Fujiwara no Teika

Hear about Fujiwara no Teika on Episode 15 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Fujiwara no Teika
Depiction of Fujiwara no Teika.

Fujiwara no Teika

Fujiwara no Teika, also known as Fujiwara no Sadaie (藤原 定家) was a member of the Fujiwara Clan living from 1162 to 1241. He was the son of Fujiwara no Shunzei and during his life was a member of the Mikohidari House of poetry alongside Jakuren and Fujiwara no Ietaka. Physically he is said to have been a rather ugly man. He is said to have had a rivallry with Fujiwara no Kiyosuke.

He held the position of Acting Middle Counsellor and acted as one of the compilers of the Shin-kokunshū. He later was the sole compiler of the Shin-chokusenshū. With a keen interest in poetry and literature he collated and copied many Heian period pieces of literature which have survived to this day because of him. He also has a personal diary called the Meigetsuki and a private collection of poetry called the Shūigūso.

Due to his interest in poetry he was a great judge of poems as well as an accomplished poet himself and made the poetry compilaton book called the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.

One of his poems he included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (No.97) and goes as follows:1

Japanese text2
Romanized Japanese1
English translation1
こぬ人を
まつほの浦の
夕なぎに
やくやもしほの
身もこがれつつ
Konu hito o
Matsuho no ura no
yūnagi ni
yaku ya moshio no
mi mo kogaretsutsu
Pining for you,
who do not come,
I am like the salt-making fires
at duck on the Bay of Waiting -
burning bitterly in flames of love.

Dealings with Emperor Go-Toba

During his life he was close to the Emperor Go-Toba, prior to as well as after his abdication as emperor. Though this friendship eventually found itself on rocky ground.

Many years prior to this Teika came into mourning after the passing of his mother, and one day (on the anniversary of his mothers death) the now retired Emperor called on Teika to recite poetry for him. Teika asked if he could not, so he may honour the anniversary of his mothers death, however the Emperor made him come to him none the less. Angered by this Teika wrote two poems.

These poems, though they fit into the poetic theme the Emperor had asked for, were full of hidden meaning to show the Emperor the anger Teika was feeling towards being made to be here reciting poetry instead of honouring his mother.

It is noted Teika was sent from the palace after angering the Emperor and it is fortunate that this was all that happened to him. Such a break of decorum could easily have seen Teika stripped of his lands and titles because of this.3

The two poems go as follows:

Poem #1
Poem #23
sayaka ni mo
mirubeki yama wa
kasumitsutsu
waga mi no hoka mo
haru no yo no tsuki
michinobu no
nohara no yanagi
shitamoenu
aware nageki no
keburi kurabe ni
The mountain that I
should be able to see clearly
have misted over-
this spring night’s moon
belongs to someone else.
A willow in the meadow
by the side of the road
has secretly bloomed
vying against the smoke
of my smoldering lament.

Footnotes

1. MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics.
2. Suzuki, H. et al. (1997) ”Genshoku: Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”. Tokyo: Bun’eidō.
3. Atkins, P.S. (2017) “Teika: The Life and Works of a Medieval Japanese Poet.” Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

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