Category Archives: Poetry Competition in Six Hundred Rounds

Spring II: 24

Left (Win).


haru no itoyū
iku yo hete
onaji midori no
sora ni miyuramu
Time and time again
The threaded heat haze of spring,
As uncounted ages pass,
In identical azure
Skies must appear…

Lord Sada’ie.




yūhi no sora o
usukurenai ni
somuru itoyū
When on the tranquil
Sunset sky
I gaze,
Pale crimson
Stains the haze.



Neither team has anything to say about the other’s poem this round.

Shunzei, however, says, ‘Although the expressions ‘time and time again’ (kurikaeshi) and ‘uncounted ages pass’ (iku yo hete) seem somewhat forced connections with ‘threaded’ (ito), the final section beginning ‘identical azure’ (onaji midori) is superb. The essence of the Right’s poem, of gazing at the sky at sunset with the threads of haze stained, is charming, but I wonder whether it would not have been better not to force the reference to sunset into the poem. ‘Azure skies’ must win.

Spring II: 23

Left (Win).


omokage ni
chisato o kakete
misuru kana
haru no hikari ni
asobu itoyū
A vision from
Across a thousand leagues
In the spring sunlight
Wavering ‘midst the haze.

A Servant Girl.




aru ka naki ka ni
kokorobosoku mo
asobu itoyū
When I look out
Is it there, or not?
Disordered and
Wavering haze.

The Provisional Master of the Empress’ Household Office.


The Right say they have nothing particular to remark upon about the Left’s poem, but the Left wonder whether ‘forlorn’ (kokorobosoku mo) forms an appropriate linkage with the final line. (The point they are making is that in the original poem the final line starts asobu, which literally means ‘enjoy oneself’ or ‘play’, and thus ‘forlorn’ seems an incongruous prequel to it. In all the ‘Heat Haze’ poems I’ve translated asobu as ‘wavering’, as it’s use in this context is not for its sense, but as an addition piece of orthographic wordplay, as ‘heat haze’ (itoyū), is written with the characters for ‘threads’ (ito 糸) and ‘play’ ( 遊).)

Shunzei’s judgement is: ‘One has to wonder about the suitability of the final line of the Right’s poem, as is the gist of the Left’s remarks; by contrast, the ending of the Left’s poems seems particularly good. It has to be the winner.’

Spring II: 22

Left (Win).


haru kureba
sora ni midaruru
itoyū wo
hito suji ni ya wa
ari to tanoman
When Spring is come,
The sky is disarrayed by
Heat haze, yet
For it to be all that is –
In that I cannot trust!

Lord Ari’ie.




haru kaze no
nodoka ni fukeba
aoyanagi no
eda mo hitotsu ni
asobu itoyū
When spring breezes
Gently blow
Fresh willow
Fronds as one are
Wavering hazes…



Both teams find no particular faults with the other’s poems.

Shunzei, however, comments, ‘Both poems are excellent in appearance, but the Left has ‘The sky is disarrayed’ (sora ni midaruru). The Right is ‘Fresh willow fronds as one’ (aoyanagi no eda mo hitotsu ni asobu): does this not suggest that haze wavers only in the vicinity of willows? The Left must win.’

Spring II: 21

Left (Tie).


itsu to naku
suguru yo ni
urayamashiki wa
asobu itoyū
I pass my time within this world;
How I envy,
The wavering haze…



Right (Tie).


sora ni shire
haru no nokiba ni
asobu ito no
mi no yukue oba
Learn from the heavens!
Above my eaves in springtime,
Wavering fronds
To my disjointed thoughts
Show the way…



Neither team has anything special to say about the other’s poem.

Shunzei states, ‘Both poems have splendid poetic form on a theme of the poet bewailing his lot. They must tie.’

Spring II: 20

Left (Win).


nani bakari naru
itoyū no
nokiba ni hito no
How unclear!
For what, do
The wavering hazes
Along the eaves’ edges folks’
Gaze interrupt?

Lord Kanemune.




sao hime ya
kasumi no koromo
haru nomi sora ni
asobu itoyū
Has the goddess of Spring
A garb of haze
‘Tis only in the springtime skies, that
The heat haze wavers…

Lord Tsune’ie.


Here, the Right say that, ‘it’s unclear what gaze it is the haze is interrupting,’ but the Left have no comments to make.

Shunzei, however, says, ‘It is not the case that there is no reason to say “For what, do the wavering hazes” (nani bakari naru itoyū). The Right’s poem has “A garb of haze a’woven?”. “A’woven” (oritsuran) does not seem to correspond with the conclusion of the verse. In general terms, it’s banal [kotogoto furinitarubeshi]. The Left’s conclusion is somewhat difficult to interpret [kikiwakigataki yō], but in construction the poem is superb [utazama masari].’

Spring II: 19

Left (Tie).


tsu no kuni no
koya no watari no
nagame ni wa
asobu ito sae
hima nakarikeri
In the land of Tsu,
When out from Koya
I turn my gaze,
Even the wavering hazes
Seem to take no rest.

Lord Suetsune.


Right (Tie).


haru kureba
nabiku yanagi no
tomogao ni
sora ni magau ya
asobu ito yū
When the spring is come,
Fluttering willow fronds’
In the skies can be perceived:
Wavering hazes.

Lord Takanobu.


The Right say that the Left’s poem, ‘suggests heat haze only occurs at Koya in Tsu,’ while the Left say, ‘what are we to make of phrasing such as “like” (tomogao ni)?’, obliquely suggesting that it’s inappropriate poetic diction.

