“Yori” Explained …by the Bunpō Bushi!

Spring time is a gentle time of year. New flowers, newborn wild life, and other things around us remind us  of this fact. Spring time is also the season for cherry blossom viewing–originally a Japanese tradition that is now celebrated all over the world! Here’s a spring-esque haiku by Kagami Shikō 各務支考 (1665-1731) in which I’ll examine his use of the particle yori より:

歌書よりも軍書にかなし芳野山

kasho yori mo gunsho ni kanashi Yoshino yama

My translation:

Not reading poems,

but reading war tales is sad.

Yoshino mountain

The poet, supposedly 2nd from the right.

There isn’t a seasonal word (kigo 季語) in this haiku, but Yoshino is famous for it’s cherry blossoms, so there is a definite connection to spring.

Yori より has three main uses, it 1) indicates the place of origin, 2) indicates a comparison, and 3) denotes the means or method of something–basically the same as in modern Japanese. In this haiku it is clear that two things are being compared: [volumes of] poetry (kasho 歌書) and [volumes of] war tales (軍書). Many people are already aware of Japan’s rich poetry tradition, but not as many know that “war tales” was a popular literary genre, too, from the 13th century and on. So while poems were often sad, or emotional (think love poems and the like) it’s war tales that are more sad.

In this grammar construction the particle yori follows the lesser of the two things being compared. Here’s a similar usage of the particle in a waka poem from the Kokinshū:

色よりもかこそあはれとおもほゆれたが袖ふれしやどの梅ぞも

iro yori mo ka koso aware to omōyure ta ga sode fureshi yado no ume zo

Poem #33, by Anonymous

I will not translate the whole poem here, just the top part of the waka:

色よりもかこそあはれと

iro yori mo ka koso aware to

The flower’s scent, not

its fragrance, is more poignant

In this waka, color (iro 色) and scent (ka 香) are being compared as being more or less poignant or of causing a sense of pathos (aware). Note: I wrote the flower’s scent and the flower’s fragrance, but I’m not all too convinced that the author is referring to flowers, but is probably writing about people! As in a person’s scent (perfume, cologne, etc.) conjures deep emotions as opposed to the color of their fine clothes, etc.

What do you think? Are war tales sadder than poems?

Does a person’s fragrance stir your emotion more than their appearance?