If you’ve been following this, we’ve got two of Yamato-takeru’s songs under our belts: song 23 and song 25. We’ve come this far, so let’s keep barreling along.

What follows is perhaps my favorite exchange in all of Japanese literature. But before we get to that, let’s walk a mile in Yamato-takeru’s shoes. Picture this: you are Yamato-takeru, a strong and brave warrior (pretend) who finds a fetching “bride,” lets call her Princess Miyazu. But before you manage to “marry” her, you have to go off and pacify some unruly deities and barbarians. So off you go, but promise to return and tie the nuptial knot, so to speak. You’re away for a long time, but finally make your triumphant homecoming. You hurry off to keep your promise to the nubile lady who waited for you all this time. She brings you wine, things are looking good. But there’s one problem. There’s something on her dress…

So you sing:

ひさかたの    天の香久山    とかまに  さ渡る鵠

纖細     撓や腕を

枕かむとは    吾はすれど

さ寝むとは    吾は思へど

汝が着せる    襲の裾に  月立ちにけり

Clamorous swans take flight over Ameno-Kagu Mountain

Although I wish to rest, with your lithe, delicate arms for my pillow

Although I wish to lie with you

Along the bottom of the robe you wear

The moon has risen.

Well, you just came out and said it, no beating around the bush for with you. But, lucky for you the lady has a mouth on her.

She sings, right back at you:

高光る 日の御子 やすみしし 我が大君

あらたまの         年が來經(きふ)れば
あらたまの    月は來經(きへ)ゆく
諾(うべ)な諾な     君待ちがたに

我が着せる         襲の裾に      月立たなむよ

Oh Shining Prince of the Sun, ruling in peace all under heaven

For, years have come and gone, moons, too, passed by

And I waited for you in yearning

Of course, along the bottom of the robe I wear, the moon would rise!

You suddenly discover you are a man of your word, by character, and consummate your duty. Problem? What problem? She has touched your perfect body with her (witty) mind.

Let’s break it down, starting with the first song (#27):

ひさかたの  天の香久山        とかまに    さ渡る鵠

hisakatano        ame-no-kagu-yama      tokamani          sa-wataru-kubi

纖細       撓や       腕を

hiwaboso          tawa-ya            gaina-o

枕かむとは 吾はすれど

makamutowa    are-wasuredo

さ寝むとは  吾は思へど

sa-nemutowa    are-wa-omoedo

汝が着せる 襲の裾に          月立ちにけり

na-ga-keseru    osui-no-suso-ni tsuki-tachi-ni-keri

ひさかたの is actually a makura-kotoba (if you don’t know what this is yet, check the previous posts: song 23 and song 25). It goes with “heaven, rain, moon, cloud, light,” and “capital.” Literally it means something like “from a distant direction” (久方).

天の香久山 is a mountain in modern day Sakurai city, Nara prefecture. It is 148m, or 486ft, or 1.6 football fields tall. Together with Miminashi-yama, and Unebi-yama, it is the third of the Three Yamato Mountains. These were important for reasons of geomancy–think feng-shui. Although the name can be literally translated as Mount Kagu of Heaven, or Heavenly Mount Kagu, I decided to keep the name as it. (How often do you think of New Haven as meaning New Place of Safety or Harbor?).

とかまに is the controversial bit here. It can possibly mean two things, each altering the poem. It can mean (1): like a sickle (鎌) or (2): in a clamorous fashion, noisily, and fussily (think 口やかましいこと).  As much as I like the sickle moon imagery, especially keeping in mind the ‘punch-line,’ I am inclined to go for the second meaning. That is to say, primarily the second option. Who is to say that this phrasing was not intended to invoke images of the sickle moon, or even the sharp cries of the swans matching the cutting edge of a sickle? But, I think at least the surface meaning is the clamor of swans as they take off in flight. As it turns out a particularly loud variety of swan, called the Whooper Swan, migrates to Japan in the winter. Don’t believe me? Check out this video at about 1:00 minute in:

The grammar is a little funky though. And I’m showing a bit of ignorance on my part here but here goes. When to is followed by nari, there is a meaning of a resultant state. So, if that is the case に is the renyoukei on nari. So I’m really assuming its kamanari (鎌なり), the adjectival verb. I’ll run this by someone who knows better and update accordingly.

