensely religious; an inquiry in to the deeper questions of life runs through the core of each woman’s work. Influence of Buddhism could be clearly seen in the works of both woman authors, Buddhist view of existence as ceaseless change and return again and again to the question of what in our experience can be called real. In the culture of Heian court, the ability to write poems of great beauty would in itself have been a major cause for being thought both personally attractive and desirable. The aesthetic sensibility, displayed by both authors, was major cause of establishing their distinction among the members of court, the subtle skills shown by both leading poets in mixing of incense, music, painting, dance, use of kimonos, and their poetry mattered greatly in their appeal as prospective official advancements and as romantic partners to princes. Although male authors composed a great part of their works in Chinese which served as the official form of communication in government and scholarly discourse in much the way that Latin functioned in European courts and centers of learning in the Middle ages; women, on the other hand, were only allowed to create literature near the end of eighth century during a time when an altogether different system is devised- in which Chinese characters were used phonetically to transcribe spoken Japanese. Women during that period got free from the shackles of male dominance and devoted themselves to develop their literary potential to the highest degree in the poems, diaries, and tales in which they recorded both the public and the most private and deeply felt aspects of their lives. This entangling wind Is just like Last autumn’s gusts. Only the dew of tears On my sleeve is new. The poetry of both authors in the collection is primarily concerned with human emotions- emotions in general like thoughts occur in one’s mind on observing natural world as such a nightingale singing among blossoms and air blowing through leaves, religion, the wild spirit present in human beings even after becoming ‘civilized and which human beings have been trying to tame since then; and most importantly the complex relationship between men and women is principal theme of the collection. Ono no Komachi Is this love reality Or a dream? I cannot know, When both reality and dreams Exist without truly existing. Izumi Shikibu In this world Love has no color- Yet how deeply my body Is stained by yours. The dewdrop On a bamboo leaf Stays longer Than you, who vanish At dawn. I used up this body Longing For one who does not come. A deep valley, now, What once was my heart. The pleasure one finds in reading these poems is discovering the way that, for both these woman authors, the metaphysics of religious teaching and the tumultuous course of the heart in love confirm a single truth, impermanence of being; their effort to accept and understand this unavoidable transience profoundly illuminates their work. The traces of anguish and angst towards life and the relationships of human beings are very evident in most of the poems from this collection- here poetry is filled with philosophical impressions, longings and desires of human nature in way that all this come out as a highly refined example of tragic beauty. Ono no Komachi It seems a time has come When you’ve become like those horses Wild with spring Who long for distant fields Where the light mists rise. In this world The living grow fewer, The dead increase- How much longer must I Carry this body of grief? Izumi Shikibu Summer night, A rap at the gate, A rap at the door…. How hope answers The water rail’s knock. An answer Through the years I’ve become used to sorrow: There was not one spring I didn’t leave behind The flowers. Another answer Do you not know This world is a walking dream? However much I once needed you, That is also a fleeting thing….. Overall, it is a sweet little experience which touched the chords of heart with the beauty possessed in the words and left the heart wounded from the tragedy hidden behind the charismatic arrangements of words and deep ridden in the heart of authors, the tinge of pain one feels after going through the leaves of the book left one wondering and contemplating about the lives and the circumstances in the lives of both the authors, and in effect left the reader unsatiated and longing to read/ know more about their lives. It’s a great collection and the fact, that these highly refined texts written by women during the era when society was highly patriarchal and misogynist- wherein the male dominance in art is nonchalantly challenged and even surpassed, makes it all the more greater. I would highly recommend this Vintage edition which has a very comprehensive introduction and quite an informative appendix to this collection.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan Budd

    Love, Japanese Style. Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, two of Heian Japan’s celebrated female poets, wrote extensively on the subject of love. I prefer Japanese poetry on Buddhist subjects, yet the love poems in The Ink Dark Moon pleased me more than expected. Some of the poems do express Buddhist ideas and that should not surprise me. Is there any reason to believe romance and religion are mutually exclusive? Have I forgotten the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of mono no aware ~ appreciation for Love, Japanese Style. Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, two of Heian Japan’s celebrated female poets, wrote extensively on the subject of love. I prefer Japanese poetry on Buddhist subjects, yet the love poems in The Ink Dark Moon pleased me more than expected. Some of the poems do express Buddhist ideas and that should not surprise me. Is there any reason to believe romance and religion are mutually exclusive? Have I forgotten the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of mono no aware ~ appreciation for the melancholy beauty of transient things? Ono no Komachi won me over with several poems that have dreaming as their theme. Dreaming is a frequent theme in my own writing and I am drawn to it in the books I read. In my favorite Komachi poem, she uses dreams to represent the Buddhist theme of the world as illusion. “Is this love reality or a dream? I cannot know, when both reality and dreams exist without truly existing” (14). Some of the poems of Izumi Shikibu also combine Buddhist ideas with personal romantic feelings, but the Izumi poem that most moves me is one of the hundreds of poems she wrote when she was in mourning for her dead lover, Prince Atsumichi. “A friend, hearing I was in mourning, asked the cause of my grief If I say this or that, how ordinary grief becomes— broken cries are the words that sorrow’s voice demands” (149). Indeed. There are no words that will not diminish such an experience. Never before have I heard this stated so perfectly. The poems in The Ink Dark Moon are poems of moonlight and plum blossoms, of romantic trysts and lovelorn hearts, but there is also real depth to them. In harmony with the Buddhist belief in the Oneness of all things, the pleasures of love are not separate from the beauty of nature, the weariness of old age, and the sorrow of death. Surely this is why I find them so satisfying.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Akemi G

