Acrostic Poems: Lyricism of Kokinshu

『古今集(古今和歌集)』和歌「からころも きつつなれにし つましあれば はるばるきぬる たびをしぞおもふ」英語訳

One of the features of the Kokinshu anthology is its well-crafted style, whose overuse was criticized later in history. Here is one of the techniques: Acrostic poems. You can read particular letters of each line that spell a word. Kokinshu is predominantly written in Kana, which made this technique possible. When Ariwara no Narihira finds Kakitsubata (a rabbit-ear iris) on the roadside and decides to sing while wriggling puns and the subject acrostically.


らころも つつなれにし ましあれば るばるきぬる びをしぞおもふ (在原業平)
karakoromo kitutunarenishi tsumashi areba harubaru kinueu tabiwosizo omou

In the course of this tour
Ragged and worn-out is this robe
Intimate acquaintance I made
Sunk into my mind and heart


I incorporated Japanese acrostic technique in translating this poem into English. Read downwards, and you can find the first letter of each line spell “iris”. Even more, you can find some words related to each other (koromo: a robe, ki: to wear, naru: worn-out) and homonyms (tsuma: a hem/a woman, ki: to wear/to come). All of these became possible after the invention of Kana character. The underlying principle is to express the feelings through the medium of what you see and hear. Here he intentionally uses particular intermediary words to express the long way he labored while hinting his relationship with a woman.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *