Japanese Ancient Poem Review.








Japanese Ancient Poem Review.

















Japanese Ancient Poem Review

The Lament for Princess Asuka is an elegy that is divided into four meaningful parts. The first meaningful section is from Tobutorino to Karurebahayuru. Hitomaro describes Asuka river as having bridges on both the upper and the lower stream, and there was a gemweed which would wither and later thrives again. Hitomaro plays around with words when describing the princess who has just died. He narrates the life sequence of the gemweed that withers and then comes back to life thereby suggesting that the loss of life and the creation of new life is entwined with each other.

In the next meaningful section begins with the expression of a strong sense of grief. The author paints a narrative of betrayal and abandonment. Princess Asuka is portrayed as an individual who not only forgot her husband but also betrayed him. She had forgotten the life they had, the close cuddles they shared while entwining their hands. The author does not imply that the princess forgot her husband and betrayed him physically but indicates the impact the death of Princess Asuka had on her husband.

In the third meaningful section, the author depicts how princess Asuka and her husband were a harmonious couple, and Prince Osakabe lived through a painful experience with the death of the princess.  The loss of the princess not only affected the prince but the author suggests that it had an impact on the prince’s subjects. The author suggests that it would be best to preserve Princess Asuka’s name for an eternity. Additionally, the river shared a name with the princess; therefore, it was a resemblance of her. Hitomaro wrote the poem to not only console those who mourned the death of Princess Asuka and urge them to preserve the memories they had of her, he also wanted to appease the spirit of the princess.

From the first envoy, Hitomaro might be implying that there was foul play in Asuka’s death. He uses the word Shigarami to suggest that just like the way an object can be placed in a river to slow its flow, there was something that could be done to stop Asuka’s death. The author ignites inquiries into the death of Princess Asuka; did the princes’ die of illness? Was there a treatment that would have cured her? What caused her death? What actions lead to her death? In the poem, Hitomaro successfully inflames people’s imagination on the circumstances that lead to the Princess’s death.

In the second envoy, Hitomaro shifts between using the word Asu which refers to tomorrow and Princess’s name. He states that individuals who want to see her can seek to see her in “tomorrow”, but they know she cannot return tomorrow. Perhaps the author is referring to the deep sorrow that was ignited by the death of the princess. Grief is a process and although those who moan her, they cannot see her tomorrow because unlike the gemweed once an individual disease they do not come back.

The second elegy, Poems on the death of the Tribute Maiden from Kimi is also divided into four meaningful sections. The first meaningful part describes the beautiful nature of the maiden from Kibi. Hitomaro describes her beauty as the bright autumn mountains under sunshine. Her body is smooth and she has a physique like Simon Bamboo. In the second meaningful part, Hitomaro narrates how her life was fugacious like a morning dew or evening fog. In the third meaningful part, Hitomaro describes, how a sense of sorrow felt when he learned of her death although he only spotted her for a moment. Her lover, in whose arms she rest her head and slept close like a sword, must miss her extremely he wrote. Hitomaro concludes in the poem that the maiden’s life was like a morning dew or evening fog, she lost her life at a tender age.

The first envoy expresses strong grief about the maiden’s death. Makarimichi refers to the road where people go after their death while the Kwasenomichi is a shallow part of the river which people can use to pass through the river. Since the envoy stated Kawasenomichi of Makarimichi, it might indicate she committed suicide in the water.  In the second envoy, the author expresses regret when he remembers that one day, at Otsunmiya he spotted the maiden scarcely without attention. The idea that he might have had an opportunity to save her life makes him feel a sense of regret.

The third elegy poem is on seeing a dead man in the rocks on samie Island. The poem is divided into two meaningful sections: In the first half section, Hitomaro praises the Sanuki’s divine beauty. He describes that he has never gotten tired of seeing the gemweed like beautiful of Sanuki. Additionally, he mentions that for a very long time Sanuki is said to be a place of god’s face, therefore, it is considered a place of extraordinary beautiful. Hitomaro documents the beauty of the famous Sanuki’s ocean side; the ocean breeze, surges, the sea where individuals could hunt whale and the islands surrounding it.

The latter half section begins with applauding Samie Island its name and scenery. Then the author describes seeing the dead body at the reef coast of Samie. He expresses the amount of grief he felt for the man who died in obscurity. In his era, we can assume that compared to the modern era there were a lot of people who were found dead on the streets. From the narrative, Hitomaro felt a sense of sympathy and concern for the dead man.

In the first envoy, from his imagination Hitomaro describes a scene of a happy life of the deceased must have lived. The author states that if the dead man were alive, he would have picked up hard and eats it together with his wife.  In the second envoy, Hitomaro depicts a view of the dead body and desires to console the dead man’s soul, from his expression the reader feels like he is experiencing what the author is depicting in the narrative.


  1. What roles does nature play in all three elegies?

In the elegies nature is used to offer an insight into the personalities of different characters, for instance, Princess Asuka is described as a person who resembled the gemweed. Therefore, she was not the kind of person who would always find a way to thrive. In the second elegy, the maiden is described as beautiful as the autumn mountains while the third elegy focuses on the beautiful scenery of the Samie Island which has a great comparison with the sad and lonely deaths in the street.

  1. Compare how Hitomaro effectively uses “river” for the first two elegies.

In the first elegy, the river is used as a reference to princess Asuka. It is used to offer an explanation on the princess’s beauty and an example of how her death would have been stopped. In the second elegy, the river is described as a place that would have facilitated the death of the maiden. Unlike the first elegy where the river is a symbol of a thriving life, in the second elegy, it is a symbol of death and loss.

  1. Hitomaro seemingly prefers to use “gemweed” to express something positive about life or relationships. Please describe how he uses gemweed to metaphor those.

According to Hitomaro gemweed is a plant that thrives even after it has withered. The plant’s beauty and resilience are used by the poet to describe people, their actions, and their personalities. Princess Asuka, for instance, is described as beautiful but unlike the gemweed her death will not lead to rebirth.

  1. What effect did Hitomaro aim due to input very implying something like the expression in envoys?

Hitomaro focuses on the impact of death on those who are left behind by the deceased. Of Princess Asuka’s death he documents that with every passing day those who mourn the death of the princess have to make peace with the fact that she will not return tomorrow. Grief is a continuous process and with each passing day those who grieve have to make peace with the pain of the loss. In the second and third elegies Hitomaro documents the death of someone he barely knew and a dead man he did not know. Of the maiden he barely knew, he laments on her death and wonders what he could have done to save her. In the final elegy, he reflects on the possible life the deceased had and feels an overwhelming sense of loss even though he did not know the dead man.



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