    Why would an English-speaking person want to read Japanese poems translated into English? Is it enjoyable? I was curious about this and found this book at my local library. It is an anthology of Japanese style poems (waka/tanka) by two Heian period (794 - 1185 or 1192) female poets, Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu. I know the original poems are 5 stars; I'm taking 1 star off because I think the presentation can be improved. Waka follows a syllabic pattern of 5-7-5, 7-7. (Please see the example b Why would an English-speaking person want to read Japanese poems translated into English? Is it enjoyable? I was curious about this and found this book at my local library. It is an anthology of Japanese style poems (waka/tanka) by two Heian period (794 - 1185 or 1192) female poets, Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu. I know the original poems are 5 stars; I'm taking 1 star off because I think the presentation can be improved. Waka follows a syllabic pattern of 5-7-5, 7-7. (Please see the example below.) It is a short poem. The book presents one poem per page (English translation alone), then there are notes in the back. I don't like this presentation, which forces me to flip back and forth in the book. The original poem in Japanese, its romanized presentation, the English translation, and some notes can all fit in neatly on one page. (Why include the Japanese? Well, if nothing else, to intrigue your interest.) Ono no Komachi lived in the 9th century. Little is known about her life, but she is supposed to be one of the most beautiful women in Japanese history. There is also a legend that she rejected all suitors. The reason is unknown--some legend speculates that her genitals were deformed. Dirty legend. We know a lot more about Izumi Shikibu, who lived around 1000, because she left a diary. (I wish this was translated into English--many of the poems in this book come from this diary, but the prose part of her diary is quite interesting, too.) She was a contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji. Murasaki also wrote about Izumi in her diary. She didn't approve of Izumi's promiscuity and her overly emotional (in Murasaki's view, that is) poems. Well. (Today, we tend to remember Izumi as a wonderfully expressive poet and Murasaki as a brilliant novelist.) Before I wrap up this review with one of Izumi's poems, allow me to complain about the cover art, too. It's a beautiful picture, but it's from the 19th century. This book is about two Heian period women. Can't we have a picture of Heian period? Edward G. Seidensticker had it right on his translation of The Tale Of Genji. So, here is one of Izumi's famous poem and the translation in this book: 黒髪の乱れも知らずうち臥せば まづかきやりし人ぞ恋しき kurokami no midare mo shirazu uchihuseba mazu kakiyarishi hito zo koishiki Lying alone, my black hair tangled, uncombed, I long for the one who touched it first. Hmm. So they interpret "mazu" as "first." I'd like to take the other meaning of the word because I don't think Izumi numbered her lovers. Here is my translation, just for fun: I care not how my hair is messed as I look down, I only miss the man who quickly noticed my distress and caressed it. Oh, talking about the hair, I think the title of this anthology might as well be "The Long Dark Hair". Hair was the pride of Heian women, and some had it longer than their height. And to answer the initial question: Humans are humans everywhere in any historical time. We haven't changed much. Great poetry, and literature, speaks to us all, and if you don't mind the slight awkwardness of translation, you can widen your range of enjoyment.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Noel

    Some of my favorites: My longing for you— too strong to keep within bounds. At least no one can blame me when I go to you at night along the road of dreams. * A diver does not abandon a seaweed-filled bay.… Will you then turn away from this floating, sea-foam body that waits for your gathering hands? * Lying alone, my black hair tangled, uncombed, I long for the one who touched it first. * Even if I now saw you only once, I would long for you through worlds, worlds. * Since nothing surpasses seeing you, no need for words. Some of my favorites: My longing for you— too strong to keep within bounds. At least no one can blame me when I go to you at night along the road of dreams. * A diver does not abandon a seaweed-filled bay.… Will you then turn away from this floating, sea-foam body that waits for your gathering hands? * Lying alone, my black hair tangled, uncombed, I long for the one who touched it first. * Even if I now saw you only once, I would long for you through worlds, worlds. * Since nothing surpasses seeing you, no need for words. Only concentrate on this, on this…

  5. 5 out of 5

    E. G.

    Translator's Acknowledgments Introduction --The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan On Japanese Poetry and the Process of Translation Notes to the Poems Selected Bibliography & Further Reading Translator's Acknowledgments Introduction --The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan On Japanese Poetry and the Process of Translation Notes to the Poems Selected Bibliography & Further Reading

