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he opening lines of the Heike monogatari

The Heike is a war tale from the 13th century, recording the fights between the Taira (or Heike) and Minamoto (or Genji) klans. The first 8 lines of the novel is actually a poem, not waka, but quite similar to Western poetry, therefore it is almost always included into the curriculum of any course on Japanese literature.

First, the English translation (P.G.O'Neill):

The knell of the bells at the Gion temple
Echoes the impermanence of all things.
The colour of the flowers on its double-trunked tree
Reveals the truth that to flourish is to fall.
He who is proud is not so for long,
Like a passing dream on a night in spring.
He who is brave is finally destroyed,
To be no more than dust before the wind.
You can see an image of the handwritten poem from an old manuscript by clicking here

祇園精舎の鐘の聲、
諸行無常の響あり。
娑羅雙樹の花の色、
盛者必衰のことわりをあらはす。
おごれる人も久しからず、
唯春の夜の夢のごとし。
たけき者も遂にほろびぬ、
偏に風の前の塵に同じ。
Gion shouja no kane no koe
shogyou mujou no hibiki ari.
Shara souju no hana no iro
jousha hissui no kotowari o arawasu.
Ogoreru hito mo hisashikarazu,
Tada haru no yo no yume no gotoshi.
Takeki mono mo tsui ni horobinu.
Hitoe ni kaze no mae no chiri ni onaji.
gion shouja: The Gion (or Jetavana) monastery in Central India. It was erected by a rich layman, called Anathapindika, after he met Buddha. The ruins still can be seen, and Jetavana Grove is a common destination of pilgrimage in India.

shogyoumujou: a Buddhist phrase, meaning the impermanence of thing.

shara souju: "the double trunked sala tree" - this tree is said to have two trunks growing out in each of the four directions. Allegedly Buddha was lying under a sala tree at his death, when he entered Nirvana.

jousha hissui: an idiom meaning "the prosperous must decline".

kotowari: is "refusal" in modern Japanese, but it has another meaning, much less used: it also means "reason, meaning".

hisashikarazu: is a little complicated. It comes from the adjective hisashii: long (in time). The zu suffix means negative: "not long". However, the zu suffix cannot be added directly to the mizenkei stem, as for verbs, but only to the so-called "kari" form: hisashikara.

gotoshi after a noun or phrase means "it is like..."

takeki is the rentaikei form of takeshi, an archaic adjecive meaning "brave".

horobiru means "to be ruined", the nu suffix indicates that the action is completed.


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