By: Sarumaru no Dayuu (active ~ 708 – 715) 猿丸大夫
In the mountain’s heart 奥山に
Through crimson leaves 红葉ふみわけ
A trampling deer lets out a cry 鳴く鹿の
A voice that is heard 声きく時ぞ
In Autumn sadness 秋は悲しき
Compared to the preceding poets in this anthology, Sarumaru is relatively unknown. The only things really known about him is that he lived no later than 800AD, and that his time active as a Second Assistant Minister was from approximately 708 – 715. Apparently, he was also a member of the Thirty Six Poetic Sages (according to Wikipedia). However, there’s so little known about him, that some scholars suggest that this Sarumaru never really existed, and was instead an alias for Prince Yamashiro no Oe (also according to Wikipedia).
In any case, this tanka that Sarumaru has created is a classic example of Autumn poem (秋歌). Although there are, once again, no notes on this tanka, it is clear that both crimson leaves – presumably maple – and deer are symbolically synonymous with Autumn in Japanese culture. And with the deer’s cry ringing through the sadness and emotion that the poet can feel, you can almost feel the sadness for the passing of Summer and warmer, brighter times and the loneliness that the port anticipates with the onset of harsh Winter.
What’s interesting though, is that the last tanka expressed the awe-inspiring beauty of cold clean Winter, while the beauty of Autumn is described here with a little melancholy. Even though both poets were inspired by different emotions as they absorbed scenic nature surrounding them, already it is clear that nature and scenery and the environment and things are important to Japanese culture. And now that I’m soon going to be in Japan, it’ll be amazing to see how it translates from these ancient tanka to modern Japan.