  6. 4 out of 5

    7jane

    This is a collection of tanka-style poems from two women of the Heian-era imperial court, Ono No Komachi (ca.850, early era), and Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?, era's greatest point; not related to Murasaki S., Shikibu being a title). These are poems talking about love, spiritual and emotional life. The appendix has first a piece on Japanese poetry and the translation process, which is great also for those interested in how this language works, and then notes on the poems, and a bibliography. How sa This is a collection of tanka-style poems from two women of the Heian-era imperial court, Ono No Komachi (ca.850, early era), and Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?, era's greatest point; not related to Murasaki S., Shikibu being a title). These are poems talking about love, spiritual and emotional life. The appendix has first a piece on Japanese poetry and the translation process, which is great also for those interested in how this language works, and then notes on the poems, and a bibliography. How sad, to think I will end as only a pale green mist drifting the far fields. -Ono No Komachi The introduction is great background information and well worth reading before going on to the poems. From Komachi only c.100 poems exist, and she's lesser known, but one can see why her poems are valued so hightly. And Shikibu's work is not lesser in quality. Most of the poems are answers to someone (a lover), and Shikibu wrote some answer-poems for others to use, too. A string of jewels from a broken necklace, scattering - more difficult to keep hold of even than these is one's life. -Izumi Shikibu The moods in these poems, and the imagery-use, is impressive. Although you can easily read fast through them, I feel one should go slow with them, or return to them to appreciate them slowly, for they say much though are short in length. Themes of Buddhist faith linger especially in the poems towards late in life, and Shikibu's mournful poems for her lover one can relate to even today. The notes are great in shining light into some things in the poems that one could otherwise miss, and seeing the poems in the 'romanji' form of Japanese is also fun to read, even if one doesn't understand the words. This is a little treasure of a book, with poems one can linger on for a long time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lady Mayfair

    Cicadas, mountains, serenity, romance, longing, sadness and beauty. Both very talented ladies, but Izumi Shikibu, of the early Heian period, in particular. Even now if I saw you only once, I would long for you through worlds, worlds. *** Sleeplessly I watch over the spring night but no amount of guarding is enough to make it stay. *** You ask my thoughts through the long night? I spent it listening to the heavy rain beating against the windows. *** Love-soaked, rain-soaked - if people ask which drenched your sleeves Cicadas, mountains, serenity, romance, longing, sadness and beauty. Both very talented ladies, but Izumi Shikibu, of the early Heian period, in particular. Even now if I saw you only once, I would long for you through worlds, worlds. *** Sleeplessly I watch over the spring night but no amount of guarding is enough to make it stay. *** You ask my thoughts through the long night? I spent it listening to the heavy rain beating against the windows. *** Love-soaked, rain-soaked - if people ask which drenched your sleeves, what will you say?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rooks

    Beautiful amuse-bouche poems, these are lovely little bites of awesomeness, and I enjoyed reading about both the Heian court, of which I'd never heard, as well as the intricacies and issues of translating ancient Japanese poems. And what the hell, I'll thrown in a couple of my many favorites: In this world love has no color-- yet how deeply my body is stained by yours. *** When the water-freezing winter arrives, the floating reeds look rooted, as if stillness were their own desire. Beautiful amuse-bouche poems, these are lovely little bites of awesomeness, and I enjoyed reading about both the Heian court, of which I'd never heard, as well as the intricacies and issues of translating ancient Japanese poems. And what the hell, I'll thrown in a couple of my many favorites: In this world love has no color-- yet how deeply my body is stained by yours. *** When the water-freezing winter arrives, the floating reeds look rooted, as if stillness were their own desire.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Vishy

