Continuing with Manyoshu banka. In the last post we looked at poem #147, and now on to #148. There’s some controversy about this poem, specifically about the headnote. It seems that it doesn’t quite fit with the poem.

The headnote reads:

一書曰近江天皇聖躰不豫御病急時<太>后奉獻御歌一首

According to one source, poem composed by the Empress after the Omi Emperor’s (Emp. Tenchi/Tenji) affliction turned critical.

The poem:

青旗(あおはた)の 木幡(こはた)の上を 通(かよ)ふとは  目には見れども 直(ただ)に逢(あ)はぬかも

My eyes watch you come and go above green-bannered Kohata

Yet we will not meet face to face!

The controversy stems from the observation that if the Empress can see Emp. Tenji’s spirit hovering above Kohata, then to call his situation ‘critical’ is a bit of an understatement. The man is dead. However, in his study of Japanese ritual poetry, Gary Ebersole (history professor at UMKC) suggests that it might well belong here. This is  because in ancient Japan death was not considered to be instant, but a rather drawn out affair, complete only when the spirit cannot be ‘coaxed’ back into the body.

Who knows. At any rate, here’s the breakdown:

青旗(あおはた) is a makura-kotoba for 木幡(こはた), in modern day Yamashina-ku in Kyoto, where Emp. Tenji is entombed. Literally, it means green-or blue-banner. I picture it referring to treetops on a mountain.

見れども is izenkei of みる + ども, which is a concessive, meaning “although.”

逢(あ)はぬかも mizenkei of あふ + rentaikei of negative ず + かも, which is a Nara-period exclamation particle.

There is a kind of reoccurring image of deceased spirits hovering above the ground. So it would seem that Emp. Tenji’s spirit was on his way out.

Stay tuned for #149!