The Manyōshū: Empress Iwa-no-himé

Since you, my Lord, were gone,
Many long, long days have passed.
Should I now come to meet you
And seek you beyond the mountains,
Or still await you–await you ever?

Rather would I lay me down
On a steep hill’s side,
And, with a rock for pillow, die,
Than live thus, my Lord,
With longing so deep for you.

Yes, I will live on
And wait for you,
Even till falls
On my long black waving hair
The hoar frost of age.

How shall my yearning ever cease–
Fade somewhere away,
As does the mist of morning
Shimmering across the autumn field
Over the ripening grain?

The Manyoshu literally means “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves” and is the oldest of the early Japanese anthologies, and by far the greatest in quantity and quality. It consists of 20 books and more than 4,000 poems, written for the most part by the poets who flourished in the Fujiwara and Nara Periods, which coincide with the Golden Age of Chinese poetry – the eras of Kaiyuan and Tienpao under the T’ang dynasty, when Li Po and Tu Fu lived and sang. The anthology reflects Japanese life and civilization of the 7th and 8th centuries.

The original edition of The Manyoshu translation was published in 1940. The above poem was written by Princess Iwa, also known as Empress Iwa-no-himé, as she was longing for the Emperor Nintoku, the 16th Emperor of Japan. It was one of over 4,000 poems included in the Manyoshu, translated by a committee of Japanese scholars of both English and Japanese literatures, and subsequently revised by the English poet Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962), a resident of Japan at the time.