Little Thoughts: a collection of Waka by Saionji no Hanae and Friends

I am deeply honored to include works by my many talented friends who have graciously permitted me to present their side of our poetic correspondences: 

Christopher Wright, known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Date Saburou Yukiie (Aethelmearc)
Joshua Badgley, known in the SCA as Ii Saburou Katsumori (Atlantia)
Ron Broberg, known in the SCA as Otagiri Tatsuzou (Outlands) 
Lori Olcott, known in the SCA as Morgan Rowanwaif (Outlands)
Dorian Davis, known in the SCA as Matsuyama Yoshitoshi (Lochac)
Garrett Carlisle, known in the SCA as Fujiwara no Nagamochi (Northshield)
Mike Lehman, in the SCA Takeda Sanjuichiro Akimasa (Atlantia)
Michael Yancy, known in the Military Re-enactment Society of New England as Shijo Ichiro
Steven Westmoreland, known in the SCA as Shimazu Masamune (Trimaris).
Ray Cornwell (Ray does not yet have a persona name)

Domo arigato gozaimasu, my friends.

We hope you enjoy what follows. 

Waka, also known as tanka or uta is the ancestor of haiku. In my research on the arts of Heian Japan, I learned that this form was used for contests, in which one person might start the first three lines and others had to come up with the last two, or one poem must be answered by a new one. Lovers frequently sent messages using this poetic form, often using imagery from nature.  As a courtly entertainment, it is extremely well suited to spur-of-the moment topics; in fact, some of the poems below were written in response to topical challenges.  I have included the occasional note to provide context.

A response to a PC vs. Mac argument
Tools are only that.
Does one berate an ink stone
Or scold the paper
Because one cannot drive nails
With calligraphy brushes?
- October 11, 2002

Waka for Twelfth Night
Like pine branches seen
Through robes of new fallen snow
You see my true guise.
Pray keep my secret, O Friend,
That others may be surprised.

Like a dying leaf
Tossed by winter winds' caprice
The wanderer thinks
'O where shall this errant wind
Let my soul alight at last?'
December 18, 2002

Risen yeast is cast
Into the purest waters
Pearls of rice entombed
Ten days in darkness dwelling
Strain jollity for one's cup.
March 7, 2003, in response to an Outlands Bardic e-list challenge to turn a recipe into a poem.

The Difference Between Haiku and Waka
Waka is longer
At thirty-one syllables,
Haiku's seventeen.
Only an anachronist
 Pens Arthurian haiku.
- May 14, 2003, posted to Outlands Bardic when another writer used haiku to form the verses of her King Arthur poem.

Three Words
Spring for your weapon
Against the fearsome ogre!
Fists of cloud brandish
A demon’s flaming trident
As lightning flays the rooftops.  

September 6, 2003, written at the competition for Bard of the Mists. Three words are drawn from a hat and one has fifteen minutes to compose something incorporating them. Saionji-hime looked at the words "spring," "ogre," and "trident," and pushed Jehanne out of the way to write and perform this. 

New babies
Hearts leaping with joy, 
Parents reap fortune's blessing.
Daughters are treasure,
New blossoms in your gardens.
May your children make you smile.
October 12, 2003, seemed like everyone I knew was having girls.

Rockridge BART, 6:17 AM 
Air, dew damp, strikes cheeks
Cold with predawn loitering.
Dark sky frames dark hills.
"Awake" cries nagging seagull.
Sun rises later than she.
October 14, 2003 - Outlands Bardic challenge to write a poem of twelve lines or less including the words "air," "cold," "dark," "awake," and "sun," with extra points allowed for also including "seagull," the favored bird of  Mistress Guernen Cimarguid of the Outlands.

Silver robed garden,
Hushed, save for a servant's tread
and chimes as branches,
Ice clad, raise their cold fingers
To welcome a winter moon.
December 12, 2003, Outlands Bardic challenge on the topic of "snow."

Two for Fujimaki 
Long missed companion,
My heart leapt to see your face
And hear your laughter
As we strolled beneath tall trees
And gazed at the sparkling bay.