    I discovered Haiku poems years back and have been reading them off and on. One of the great things about haiku is its short length, its brevity. No long meanderings, it is over before we know it. This feature of the haiku has also made it challenging for readers like me. Because there is so much packed in those short three lines, most of the meaning and beauty is lost if one is not aware of what the poet is referring to, whether it is Japanese culture or history or geography. Also, typically the I discovered Haiku poems years back and have been reading them off and on. One of the great things about haiku is its short length, its brevity. No long meanderings, it is over before we know it. This feature of the haiku has also made it challenging for readers like me. Because there is so much packed in those short three lines, most of the meaning and beauty is lost if one is not aware of what the poet is referring to, whether it is Japanese culture or history or geography. Also, typically the last line or the last word in the haiku summarizes the whole poem or elevates it to a new plane by adding a whole new dimension to the meaning. If we can't recognize what that last line or word says, we can't experience the beauty and the profound insight of the haiku. For something which is so short and looks deceptively simple, the haiku turns out to have a lot of hidden depth. And the reason for all this complexity lies in its short length, its brevity. So in a sense this short length is a double-edged sword. It is like packing too many things in a small suitcase which makes it difficult to close. In the haiku's case, the suitcase is beautifully and elegantly closed by the poet, but it resists the reader's attempt to open it and it refuses to reveal its secrets. I have always wondered since whether there were longer forms of Japanese poetry. I love the beauty of Japanese literature and the Japanese style of literary aesthetics and I wanted to experience the beauty and joy of Japanese poetry in a more accessible way. Then I discovered that there was a longer poetic form called Tanka. I hoped to explore Tanka poetry some day and see whether I'll have better luck here. Why all this rambling about Japanese poetic forms? I'll come to it now. I discovered 'The Ink Dark Moon : Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu' recently. It featured two women poets from the Heian era (around 1000 years back) and I wanted to read it. When I got it yesterday and started reading the introduction, I discovered that the poems featured were written in the tanka style. I was so excited! I was finally going to read some tanka poetry! The Heian era saw an explosion of literary creativity in Japan. It was the time when many women poets and writers burst out on the literary scene. Some people say that it was the era which saw the greatest concentration of women poets and writers in ancient or medieval times, anywhere in the world. It was the time the world's first novel 'The Tale of Genji' was written by the great Murasaki Shikibu. It was also the time when the two great poets Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu wrote their poems. This book has around 160 poems. Around one-fourth of them are by Ono no Komachi. The rest are by Izumi Shikibu. Most of the poems are about love, longing, desire, loss. Some of them are about other topics. The poems in the book are written in tanka style. How does it differ from the haiku? I am sure there are poetic and technical differences between the two forms, like the number of syllables in the poem and the poetic form and meter used. But these don't really matter to us much. The thing which is easily visible to lay-readers like me is this. While the haiku has three lines, the tanka has five. This isn't much, as I was expecting a sonnet-style fourteen lines. But those two extra lines, though they don't seem to be much, change the poem in a fundamental way. They add a lot of breathing space, in which the poem can stretch itself, relax, and reveal its glorious beauty to us. And it happens in page after page, poem after poem. The poems are beautiful, sad, poignant, heartbreaking, insightful, philosophical. The words are soft, the images are delicate. I read them and I laughed and I cried. Mostly cried, because of what the poem said. I think tanka is my Japanese poetic form, my precious. I love it. I loved the poems of both Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu. At one point, I thought that I could differentiate between their styles, and then I couldn't. It didn't matter. They are both wonderful poets. The book has an informative introduction to the life and work of the two poets. It also has an essay at the end, 'On Japanese Poetry and the Process of Translation', by one of the translators, Jane Hirshfield. Hirshfield's essay reveals a deep scholarship, a passion for Japanese poetry, a delicate poetic sensibility, a lightness of touch. It is one of the most beautiful essays on poetry and translation that I have ever read. I fell in love with Jane Hirshfield after I read that. I discovered that she was a poet herself (who else but a poet can write so beautifully?) and I went and ordered two of her books. I can't wait to read them. I already know that she is going to become one of my favourite writers and poets. This is early days yet, but I think I can safely say that this is one of my favourite books of the year and one of my favourite poetry collections ever. It is a beautiful book to read on a winter evening, sitting in front of the fire, with your beloved sitting next to you, with both of you taking turns to read the poems aloud to each other and taking pleasure in listening to each other's voice, while experiencing the beauty of the poems. And if your beloved is not around and is away, you can read a poem, close your eyes, let the poem wash over you and dream of your beloved. Have you read 'The Ink Dark Moon'? What do you think about it?

  10. 5 out of 5

    S.B. Wright

    If Haiku are observational and sparse, understated in their emotion, detached from the poet’s ego – then I find that Tanka are almost their opposite. With Tanka the poet expresses their emotion, asks questions directly of the reader(or themselves) and layers emotional imagery that can seem to explode off the page (particularly if you have only been reading Haiku). Indeed at times while The Ink Dark Moon, I found these poems from 8th-10th Century Japan more akin to the overtly emotional work of t If Haiku are observational and sparse, understated in their emotion, detached from the poet’s ego – then I find that Tanka are almost their opposite. With Tanka the poet expresses their emotion, asks questions directly of the reader(or themselves) and layers emotional imagery that can seem to explode off the page (particularly if you have only been reading Haiku). Indeed at times while The Ink Dark Moon, I found these poems from 8th-10th Century Japan more akin to the overtly emotional work of the western Romantics (albeit in shorter form). I thought to pick the flower of forgetting for myself, but I found it already growing in his heart Ono no Komachi So the The Ink Dark Moon presents some of the translated works of Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu two of Japan’s greatest practitioners of the Tanka form. They wrote during the Heian era, the only period of Japanese history where female poets appear to have been able to rise to the height of their art and have been regarded as literary geniuses. The book offers a substantial introduction, placing both writers in their historical context. The poems themselves are presented in two sections, Ono no Komachi’s work preceding Izumi Shikibu’s. Now while Haiku and Tanka poets have been known to write poems in the tens of thousands the translators have offered a (comparatively) modest and reasonably digestible collection here - I gave up counting the number of Izumi Shikibu’s at around 60 Tanka. At times the poems are presented with head notes (particularly if its a poem responding to lover or unique set of circumstances) and at times they are left to be read as is. There is, however, a substantial notes section that provides the Romaji version of the poem and any other interesting facts. The Ink Dark Moon is rounded off nicely with, On Japanese Poetry and the Process of Translation, which discusses some of the issues and choices translators make when translating from Japanese to English. What is apparent, on reading either poet, is that the Tanka form with its focus on passion and love, requires less background knowledge to fully appreciate, than say Haiku. There’s significantly less to be read into the poet’s intent or meaning. Why haven’t I thought of it before? This body, remembering yours, is the keepsake you left. Izumi Shikibu I found The Ink Dark Moon to be both interesting from the point of beginning to understand Tanka and the history around the form but I was also moved by the poetry. It’s must have for anyone interested in writing in the Tanka form, and a delight for those readers who enjoy the poetry of love and emotion.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Silvia Cachia