Shunzei says simply that, ‘the purport of both sides’ comments about both poems is apposite,’ and makes the round a tie.

Spring II: 18



haru hi ni wa
sora ni nomi koso
hibari no toko wa
are ya shinuran
The springtime sun
Alone, into the skies
Does seem to lift
The skylark: his nest,
I wonder, if ‘tis in disarray?



Right (Win).


ko o omou
sudachi no ono o
asa yukeba
agari mo yarazu
hibari nakunari
Caring for her chick,
Starting from the nest into the meadow,
With the coming of the morn,
Without taking flight,
The skylark gives call.



The Right team state that the initial and central stanzas of the Left’s poem are ‘grating on the ear’, while the Left snap back that they ‘don’t understand the meaning’ of ‘caring for her chick, starting from the nest’ (ko o omou sudachi), and moreover, having both ‘starting from the nest’ (sudachi) and ‘take flight’ (agari) in one poem is clumsy technique as the meanings are too similar.

Shunzei judges that the initial stanza of the Left’s poem is ‘truly awful’. And, ‘in general, from what we know of how skylarks live, there is no reason to expect that they would heedlessly fly off after fouling their nests. In spring, they raise their young in the fields, and when the evenings are warm, or the spring sun is bright, they remain flying in the sky and look down on their chicks from above. They are birds which swoop and soar. Thus, one cannot say that they heedlessly foul their nests. The Right is in keeping with the skylark’s nature, and in form the poem also appropriately poetic, but because of the distance of the first stanza from the last, it is possible that one might not grasp the sense of the poem on first hearing. “Starting from the nest” (sudachi) and “take flight” (agari) are, though, too similar. However, as the Left’s poem has an unpleasant line, and is contrary to the essence of skylarks, despite its faults, the Right’s poem must win.’

Spring II: 17

Left (Tie).


harubaru to
ogi no yakehara
tatsu hibari
kasumi no uchi ni
koe agarunari
Into the distance, far,
The silver-grass plain is aflame;
A skylark takes flight, and
From within the haze, its
Song soars.

Lord Suetsune.


Right (Tie).


haru fukaki
nobe no kasumi no
shita kaze ni
fukarete agaru
yū hibari kana
Now is the height of spring, and
Haze lies o’er the plains;
The breeze beneath
Gusts, lifting
A skylark, at eventide.



The Right have no comments to make about the Left’s poem, but the Left say they are ‘unused to hearing’ the expression ‘breeze beneath the haze’ (kasumi no shita kaze), and then continue to ask, facetiously, ‘Do you mean to say that skylarks don’t soar without a breeze?’ The Right reply that, ‘when the wind is blowing gently, it appears as if the bird is lifted by it – that is the scene.’

Shunzei states that Left’s poem, with its essence of the skylark’s call emerging from the haze is ‘truly charming’. He did ‘wonder’ about the Right’s essence of the bird being lifted by the breeze, can see the scene of a gentle ‘breeze beneath the haze across the plains’ (nobe no kasumi no shita kaze), and is attracted by both sides’ poems. Thus, there are no winners or losers this round.

Spring II: 16

Left (Win).


kataoka no
kasumi mo fukaki
kogakure ni
asahi matsu ma no
hibari nakunari
At Kataoka
The haze is deep upon
The shade of the concealing trees;
Awaiting dawn’s first light,
A skylark sings.

A Servant Girl.




nobe mireba
agaru hibari mo
ima wa tote
asaji ni otsuru
yūgure no sora
Looking out across the plain,
A soaring skylark
Seizes the second
To plunge among the cogon-grass
From the evening sky.



Neither team has any criticisms to make of the other’s poem.

Shunzei states that, ‘Left and Right deal with the skylark at morning and evening respectively. Both poems are alike in content, yet the Right’s poem conveys a particularly desolate feeling. Why should this be? Once more, the Left is the victor.’ Commentators are divided as to whether in this judgement he is suggesting that loneliness is an inappropriate emotion to convey in a skylark-themed poem, or whether, knowing that the Left’s poem was composed by Fujiwara no Yoshitsune, the host of the competition and the highest-ranking person present, he is simply flattering a powerful man’s work.

Spring II: 15

Left (Win).


toko o hibari no
yukue mo shiranu
kumo ni irinuru
His marital
Bed, the skylark
Has left, and
Within the drifting
Clouds has vanished

Lord Ari’ie.




yakino no kusa wa
tobitatsu hibari
nedoko sadameyo
Looking out,
The stubble-burned fields’ grasses
Are all withered:
O, skylark, flying forth,
Find your bed, somewhere!

Lord Tsune’ie.


The Right state that they would have preferred it if the Left’s poem had been phrased ‘the skylark’s bed’ (hibari no toko), rather than ‘bed, the skylark’ (toko o hibari no), which essentially is an argument in favour of avoiding the non-standard grammatical pattern of Direct Object-Subject. The Left’s criticism of the Right is on the grounds of content, saying, ‘Is it not the case that in a “stubble-burned field” (yakino) there would be nothing to “wither”? If something is burned, there is nothing left.’

Shunzei states that he finds it ‘difficult to agree’ with the Right’s criticism of the Left’s poem, and then goes on to state that ‘the stubble-burned fields’ grasses are all withered’ must mean either that they were burned after withering; or, that they withered after sprouting afresh following a burn. Though he does not say so explicitly, neither would be appropriate in a Spring poem, so ‘the Left must win.’