The mountain wind in autumn time
Is well called ‘hurricane’;
It hurries canes and twigs along,
And whirls them o’er the plain
To scatter them again.
Fun’ya no Yasuhide
My view of just what this series is has evolved quite a bit over these four episodes. As much as anything it now feels like a stream of consciousness – a meandering stream winding its way through the Imperial Court in the Heian Period, sometimes almost doubling back on itself and looking very familiar, but always managing to end up in a new place. There really doesn’t seem to be any “format” to this series per se, or even recurring them apart from the poems themselves. It’s just a lazy, reflective mind’s eye look at how these most famous of words in Japanese literature may have found their way to print.
The one element of the show that’s been consistent through each episode are the brief comedy-driven intercuts of Fujiwara no Sadaie in modern times, often with friends. Frankly they’re the least successful part of the series (I certainly don’t often find them funny) but they are educational in their way, offering us something of an objective look at the story behind the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and the poets whose works are immortalized there. In this case, it’s one whose works aren’t – Outomo no Kuronushi, the only one of the “six poetic geniuses” in Tsurayuki’s Kokin Wakashuu not included in the Hyakunin Isshu. But the focus of the episode itself is on two old friends – Narihara (the closest thing to a main character here so far) and Yoshiko (now known by the name history gave her, Ono no Komachi) as well as a new face – minor noble Fun’ya no Yasuhide (Chiba Susumu).
This chapter really isn’t a love story in the conventional sense – though the always-busy Narihara has now turned his sights on Yoshiko (who still writes to her brother from inside the Imperial Palace). Rather, it’s a sort of musing on what poetry means to different people who practice it. For Yasuhide poetry is a very practical matter – it’s his means for putting bread on the table and wood in the fire for his family. He lacks the gift for soaring epiphany that Narihara can call on with a moment’s notice, instead relying on technique and wordplay. It’s an artist vs. a craftsman, and the craftsman is quite jealous of the artist – especially given that he sees Narihara as taking his gift for granted, and only able to express it so carelessly because of his privileged status. This combined with his big mouth gets Yasuhide in a spot of bother, but fortunately Narihara isn’t the sort of man to be offended by petty sniping, especially given his own dismissive view of status.
In a way, I think poetry exists as a kind of freedom for each of these men – and for Ono no Komachi, too, who sees it as a way to keep from losing her identity as a faceless member of the Imperial harem. As for the meaning of the poem itself, here it’s expressed more or less an off the cuff sentiment by Yasuhide – a rare moment of on-the-spot creative firepower after an evening of drinking and idly musing about poetry with Narihara and Yoshiko – in his own words, “just trying to sound clever”. But in its humble way this “poem with no point” is an expression of Yasuhide’s soul as a poet – art for art’s sake, if you will. And for an episode where the only romance is that for the art of the poem, that seems quite fitting.