So soon our parting,
The wind bears you east once more.
Return to the bay
Like the sun on the water
Before I miss you too much.    
December 14, 2003, inspired by an all too brief visit from a good friend. When one's lord takes a squire and the squire decides on a persona switch, isn't it the lady of the household's duty to take an interest?  It's HIS fault I got interested in medieval Japan in the first place! Come home soon, Fujimaki-dono. We miss you.

Photo by Lisa Joseph

Twelfth Night
Poets of the West,
Your splendid inspiration 
And boundless talent
Do honor to your homeland,
But your friendship honors me.
December 16, 2003

Tanka At Twenty Paces
O owner of silk
Tell me where thou found such stuff
So sleek and golden?
My robes are limp and tattered
As storm battered autumn leaves!

Haiku is too late!
Sixteen Forty-Four is when
Basho came to be.
So you will have to settle
For my humble little verse!
January 23, 2004, these are proof that it is possible to start tanka contests on non-bardic SCA lists. 

She Didn't Get The Point Of The Original Question
Honored friends, these trees
In all their variety
Are called a forest.
Remember, each small seedling
Tints green the springtime hillside.
February 8, 2004

The Lady Doesn't Camp
There's not silk enough
In the Empress'  household
To warm a body
Forced to bed like a bushi*                   
In the wastes of the desert.
February 24, 2004, regarding the Estrella War.

For Elsa

Cherry blossoms vie
With winter's last hoary breath.
Petals and snowflakes
Whirl like dancers as they fall.
I'm cold, may I go home now?
February 28, 2004

Winter's last cold rain 
Clothes the hills in robes of green. 
Overflowing stream 
And cheery, talkative spring 
Race the wind with glints of silver.

March 6, 2004, Outlands Bardic challenge to use the words "rain," "green," "stream," "spring" and "silver."

The Dream (TM) 
Deceptive phantoms,
Play upon a sleeping mind
While honor and worth,
Fleeting as the cherry's bloom,
Should be the aim of the heart.

March 29, 2004.

War Horse
Fire in earthly shape,
Swift as the wind of the gods,
Servant of servants*,                   
(*The word "samurai" means "servant.")
Ever faithful companions
Truer than an arrow's flight.

School Horse
No stone as solid,
No mother as dutiful,
No mountain as high,
No sensei as demanding
Yet forgiving of his charge.
April 1, 2004, Outlands Bardic challenge on the topic of "horses." 

Renga for Mari Alexander
Green hills ring the field
Where honor is decided.
Birds chant their blessings
On springtime's bright arrival
Such a splendid day to come!

Mari takes her place,
Smiling bright as sword steel,
Deadly and joyous.
For Master Brocc she honors.
Such a splendid day to fight!

The first salutes her,
Another armored lady.
Beaucaire's bright blade
Not swift enough to best her.
Such a splendid day to win!

The next approaches,
Proud son of the Silver Hills             
Countess Mari (left) fights Elizabeth Beaucaire. Splendidly. Photo by Joshua Harris. 
Matching blow for blow,

Honing honor with honor,
Such a splendid day to strive!

Her last challenger
She cuts swiftly to his knees.
Bold Geoffrey counters
With deadly effect: she falls.
Such a splendid day to die!

Dark hills ring the field,
Now moonlit and quiescent.
Frogs chant in honor
Of both victors and the fallen.
Such a splendid night to be.
     - April 9, 2004. It is traditional for the Bard of the Mists to ask members of the populace to write poems for each fighter who enters the Coronet  Tourney. Countess Mari is one of the first people I met when I arrived in the West. Renga is a sort of linked tanka form. The repetition in the last line of each link is decidedly non-Japanese, however, I felt it captured the joyous spirit Her Excellency displays in everything she does.)

Warned by a footfall 
Behind the shielding shutters, 
She adjusts her sleeves, 
Displaying what grace she might 
Though he cannot see her face.
April 18, 2004

A makiwara
The lone straw is weak.
 United with her sisters, 
They are all mighty. 
They challenge all who meet them 
To hone skills and leave, bettered.
July 8, 2004 

Waiting in the dark
To hear the faintest footfall - 
But he did not come. 
Sorrow's dew weights silken sleeves. 
A tear for each leaden hour.
July 22, 2004 – Outlands Bardic  challenge upon the topic of “laments.”

