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Calligraphy: Three Heian Poems

Translation with calligraphy by Kyoko Selden

August 15, 2016
Volume 14 | Issue 16 | Number 6

These three Heian-period waka poems—the first by Buddhist priest Henjō (816-89), the second by court poet Ōshikōchi no Mitsune (859-925), and the third by female poet Ise no Taifu (circa 989-1060)—were prepared for Marc Peter Keane’s book, Songs in the Garden: Poetry and Gardens in Ancient Japan (Ithaca: MPK Books, 2012). Although these particular versions of the poems did not make the final cut for the book manuscript, Kyoko saved them in a scrapbook along with other favorites she had produced over the years.

The poems read as follows:





古今和歌集 165


hasu no tsuyu o mite yomeru

hachisuba no nigori ni shimanu kokoro mote

nanika wa tsuyu o tama to azamuku

Sōjō Henjō

Kokin wakashū, poem 165


Composed on seeing the dew on a lotus.

The lotus leaves, unstained by the muddy waters—why then do they deceive us with dewdrops shimmering gem-like?

* The opening of the poem references 不染世間法 如蓮華在水, a line in the Lotus Sutra that compares the purity of the Dharma with that of a lotus rising from the waters.






古今和歌集 957


mono omoikeru toki, itokinaki ko o mite yomeru

imasara ni nani oiizuramu take no ko no

uki fushi shigeki yo to wa shirazu ya

Ōshikōchi no Mitsune

Kokin wakashū, poem 957


Composed on seeing his young child when he was in a pensive mood.

Why ever come into this life to grow, young sprout—don’t you know sorrows flourish in this world as countless as the nodes on a bamboo stalk?






後拾遺和歌集 295


mono omou koto arikeru koro, hagi o mite yomeru

oki akashi mitsutsu nagamuru hagi no ue no

tsuyu fuki midaru aki no yo no kaze

Ise no Taifu

Goshūi wakashū, poem 295


Composed on seeing a bush clover at a time when she was filled with cares

Peering hour after sleepless hour into the dark, my vacant gaze fixes on the dew scattered atop the bush clover by the autumn night’s wind

Ise no Taifu

(ca. 990-1060)


Japan in Translation III
In Honor of Kyoko Selden

Edited by Alisa Freedman


Artistic Legacy of the Fifteenth Century Selections from Japan: The Shaping of Daimyo Culture, 1185-1868, translated by Kyoko Selden

Nagai Kafū, Selections from “Ukiyo-e Landscapes and Edo Scenic Places,” translated by Kyoko Selden and Alisa Freedman

Cho Kyo, Selections from The Search for the Beautiful Woman: A Cultural History of Japanese and Chinese Beauty, translated by Kyoko Selden

Suzuki Shin’ichi, Selections from Nurtured by Love, translated by Kyoko Selden with Lili Selden

Osaki Midori, Wanderings in the Realm of the Seventh Sense, translated by Kyoko Selden and Alisa Freedman


Kyoko Selden studied calligraphy with Kamijō Shinzan (1907-97) throughout her high school and college years in Tokyo. Kamijō was a prominent calligrapher and powerful advocate for returning calligraphy to public school curricula in the postwar era. She continued, in the ensuing decades, to pull out her inkwell and brushes whenever she was asked by non-profit organizations or authors to produce calligraphied logos, or was herself inspired to brush a classical Chinese or Japanese poem.