So long Narihira and team: it’s mid-Heian now, and time for a new cast of characters.
Utakoi kicks off its mid-Heian arc with a return to squarely romantic themes, and the two-chapter format that opened the series. The two stories featured are fairly low-key and both feature poems that broach the subject of love and death – though from markedly contrasting sides. First up is the work of Fujiwara no Yoshitaka (Akira Ishida):
This poem is presented as a young man’s embracing of life – an 18 year-old who lived every day as if it would be his last, declaring his intention to be ready to die with no regrets. But a decidedly modern-feeling prank by his best friend Michitaka’s (Kusonoki Taiten) father gives the boy a taste of death, and in doing so brings home the depth of his love for the daughter of Yasumitsu. The above work seems quite simple and plaintive in this light – love has given Yoshitaka a reason to cling to life. Unlike many of the poems in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, this one seems quite transparent in the meaning behind it – it’s hard to judge a poem lacking in metaphor of any kind as anything other than it purports to be.
Our second poem is not the work of Michitaka, the focus of the second chapter, but his beloved, Takako (Hirata Eriko) – known as a poet by the name Koshibiku no Naishi:
My fear is that you,
Will forget your promise
Never to forget me
So I would prefer to die now,
While I am still happy
Koshibiku no Naishi
This is interesting, because while Ko no Naishi does have a poem in the Ogura (no. 60) this isn’t it.
To be honest I’m not certain if this is included in any major Heian anthology as I’ve been unable to find it (correction: this is actually poem #54, credited to “The Mother of Gido Sanshi”), but either way it makes an interesting contrast with Yoshitaka’s poem. Michitaka is of a higher station than Takako, and known as something of a womanizer, whose parents are pressuring him into an arranged marriage. Naturally she fears that this – in addition to the natural tendency for a man’s heart to wander – will lead him to forget his promise that she will always be first in his heart. Rather than face that abandonment, she states her desire to die young, while still at the center of his heart.
Now this is obviously a much less hopeful sentiment that expressed in Yoshitaka’s poem, though arguably no less a declaration of total devotion to another. Fear motivates each sentiment, but it’s a different sort of fear. History tells us that Yoshitaka did, sadly, pass away at only 21 years old – making his poem even more poignant, though one hopes he never lost his determination to seize the day – and that Takako died at just 26 herself. Michitaka lived the long life he’d hoped for, with success at court and a grandson to spoil – but one can’t help but wonder if Takako retained her place as first in his heart, even long years after she was gone.