In Japanese poetry, it is common to refer to a line or two of one of the great classics, invoking the original poem by reference and thereby adding depth. This poem invokes a poem from the earliest collection of poetry, the Man’yoshu. Commonly translated as “Collection of 10,000 Leaves,” it is a compilation of over 4,000 poems in 20 books, by poets from all walks of life, from Emperors to peasants. This poem, written in honor of the Coronation of TRM Lucien and Catarina makes reference to poem 4486, in book 20. Poem 4486 was written by the future Emperor Junnin, then Crown Prince, at the annual feast of Toyo-no-akari given by the Emperor to princes and high-ranking officials on the day after the Harvest Festival. The Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai translation is as follows:
Since thy reign is to endure
With the sun and the moon
That illumine heaven and earth,
What could ever trouble our hearts?
It is thought the poem refers to the defeat of a rebellion earlier in the same year (757 CE). Of historical note, it was Empress Koken to whom the poem was addressed; she abdicated the following year, but in 765 forced Junnin off the throne and resumed her place as Empress.
Another tradition that dates back to the Manyoshu is the use of makurakotoba, ‘pillow-words.’ Much like the epitaphs in Homer (eg. ‘swift-footed Achilles’), the pillow-word is seemingly extraneous, but serves to make deeper connections or add flavor to the poem. These pillow-words became associated with certain words, and many seem to have lost their meaning. In my poem, the red-fingered sun and eternal moon are my attempt at using English versions of traditional makurakotoba. The one for the sun is fairly straight forward (remembering that the color of the sun is red in Japan, due to the rising sun); however, the original word I’ve translated as ‘eternal’ merits discussion. Pisakata no has an uncertain meaning. One theory is that it derives from pi sasu kata ‘the direction from which the sun shines’, while the characters used to write it suggest the eternal and/or far-reaching nature of the heavens. As such, it ties in to both the connection to the sun in the previous line and to the heavens.
Thus, a Heian noble, expected to be familiar with the original poem and it’s historical background, would understand the many hidden layers of meaning, including the knowledge that the emperor is supposed to be descended from the sun goddess and thus possesses a heavenly mandate. As a SCAdian, two additional details are revealed. First, the victory alluded to for a summer King of the Midrealm is at Pennsic War. Second, the historical background hints at the possibility of a second reign.
The form is waka, Japanese in origin with a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern of syllables. Event held 23rd day of 3rd month, AS XLVIII. This poem was composed for the Pentamere Pilgrimage Challenge, the sixth poem in the series; in addition, Calum has written an amusing take on his experiences at an event.