    The full title is  The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono No Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani. These two women wrote in the Heian era, which lasted from 794 to 1185. Ono No Komachi (834 - ?), and Izumi  Shikibu (974? - 1034?) Their lives, and life in Japan, are nothing to what we are used to or had at the time. From the introduction: Komachi and Shikibu stand out as two of the greatest poets in an age of greatness not si The full title is  The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono No Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani. These two women wrote in the Heian era, which lasted from 794 to 1185. Ono No Komachi (834 - ?), and Izumi  Shikibu (974? - 1034?) Their lives, and life in Japan, are nothing to what we are used to or had at the time. From the introduction: Komachi and Shikibu stand out as two of the greatest poets in an age of greatness not simply because they achieved technical virtuosity in their chosen form, the thirty-one syllable tanka verse, but because they used that form as a medium of reflection and introspection. Each confronted her experience with a directness and honesty unusual in ani age. The result is that a thousand years later we can read poems that remain absolutely accurate and moving descriptions of our most common and central experiences: love and loss, their reflection in the loveliness and evanescence of the natural world, and the effort to understand better the nature of being. We turn to these poems not to discover the past but to experience the present more deeply. In this way they satisfy the test of all great literature, for it is our own lives we find illuminated in them. This is an easy to read book. The poems are mostly 5 lines. The pages have more blank space than print. This is great, since it allows the reader to immerse herself in the mood and style of the poems. If you are like me and know nothing about Japan, next to nothing on Poetry, and have never read these women who write in a poetry style known as Tanka, (I've only experienced a bit of Haiku), this could be a great introduction to you, as it was to me. What surprised me the most, was the Appendix, that has a few pages about the translation, and then generous comments on all of the poems, so that I read the notes on them, and the poems once more. I mentioned before that I was a bit frustrated with some reviewers who said translation in this case was meant to miss so much. I can't read Japanese, and I refuse to think I can't thus not enjoy these poems. After reading the translator's effort explained, and her rational, I can say that, even if my experience is inferior to a Japanese reader, it's an experience I wouldn't want to miss. This is a quote on the issue of how to best fulfill the ideal of faithfulness in terms of a poem's structure. Too often the effort to preserve exactly thirty-one syllables in the translation of tanka results in either a poem with words added merely to fill out the count or one with part of its meaning or imagery left out. Furthermore, the powerful aural resonance of the form itself, built up by long familiarity with its use in the responses of a Japanese reader, is nonexistent for one brought up on the meters and forms of English and European poetry. But, while I don't feel it important to duplicate the exact syllabic count of Japanese poetry, I am always surprised if a three-line haiku appears as a couplet, or a five-line waka (the other name sometimes used for the tanka form) is made into a quatrian. Rather than experiencing these English forms as somehow "equivalent," I find that the essentially asymmetrical nature of the original is lost by turning to what may seem to be the nearest convention, and that the use of our own convention masks the nature of the original poems, making them seem less different in rhythm and approach than they are. Yet clearly many very fine translators, from both ends of the spectrum of freedom and form, disagree with my reactions. I have not had the pleasure nor the knowledge of reading and evaluating how these other translators approached these tanka poems. All I can say it's that these poems have surprised me, the translator has retained that unique experience of non English or European poetry, while having a recognizable quality that one experiences when reading poetry. More quotes: Anyone who attempts that impossible task, the translation of poetry, must at some point wonder what exactly a poem might be, if not its own body of words. For surely, as all can attest who have made the hard and joyous effort to write well a poem of their own, poetry dwells in words: absolutely particular in meaning, irreplaceably individual in rhythm and sound. Yet there must be something in addition to words, and underlying sense of a destination unknown but also there, which makes us accept one phrase and reject another when they rise to mind in poem's first making, or delete or alter or add when we revise. The act of writing a poem is not only a making but also a following: of the wisdom of the heart and mind as it encounters the wisdom of language. The act of translation constitutes a leap of faith, a belief that somehow this part of a poem that lives both through words and beyond words can be kept alive, can move from its life in one verbal body into another. All translations are inescapably ephemeral, linked to the poetry of their own time's language in a way that an original work is not. Yet most of us depend on translations—if we are lucky, in several versions—as the only way to encounter the poetry of other cultures and times. (bold mine) The ninth-century Japanese Buddhist monk Kukai—in legend, the man responsible for developing kana, the system for using Chinese written characters to convey Japanese words, which enabled the Heian-era court women to transcribe their poems—wrote a quatrain about the way source travels out into multitudinous form, always changing, shifting, illuminating: SINGING THE IMAGE OF FIRE A hand moves, and the fire's whirling takes different shapes, triangles, squares: all things change when we do. The first word, Ah, blossomed into all others. Each of them is true. In the spirit of this poem, greatly encouraging to poets and greatly encouraging to translators, we offer the work in this book. Last, to end this post, in honor of Spring and April, poetry month, I leave you with one of my favorite poems in this book by Izumi Shikibu, What is the use of cherishing life in spring? Its flowers only shackle us to this world.  

