A Spring Poem a Week (April 25th)

しほ風によくよく聞ば鷗なく

Shiho kaze ni yokuyoku akeba kamome naku

In the salty wind–

If you really listen hard,

the caw-caw of gulls

This is the 5th stanza of the linked-verse. It follows the 5-7-5 pattern similar to a haiku. It was composed by a man named Shōkei (昌圭).

According to the commentary accompanying this poem, the image here is of a nightwatchman. He is on guard, somewhere close to the sea. At night, the sea winds  pick up and are kind of loud. He hears sounds carried on the wind which he mistakes for men and horses (or perhaps man and a horse) and instantly becomes tense. But, as he listens more closely it is only the sound of gulls that he hears.

The first 3 stanzas to this linked verse follow a spring theme. These last two (the 4th & 5th) are categorized as “miscellaneous”. To me, what links this stanza to the previous stanza is the image of the nightwatchman. In the previous stanza, he was a warrior putting on his armor by the campfire light. In this stanza it is still night and he is on duty.

 

A nightwatchmen's robe (jinbei) from the Edo/Tokugawa era. You can see these in souvenir shops all over Japan.

A nightwatchmen’s robe (jinbei) from the Edo/Tokugawa era. You can see these in souvenir shops all over Japan.

So many times I’ve heard animals crying or howling and was surprised at how similar they sounded to humans. Especially cats and foxes–they can really sound like babies crying. That really creeps me out! So in this stanza, I can relate to how this man felt, 300 years ago. I’ve experienced windy nights when I can’t hear anything–couple that with a dark night and it can be a little unnerving.

These linked-verses are being composed in a group. The poets are tying to be clever, but are also trying to appeal to the shared experiences of the other poets and to any audience present. Therefore, there seems to be very little “individuality” in these stanzas–that is to say, the poets don’t seem to be trying to intentionally exclude themselves from the others, but rather are trying to stay included. No loners here.

 

 

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