Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

In the empty mountains
The leaves of the bamboo grass
Rustle in the wind.
I think of a girl
Who is not here.

Sasa no ha wa
Miyama mo saya n
Sayagedomo
Ware wa imo omo
Wakare kinureba


- translated by Kenneth Rexroth
from One Hundred Poems from the Japanese

笹の葉は

This is a famous tanka poem composed in the 7th century by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro and anthologized in the Manyoshu, Japan's oldest collection of poetry (2:133).


Original manyogana:

小竹之葉者
三山毛清尓
乱友
吾者妹思
別来礼婆

Modern Japanese:

笹の葉は
み山もさやに
乱げ友
我は妹思
別れ来ぬれば

sasa no ha wa
miyama mo saya ni
sayagedomo
ware wa imo omou
wakarekinureba


In my own translation, I sought to maintain the tanka's 5-7-5-7-7 form, and I tried to accurately capture the meaning of the terms miyama (lit. "mountain depths") and wakare (lit. "parting" or "farewell"):


Deep in the mountains,
the leaves of the bamboo grass
rustle in the wind.
My thoughts return to the girl
I left behind forever.

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