Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

Illustration of Mt. Fuji from a village in Tokaido in "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan" (1911).
Illustration of Mt. Fuji from a village on the Tokaido. Clipped from Isabella L. Bird’s “Unbeaten Tracks in Japan” (1911).

We begin the final week of autumn 2020 – at least here in the Northern hemisphere. Earlier this year, I posted articles to commemorate the final days of spring and summer. Autumn deserves the same good treatment here at The New Leaf Journal. Rather than compose a post commemorating the end of autumn on my own, I will call upon one of the great masters of haiku, the seventeenth century poet Kaga no Chiyo (1703-1775). Kaga no Chiyo’s haikus betray her remarkable aesthetic sensibilities, and one of her pieces on unrequited love with an autumnal motif is perfect for the instant subject matter.

The haiku I am using is drawn from the Kindle edition of “The Classic Tradition of Haiku” An Anthology” by Faubion Bowers, who edited and annotated the collection. Mr. Bowers notably served as Douglas MacArthur’s personal translator during the Allied occupation of Japan. The haiku that I will discuss in this article was translated by Janice Brown, who was a professor of Japanese at the University of Alberta. Because I can neither read nor speak Japanese, I cannot compare Ms. Brown’s translation and Mr. Bowers’s commentary to the original text. I can say, however, that all of the translations in the haiku collection read quite well in English, and Mr. Bowers’s notes on many add valuable context for readers.

Kaga no Chiyo’s on Autumn and Unrequited Love

Kaga no Chiyo used the changing weather in autumn to describe unrequited love in a lovely haiku. Mr. Bowers’s book first reprints the haiku in its original Japanese.

somekanete / kaya yama momiji / kata omoi

Then, Mr. Bowers provided Ms. Brown’s English-language translation of Kaga no Chiyo’s haiku:

No autumn colors tint that side of the mountain:  a one-sided love

In a footnote, Mr. Bowers offered additional context about Kaga no Chiyo’s short poem on unrequited love:

The frost of autumn has not yet tinted the leaves on the sunny, unsheltered side of the mountain. Her description of unrequited love.

Fabian Bowers on Kaga no Chiyo’s haiku

Citation

Bowers, Faubion (Editor). "The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology."
New York:  Dover, 1996.  Kindle.  (Loc. 1137)

Discussion on Kaga no Chiyo’s Autumnal Unrequited Love Haiku

Although I use this poem for the end of autumn, its motif more invokes the beginning of autumn insofar as it refers to the idea of the lower temperatures not yet reaching one side of a mountain. Because the poem uses autumn metaphorically, however, we can be flexible.

This haiku suggests a certain viridity representing the unrequited lover’s love. So long as the unrequited lover’s love remains true, the sun shines brightly on one side of the mountain. The leaves of the lover’s affection remain virid, notwithstanding the frosty reception awaiting them. Whether this is because of the purity of the unrequited lover’s love, or because he or she has not yet given up hope, is perhaps beyond the scope of Kaga no Chiyo’s autumnal snapshot. In the former case, I suppose that it would be possible for the unrequited lover’s love to never be touched by the changing seasons, to be perennially virid. I could not pass up the chance to slip our site slogan in here.

Much ink has been spilled in different fields on the subject unrequited love. Little of the voluminous literature on the subject paints as verdant a scene as Kaga no Chiyo did in 17 syllables in her haiku.

Farewell to Autumn

Unrequited love aside, the autumnal colors are giving way to barren trees here in the Northeast United States. Since much of Kaga no Chiyo’s native Japan has a similar climate, I do not suppose that it is much different in the far East. But while winter prepares its frigid embrace, we need not forget autumn. While the leaves of autumn inclined toward red, golden, and brown, the sentiments of the season, similarly to the other seasons, remain perennially virid.