  12. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Oh, this was just lovely. Passionate but also serene. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Heian period of literature, one of the rare periods in history where women had the opportunity, education, and respect (mostly) to dominate the literary field. This one is a special pairing of two poets, Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu. Although I enjoyed both, I would give Ono a 4 star rating and Izumi 5 stars. Ono writes mainly on nature and brief relationships and imparts a sense that she was able Oh, this was just lovely. Passionate but also serene. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Heian period of literature, one of the rare periods in history where women had the opportunity, education, and respect (mostly) to dominate the literary field. This one is a special pairing of two poets, Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu. Although I enjoyed both, I would give Ono a 4 star rating and Izumi 5 stars. Ono writes mainly on nature and brief relationships and imparts a sense that she was able to love someone truly in moments, and let them go the next moment to love another just as completely. Izumi seems more reserved in who she loves, but more explosive in the depth of her love. She also incorporates a lot of her intense religiosity into her poems. I think her best poems were those grieving the love of her life and her daughter. I've included some of my favourites from each below. If, in an autumn field a hundred flowers can untie their streamers, may I not also openly frolic, as fearless of blame? -Ono no Komachi Why haven't I thought of it before? This body, remembering yours, is the keepsake you left. -Ono no Komachi In this world love has no color- yet how deeply my body is stained by yours. -Izumi Shikibu Watching the moon at dawn, solitary, mid-sky, I knew myself completely, no part left out. -Izumi Shikibu

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eadweard

    Ono no Komachi "My longing for you-- too strong to keep within bounds. At least no one can blame me when I go to you at night along the road of dreams." "Night deepens with the sound of a calling deer, and I hear my own one-sided love." "This entangling wind is just like last autumn's gusts. Only the dew of tears on my sleeve is new." "This pine tree by the rock must have its memories too: after a thousand years, see how its branches lean toward the ground." "How invisibly it changes color in this world, the flowe Ono no Komachi "My longing for you-- too strong to keep within bounds. At least no one can blame me when I go to you at night along the road of dreams." "Night deepens with the sound of a calling deer, and I hear my own one-sided love." "This entangling wind is just like last autumn's gusts. Only the dew of tears on my sleeve is new." "This pine tree by the rock must have its memories too: after a thousand years, see how its branches lean toward the ground." "How invisibly it changes color in this world, the flower of the human heart." Izumi Shikibu "In this world love has no color-- yet how deeply my body is stained by yours." "Undisturbed, my garden fills with summer growth-- how I wish for one who would push the deep grass aside." "Watching the moon at dawn, solitary, mid-sky, I knew myself completely, no part left out." "This heart is not a summer field, and yet... how dense love's foliage has grown."

  14. 5 out of 5

    sarah

    Third book on Japanese poetry this year yes I'm obssessed no I'm not ♡ but honestly while the poems themselves were beautiful and sublime it was the appendix showing how the book was translated that was soo sexy and im gonna buy a copy just for a closer reading. Third book on Japanese poetry this year yes I'm obssessed no I'm not ♡ but honestly while the poems themselves were beautiful and sublime it was the appendix showing how the book was translated that was soo sexy and im gonna buy a copy just for a closer reading.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Connie Barcelo

    When my desire grows too fierce I wear my bed clothes inside out, dark as the night's rough husk. -Ono no Komachi The Ink Dark Moon will become one of those poetry collections that I am constantly reading. I expected the poetry of these two women of the Heian court, Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, to offer a glimpse into imperial Japan - but the collection is more of a glimpse into what it's like to be a lover. In this world love has no color- yet how deeply my body is stained by yours. -Izumi Shikibu When my desire grows too fierce I wear my bed clothes inside out, dark as the night's rough husk. -Ono no Komachi The Ink Dark Moon will become one of those poetry collections that I am constantly reading. I expected the poetry of these two women of the Heian court, Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, to offer a glimpse into imperial Japan - but the collection is more of a glimpse into what it's like to be a lover. In this world love has no color- yet how deeply my body is stained by yours. -Izumi Shikibu

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anima

    Introduction “The two poets whose work is collected in The Ink Dark Moon are central figures in the only Golden Age in literary history in which women writers were the predominant geniuses: Japan’s Heian era, which lasted from 794 to 1185. Ono no Komachi (834?–?) served at the imperial court in the capital city of Heian-kyo (present-day Kyoto) during the first half century of its existence; her poetry, deeply subjective, passionate, and complex, helped to usher in a poetic age of personal expres Introduction “The two poets whose work is collected in The Ink Dark Moon are central figures in the only Golden Age in literary history in which women writers were the predominant geniuses: Japan’s Heian era, which lasted from 794 to 1185. Ono no Komachi (834?–?) served at the imperial court in the capital city of Heian-kyo (present-day Kyoto) during the first half century of its existence; her poetry, deeply subjective, passionate, and complex, helped to usher in a poetic age of personal expressiveness, technical excellence, and philosophical and emotional depth. Izumi Shikibu (974?–1034?) wrote during the time of the court culture’s greatest flowering; a woman committed to a life of both religious consciousness and erotic intensity, Shikibu explored her experience in language that is precise in observation, intimate, lyrical, and deeply moving. These two women, the first a pivotal figure who became legendary in Japanese literary history, the second Japan’s major woman poet, illuminated certain areas of human experience with a beauty, truthfulness, and compression unsurpassed in the literature of any other age. [...] “One of the deep pleasures in reading their poetry is discovering the way that, for these women, the metaphysics of religious teaching and the tumultuous course of the heart in love confirm a single truth, the impermanence of being. The endeavor to come to some acceptance and understanding of this unavoidable transience profoundly illuminates their work.” “My longing for you— too strong to keep within bounds. At least no one can blame me when I go to you at night along the road of dreams. [...] Is this love reality or a dream? I cannot know, when both reality and dreams exist without truly existing.“ “I thought to pick the flower of forgetting for myself, but I found it already growing in his heart.” Izumi Shikibu *Tanabata Festival, which takes place on the seventh night of the seventh month, celebrates lovers’ meetings and poetry. On that night a gathering of magpies is said to form with their wings a bridge across the river of the heavens so that two stars can meet. The two—Altair and Vega—were once lovers, Cow Herder Boy and Weaver Girl, but were turned into stars and separated after their love caused them to neglect their duties. ‘Undisturbed, my garden fills with summer growth— how I wish for one who would push the deep grass aside.’ “As I dig for wild orchids in the autumn fields, it is the deeply-bedded root that I desire, not the flower.”

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    It took me a while to get beneath the surface of these poems, perseverance being rewarded. Of the two poets, I preferred Shikibu to Komachi; she seems to touch in a broader range of topics, though this could be due to fewer of her poems having survived, the smaller collection of her works in this volume, the editor's selection, or a combination of the three. In addition to, and often at the same time as, writing about love, Shikibu talks of the transient and impermanent nature of existence; berea It took me a while to get beneath the surface of these poems, perseverance being rewarded. Of the two poets, I preferred Shikibu to Komachi; she seems to touch in a broader range of topics, though this could be due to fewer of her poems having survived, the smaller collection of her works in this volume, the editor's selection, or a combination of the three. In addition to, and often at the same time as, writing about love, Shikibu talks of the transient and impermanent nature of existence; bereavement, loss and grief; enlightenment, acceptance and contentment. The introduction, appendix and notes were very welcome to this Westerner with little (that is, zero) knowledge of the cultural context and literary antecedents upon which the poems are founded. With that help, I was able to appreciate some of the subtleties of the verses, which I'm sure we'll reward rereading. The phrase "ink dark moon" is not used by either poet (unless I missed it), although the individual words appear many times thought the collection. The introduction mentions the ancient Greek use of standard poetic descriptions, citing Homer's "wine dark sea" as an example, and I think that's the allusion made in the title. Beautiful and poignant verses.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Χρύσα Αναστασίου

    I don't know how I should rate this one given that I have no great knowledge of poetry, especially Japanese poetry. The book was amazing in explaning the culture and the poets' backgrounds and I learnt a lot before I dived in to the poetry itself. I enjoyed the writing too much and I felt like most of them were so atmospheric and full of feelings that suited the past few days greatly. It was also smart and well written, witty and sad. I will get back to this book in the future (I believe autumn I don't know how I should rate this one given that I have no great knowledge of poetry, especially Japanese poetry. The book was amazing in explaning the culture and the poets' backgrounds and I learnt a lot before I dived in to the poetry itself. I enjoyed the writing too much and I felt like most of them were so atmospheric and full of feelings that suited the past few days greatly. It was also smart and well written, witty and sad. I will get back to this book in the future (I believe autumn is the best season to read this book) because I wanna see how I'll feel about it then. Maybe I'll love it in a different way, maybe I'll love it the same.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Hubbard

    Elegant short poems by two women writing during Japan’s Heian Dynasty. I didn’t have any background in these poets and particularly liked the vivid and illuminating preface about the poets and their era as well as the closing essay about the translation process.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    While I was in Boston the last few days, I visited the BMFA exhibit or Hokusai and amongst the mouse pads, mugs (of which I bought two - that I now realize are Sake glasses - hence the missing handles), there were a number of books. This was one. I decided to download it to my kindle while I waited a couple hours at the airport and I proceeded to devour it over the course of my 4 hour flight home. It's like Sappho had some sisters in 8th century Japan...about 1400 years after her own time. While I was in Boston the last few days, I visited the BMFA exhibit or Hokusai and amongst the mouse pads, mugs (of which I bought two - that I now realize are Sake glasses - hence the missing handles), there were a number of books. This was one. I decided to download it to my kindle while I waited a couple hours at the airport and I proceeded to devour it over the course of my 4 hour flight home. It's like Sappho had some sisters in 8th century Japan...about 1400 years after her own time.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    Melancholy and gorgeous. The perfect accompaniment for a moonlit night under a cherry tree in full bloom.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Gorgeous. Intimate. Enchanting. Beyond Beautiful.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Elmer

    This book of Japanese love poems is a jewel!

