Say “Aye, Aye, Aye” to Ono no Komachi.

I stumbled upon the poetry of Ono no Komachi just last week.  She is a Japanese poet of uncertain origins, and her poetry – over a thousand years old – is tremendously passionate, raw, and powerful.  I like it a lot, and have been reading as much as I can get my hands on.  It is said she was a woman of tremendous beauty who enjoyed many lovers, most of whom had their hearts broken.  Though reading her poems it would seem she was no stranger to having her heart broken herself.  As one who has loved, and lost, rather fiercely, I can identify readily with many of the sentiments expressed.  Check this one out for example –

The flowers withered
Their color faded away
While meaninglessly
I spent my days in the world
And the long rains were falling.”

This is a lovely example of what is known as the ‘Tanka’, or ‘Waka’ style of poetry.   This method eschews rhyme for structure.  Each line has a precise number of syllables, with each poem consisting of five lines in the pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.   Though perhaps due to the difficulties of translation from Japanese, it would appear that not all Komachi’s poems adhere to this pattern.  Still, I think they are great, and I hope you too will join me in saying “aye, aye, aye” to Ono no Komachi.  Here are a few more to whet your appetite –

This body grown fragile,
floating, a reed cut from its roots…
If a stream would ask me
to follow, I’d go, I think.”


I thought to pick
the flower of forgetting
for myself,
but I found it
already growing in his heart.


Those gifts you left
have become my enemies:
without them
there might have been
a moment’s forgetting.”


Though I go to you
ceaselessly along dream paths,
the sum of those trysts
is less than a single glimpse
granted in the waking world.


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