Bright as maple leaves
Their banners swirl and flutter,
Tossed upon a storm.
 Scarlet scraps are soonest crushed.
The sky weeps for the fallen.

This person goes not
From the house upon the bay.
Too distant a place.
Travel safely, honored friends,
And return with many tales!
    - August 6, 2004,  these two were written on the sca-jml e-list as part of a thread on the Pennsic War.


She presents her face,
Challenging one's excellence. 
The worthy succeed. 
The unworthy scatter barbs, 
Leaving her courage unmarred.
August 25, 2004, dedicated to the list moderators of the sca-jml e-list. You know who you are and why.


The Dream II
Spring blossoms tumble.
Grasses parch in summer sun. 
Maple leaves decay. 
A life is fleeting enough, 
One may sleep when it's finished.
September 10, 2004

First Rain
Soft footsteps dancing
Upon the shingled rooftop
In the deep of night.
The sleeper wakes, wondering:

Ah, it is only the rain.
September 22, 2004

For Date Saburo Yukiie
Blushing, the maples
Bow and sway in autumn's breeze
Like dancing maidens,
Giddy at the merest thought
That they are so much admired.
September 23, 2004, part of a poetry trade on the sca-jml e-list. Please visit Heian Poetry Jam to see the rest of this sequence.


Mist wraps the mountain
In silks of mourning colors
As for a lost friend.
Even the sun seems muted
At this solitary hour.
September 24, 2004


A silent meeting,
Even in view of people,
Can be delightful.
Wisteria in full bloom
cannot be so delicious.    
**(Date Saburou Yukiie to Saionji)

He passes her by.
She gives no sign she sees him.
Inwardly they smile.
Quiet friends, like two pine trees
Standing in the morning mist.    
September 27, 2004

 A chat with Date Saburou Yukiie
Provocative one,
Fighting the tide so gently,
Living so grandly,
Can those people even know
The things you find attractive?
     **(Date Saburou Yukiie to Saionji)

Ever shifting sand
Fights not the swirling torrents
Of the raging tide.
Sand and tide together dance,
Ever changing yet unmarred.     

Sadly mistaken,
Fenced in behind their cages,
The world is not round.
For all their vim and vigor,
They will not even explore.    

Poor foolish monkey,
Reaching for light in river.
Why is the moon wet?
More foolish yet the poor fool
Who does not think to question.     
                                                        (16th century scroll by Hasugawa Tohaku, Kyoto National Museum) 

Forgive their folly,
Fantasy dreams of borders.
Who can deny them?
Those that pen all of the rules
Will find their candle is snuffed.    

They try to define
Themselves by rules of a game,
While prating of dreams.
What rule can ever define
Whose dream is more "right" than whose?    

On correspondence
The frost drawing near,
Words brushed like quiet whispers,
Exposing one's heart.
Forget they have never met,
Tender souls so far apart.

Mulberry paper
Can but record the feelings
Such writing portends.
The ink cannot try to mark
Emotion that we pretend.

How can it be so?
The brushstrokes of his greeting,
Tracks of birds on snow.
As birds beat against cage bars,
So beats her heart as she reads.     
October 1, 2004, an exchange with Date-dono. The first six pertain to a discussion about prejudice against non-Western personae in the SCA, the last three are simply a comment on how much fun we were having with our correspondence. 

Reading the sutras...
Invoking the names of gods...
One simple pleasure....
Fanning myself and reading
Takes away all of my pain.     *

Kawahori*                    *(Bat)

Paper and cypress
Soaring skyward like the bat
Whose wings they mimic,
Bearing away my worries
With hope of enlightenment.     

The leaves have colors
I do not know the names for.
Would that I could paint
A scene to encircle you
With such vibrancy of life.    

    - October 6, 2004, conversation on the topic of fans.

My rude messenger
Butted in before your verse.
My apologies!
Only a yahoo would be
So heedless of etiquette.     

Yahoo and gaijin*                    (*foreigners)
Are so barbaric in form.
Would that they could see
Yahoo impositions suck.
Have they no love in their hearts?    