  24. 5 out of 5

    nini

    I usually choose not to give star ratings to books written before WWII (and considering these poems were written between the 8th and 12th century, this should very much be the case for this book), but this collection is so very well planned out, crafted and translated—with just enough insight into the translating process and the historical context to compensate from the linguistic differences—that I can’t help myself. A lot of careful, meticulous work went into this collection and I feel that it I usually choose not to give star ratings to books written before WWII (and considering these poems were written between the 8th and 12th century, this should very much be the case for this book), but this collection is so very well planned out, crafted and translated—with just enough insight into the translating process and the historical context to compensate from the linguistic differences—that I can’t help myself. A lot of careful, meticulous work went into this collection and I feel that it wonderfully honors the beautiful complexity of Heian-style poetry. As for the poems, Japanese poetry is rooted in emotions and senses and their connection to the ethereal world surrounding the being; the attention the two poets gave to these sensations and outward consciousness is what causes them to be perennial and still exquisitely contemporary. As Hirshfield stated in her Introduction: “these brief poems serve as small but utterly clear windows into those concerns of heart and mind that persist unchanged from culture to culture and from millennium to millennium.”. Indeed, themes such as longing, mourning and shame are portrayed and unveiled in such clever, artistic (some Izumi Shikibu’s poems, in fact, feel like are able to craft careful yet quick brush strokes of a barely roughed out watercolor scene) and passionate ways. It’s a quick read I recommend to anyone who’s interested in very different views on love and loss than those presented by western poets, considering how every single verse is mediated by the incredibly different Heian-period and, most importantly, Buddhism. Here’s one of my favorite poems from Ono no Komachi’s section: “Sent to a man who seemed to have changed his mind: Since my heart placed me on board your drifting ship, not one day has passed that I haven’t been drenched in cold waves.” And Izumi Shikibu’s: “As I dig for wild orchids in the autumn fields, it is the deeply-bedded root that I desire, not the flower.”

  25. 4 out of 5

    Omar

    “I’ve traveled that dark path to the world which comes down from this mountain just to see you one last time.” “On a night when the moon shines as brightly as this, the unspoken thoughts of even the most discreet heart might be seen.” “Even if I now saw you only once, I would long for you through worlds, worlds.” “It is easy to hate this painful world, but how can I leave a world that includes this child?” “The way I must enter leads through darkness to darkness— O moon above the mountains’ rim, please shine a little “I’ve traveled that dark path to the world which comes down from this mountain just to see you one last time.” “On a night when the moon shines as brightly as this, the unspoken thoughts of even the most discreet heart might be seen.” “Even if I now saw you only once, I would long for you through worlds, worlds.” “It is easy to hate this painful world, but how can I leave a world that includes this child?” “The way I must enter leads through darkness to darkness— O moon above the mountains’ rim, please shine a little further on my path.”

  26. 5 out of 5

    BookishDubai

    "Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on." "Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katrina Anderson

    Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani’s translations of Heian Court love poetry by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu may not be the most accurate translation; but what they lack in accuracy, they make up in their conveyance of passion that is familiar to Western audiences. The preface gives a great introduction to Heian Court practices concerning love, women, and poetry. It is necessary to read if you want to have a deeper understanding of the poems and the poets’ life. The poems themselves are very Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani’s translations of Heian Court love poetry by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu may not be the most accurate translation; but what they lack in accuracy, they make up in their conveyance of passion that is familiar to Western audiences. The preface gives a great introduction to Heian Court practices concerning love, women, and poetry. It is necessary to read if you want to have a deeper understanding of the poems and the poets’ life. The poems themselves are very enjoyable, and are comparable to the Greek mistress of poetry: Sappho. I especially enjoyed Ono no Komachi work. They are beautiful and passionate, especially the ones expressing desire for her lovers. Shikibu’s poems are clever and witty, making it very easy to see why she was so popular with men. The appendixes tell about the translation of Japanese poetry into English, complete with an introduction to romanji and the particular translation of some of the poems found in the book. Overall, this book was an amazing introduction into ancient Japanese poetry and women authors not discussed very much in the West.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Q

    Review disappeared along with many others. Favorite poems. Intimate. These women were cutting edge for their day in ancient Japan.

  29. 5 out of 5

    cristina

    A diver does not abandon a seaweed-filled bay… Will you then turn away from this floating, sea-foam body that waits for your gathering hands?

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrada

    A lovely introduction into the world of Heian Era poetry. I preferred Izumi Shikibu’s poems to those of the legendary Ono no Komachi, perhaps because there were many more of hers in the collection which meant a wider variety of sentiments were expressed through them. At once passionate, playful and enamoured, Izumi nonetheless falls into Buddhist contemplations and periods of deep mourning for her lost lover and her daughter. Because of this breadth of feelings expressed, she felt like a more co A lovely introduction into the world of Heian Era poetry. I preferred Izumi Shikibu’s poems to those of the legendary Ono no Komachi, perhaps because there were many more of hers in the collection which meant a wider variety of sentiments were expressed through them. At once passionate, playful and enamoured, Izumi nonetheless falls into Buddhist contemplations and periods of deep mourning for her lost lover and her daughter. Because of this breadth of feelings expressed, she felt like a more compelling and profound figure than the glimpse one is able to catch of the longing Ono no Komachi in wait. I appreciated the translator’s decision to include the Roma-ji versions of the poems and some of the notes which help the reader better understand the deeper layers of the poems and how they were constructed.

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