Selected Articles on Japanese Women Poets

Abutsu-ni (ca. 1220-83)
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Travel poems by Abutsu-ni (ca. 1220-83)
Source: CLASSICAL JAPANESE PROSE by Helen Craig McCullough, 1990, Stanford University Press
From the Introduction

"Of the many prose writings generated by medieval travel, only three are even moderately well known today to any but specialists. Two, A SEA ROAD JOURNAL and AN ACCOUNT OF THE JOURNEY TO THE EAST, are the products of anonymous recluses, erronelusly attributed to Kamo no Chomei in the medieval and Edo periods; the third, THE JOURNAL OF THE SIXTEENTH-NIGHT MOON (Izayoi nikki 1279-80) was written by the widowed nun Abutsu (ca. 1220-83), whose husband Fujiwara no Tameie (1198-1275), had been the son and literary heir of the great poet Teika (1162-1241). Although not major works themselves, all are worth notice because they seem to have influenced the undisputed master of the travel account, Matsuo Basho (1644-94), who wrote in his BACKPACK NOTES... 'The excellent travel accounts of Tsurayuki, Chomei and Abutsu give full expression to the feelings we experience on a journey. Later writers have been unable to progress beyond feeble imitations of their art.'"
Eight excerpts from the first section of Abutsu-ni's Journal of the Sixteenth-Night Moon:

Toward dawn, we set out from Moruyama in the faint light of the lingering moon. The fog was thick when we crossed the Yasu River, and only the clop of horses' hoofs revealed the presence of travelers ahead:

All together,
the travelers take their leave
when morning arrives;
they ford the stream on horseback
through the Yasu River fog.

From the barrier on, the rain became no longer a mere succession of showers but a steady downpour from black skies. The road was so bad that we had to stop at Kasanui Station, even though it was still daylight.

At Kasanui
I take lodgings to escape
the steady rain --
this downpour in which travelers
must brush raincoats made of straw.

At a river called, I believe, the Sunomara, there was a floating bridge made of boats, which were aligned and fastened with what looked like ropes made of vines. Dangerous though it was, we crossed. Two poems came to my mind when I observed that the water was deep near the dike and shallow on the other side:

My design is as deep
as the pooling waters
beside the dike,
but may I not be held in check
by interfering eyes?

As ephemeral
as the goings and comings
in this transient world --
the floating bridge made of boats
drifting like my wretched self.

From Yatsuhashi, we traversed plains under a cloudless sky, with mountains in the distance. Around noon, we headed toward a hill splended with colored leaves, some of which, clinging to the boughs despite the wind, were as brown as though they had already fallen. Evergreen trees also grew there; it was like looking at a brocade with a green ground. Upon making inquiries, I learned that the hill was called Miyajiyama.

How it has showered!
A thousand drippings in dye,
until at last
the old colors disappear
froms the autumn-leaf brocade.

There was a thatched cottage in a bamboo grove at the foot of the hill. One wondered why the occupant had taken up his abode there and how he managed to live.

Who might dwell there?
Who has fixed his abode
at the foot of the hill,
with none for his neighbor
save a lonely bamboo grove?

We crossed the Takashi Hills. The scenery was delightful where the ocean was visible. A strong shore wind wailed through the pine trees and whipped up the surf.

Might it be for me
that the waves rise high
at Takashi Beach?
Never do the billows rest
on sleeves recalling Sode Port.

A flock of black birds on a snow-white sandspit.

As black as ink sticks:
cormorants, "birds of the isles,"
on the white beach sands!
If my brush possessed the skill
I would put them in a picture.

Looking up from the Hamana Bridge, I saw flocks of gulls flying in every direction. Some were diving toward the depths; others were perched on rocks.

I feel a kinship
with the rocks on the sandspit
where gulls go to perch,
I who am well accostomed
to sleeves flooded by waves.
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