UPDATE: So I did ask someone in the know and found out the following. First off, if the kama is, indeed, a sickle, it is probably referring to the wing or something. Also, what is this kubi business for the swan? Usually it is kugui, right? So is there some connection to “neck” (kubi)? Truth is we know little for certain about much of this.

さ渡る鵠 – sa is that sound prefix again, with no real meaning. Wataru means something like “to pass over” and is in the rentaikei, thus modifying kubi (swan/s)

All of the above has been what is called 序詞 (jokotoba), or preface, introductory phrase.

纖細撓や – this means something like “delicate, slender, supple, lithe, elegant, etc.” These two modify腕 (gaina) “arms.” を is the direct object/accusative marker. So what does he want to do with these arms?

枕かむとは – quite literally, use as a pillow, but of course implies to sleep together, or “to make one’s wife.” The verb is actually maku, but it is in mizenkei plus the hypothetical mu. Including towa the overall effect is something like the modern Japanese ~としたら.

吾はすれど – are is “I” (same as ware really). suredo is the izenkei of su + do, and means “but, although, etc.”

さ寝むとは – same sa as before. Here it is tempting to say “sleep,” but it also means “lie down,” and I think here it works better. It is quite clear what will happen when they lie down together, I’m using a bit of Biblical diction here.

吾は思へど – “I” again. Be careful of this “false friend.” Omou means to “think” in modern Japanese. However in classical Japanese it means “to wish, want, desire.”

汝 – “you,” refers to social inferiors, or someone you are intimate with.

着せる – means “to wear” and in the rentaikei modifying the robe. I am told this is an honorific, but I’m not entirely sure how.

襲 – this is a robe. Apparently it is not sewn, but is rather made of a broad piece of cloth. Hence although it might seem easier to say “hem” instead of “bottom of a robe,” if the robe isn’t sewn, there is no hem, is there? (A note of caution: don’t attempt to Google Image this kanji, strange things surface).

にけり – is the past tense. ni-keri (as opposed to te-keri) is used with something that happens without one’s volition. Also, in poetry, keri has a ring of a sudden realization.

Moving on (song 28):

高光る     日の御子   やすみしし        我が大君

takahikaru     hi-no-miko       yasumishishi                  wa-ga-ookimi

あらたまの  年が        來經(きふ)れば

aratamano        toshiga              ki-fureba
あらたまの  月は        來經(きへ)ゆく

aratamano        tsukiwa ki-eyuku
諾(うべ)な諾な  君    待ちがたに

ubena-ubena     kimi      machigatani

我が  着せる      襲の裾に          月立たなむよ

waga    keseru              osui-no-suso-ni tsuki-tata-namu-yo

高光る is a makura-kotoba for日の御子-“child of the sun.” The sun, of course, is always associated with Amaterasu-ookami (the sun-deity) and the imperial line. This is the princess addressing you Yamato-takeru, by the way.

やすみしし – you guessed it, another makura-kotoba, this time for: 我が大君. This again is a form of address for an imperial descendant, and has the distinct flavor of lavishing praise upon such an august personage. There’s an implication of “peacefully ruling in all ( 8 ) directions, or the entire earth.”

あらたまの – yup, another makura-kotoba, this one is used with: 年 and 月(and also 春 but that’s not important here).

經(ふ) — means “to pass (as in time),” and is really strange. It conjugates like a ハ下二段 verb, if that verb had no stem. So fureba is the izenkei + ba, which means “because” (do not confuse with mizenkei + ba = “if”).

諾(うべ)な諾な – is the equivalent of the modern もっともだ, and means “of course, only natural that, to be expected, indeed, etc.” The nas are there for emphasis.

待ちがたに – means to “wait impatiently.” Think 待ち難に. So: machi is the renyoukei + gatanari (also in the renyoukei) = machi-gatani.

月立たなむ – is a little problematic. Why is tatsu in the mizenkei? This leaves only one option for なむ, that is to mean “I wish.” But that is near nonsensical in this context. It would make more sense it this was mizenkei of ぬ+む, which would mean “will no doubt, appropriate,” or something like that. From that context that makes perfect sense. Only one sticking point, though. ぬ requires the preceding verb to be in the renyoukei, but 立た is the mizenkei. Hmmm. Well, a supplementary note above the text tells me to assume 立ちありなむ, which solves the problem, since あり is the renyoukei of the irregular verb あり.

よfor emphasis and….Whew, we’re done, yo!