Stalwart warrior
Ferocious as a storm sea
Faces foes' fury.
Yet mighty enough in peace
To giggle like a girl child.    
October 6 -7, 2004 - yet another poetry conversation on the subject of fans was in progress on sca-jml (a YahooGroups list) and my post beat one of Date's onto the list. He says my apology made him giggle.

Chained by betrayal,
Her nightly sobs rack the house
Where he first loved her.
Another has taken her place,
But she shadows him always.

Servants shun a spot,
Always cold, in the garden
Where she ended it.
Is that lichen on the stones
Or is it something darker?

He wakes with a start,
Sure a hand caressed his cheek
Yet his bride still sleeps.
Huddling 'neath their mingled robes -
Did a floorboard just protest?
    - October 21, 2004 

The living pass by,
Heedless of autumn shadows
Crowding round to watch.
Wind stripped branches stretch their hands -
In prayer or in warning?
October 26, 2004 

Blood hued shadows hide,
Like a lady's paper fan, 
The moon's mournful face.
Watching us from her high seat
What fearful doings she sees.

October 29, 2004 - These three are part of an Outlands Bardic challenge upon the topic of  Halloween, the last referencing the lunar eclipse of October 27.

Footprints of sea birds
Traced out upon palest sands
Are as my poor words,
Hasty tracks at the mercy
Of the tide's rush, wind - and time.
    - November 5, 2004

How to Write Hokku*                    (*early name for haiku)
Think of nature's
Rhymeless dance and count her steps:
Five, seven, then five.

How to Write Waka
Hokku's grandfather,
Waka witnesses fleeting
Moments of beauty.
In thirty-one syllables
A vast ocean is distilled.

    - November 15, 2004, Outlands Bardic e-list challenge on poetry instructions.

For Xander
Having sown with hope,
Parents reap fortune's future.
Welcome to Xander!
An autumn garden's seedling,
May he prosper, warmed by love.
- November 18, 2004 - for Stephen Alexander, new son of Duke Fabian and Lady Eliska.

As autumn slips away
Sun smiles are pale and briefer,
The bay glowers grey.
Stubbornly a crimson leaf
Clings, lonely, to a bare bough.

    - November 19, 2004

Summer memories wake
As she reads his last message -
Sunlight and laughter.
Happy news! He will come soon,
Laughing at winter shadows.

    - November 20, 2004

For a wise, fearsome, generous, surprisingly attractive and modest daimyo....
Write of the daimyo
Comes the clarion challenge:
Superlatives pale.
Beware! renown is fickle
If one must beat one's own drum.

...not to mention magnanimous
Honorable men
See advice for what it is,
Showing their wisdom.
In a meadow of good will
Only a fool reaps insults.

    - November 26, 2004, for Clan Yama Kaminari's first weekly Poetry Slam: "The subject this week is... the Daimyo of Yama Kaminari- namely, me. If you have *no* idea who the hell I am, then just make your poem about a wise, fearsome, generous, surprisingly attractive and modest daimyo." Sir Ogami Akira proved what an incredibly good sport he is with his reaction to the first waka, thus inspiring the second.

First Snow
No petal is so pale;
No feather floats so lightly;
No star glints so cold.
Coquettish first flakes belie
The harsh blast of a blizzard.
    - December 6, 2004, Clan Yama Kaminari Poetry Slam on the topic of the first snow.

Non Sequitur
Without, chill winds scream,
Winter conquers thoughts of green.
What is a reindeer?
This bleak season is as cheerful
As frost upon a seagull.

    - December 13, 2004 Outlands Bardic e-list challenge using "scream," "green," "reindeer," "cheerful," "seagull." 

Gold eyes like new coins
Study unsuspecting prey,
Tail lashing, she leaps.
Laughing, she clings, dagger clawed,
Wounding my poor kosode!*                   
    -December 24, 2004


Copyright 2005, 2006 Lisa A. Joseph, except ** copyright 2005, 2006 Christopher Wright.

Profile photo of Saionji no Hanae courtesy of Vivien Lee. Photos of Saionji no Hanae at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco were taken by G. Richard Auklandus on September 26, 2004.

Photo of Mari Alexander and Elizabeth Beaucare courtesy of Joshua Harris.

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