A Spring Poem-a-Week (April 18th)

鎧ながらの火にあたる也

Yorohi nagara no hi ni ataru nari

Warriors prepare for battle in the campfire light

This stanza seems to be totally random. In the first few stanzas there are images like the coming of spring, cherry blossoms, spring mists, and then suddenly this image of a warrior dressing for battle.

This stanza follows a 7-7 syllable pattern and was composed by a man named Rifū (李風). According to the commentary, the mention of the large hall, or building [ie, 館], in the previous stanza is what makes the image association here in this stanza. I really don’t understand the commentary’s explanation, but here’s what I do understand: normally, a warrior would be getting dressed for battle indoors, but here he (they) are outside, before a campfire/bonfire. This indicates that the war is already underway and that this may not be a permanent encampment.

The associations that I make from these first 4 stanzas are each related to the idea of “impermanence” (maybe mujō 無常?). In the first two stanzas, spring, cherry blossoms, and travel are each mentioned. New life begins in spring and is fresh, and new, and wonderful. But soon the scorching summer sun causes beauty to fade, which is followed by autumn and winter–further decay. Cherry blossoms are a classic metaphor for the impermanence of life & beauty. The beautiful pink flowers are celebrated in spring, but they are so fragile: even the slightest breeze or the gentlest spring rain knocks them off the branches. Then there is travel, clearly when someone is on the road, they are just passing by and not in one place for long.

The feeling of passing by/transience continues into this stanza as well. The warrior is outside, standing before a fire, and getting his armour on: surely this is not a permanent situation (if it were permanent then he would perhaps be in a castle or someplace). Also, war brings death & decay. A strong, healthy man–>putting on armour–>dying in battle is analogous to a cherry blossom tree–>blooming flowers–>the flowers dying and falling from the tree. Armour adorns the man like blossoms adorn the tree, both of which will soon fall to the earth.

So perhaps this warrior image is not as random as I thought…

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