Ariwara no Motokata’s “Spring has begun” (Kokinshu #1)

Composed on the first day of spring, which came within the old year.

Translation

By Ariwara no Motokata

Spring has begun
Within the year—
It’s all one year, but
Shall we call it “last year”
Or “this year?”
Japanese
Pronunciation
在原元方
Ariwara no Motokata
としのうちに
Toshi no uchi ni
春はきにけり
Haru wa kinikeri
ひととせを
Hitotose wo
こぞとやいはむ
Kozo to ya iwan
ことしとやいはむ
Kotoshi to ya iwan
Literal Notes
Year ’s within [i.e., before the year is over]
Spring come has
One year
Last year called not?
This year called not?
The lunar New Year typically began in February or March; thus spring marked the beginning of the new year. This poem puns on that fact and notes that the first sign of spring came early. It is still in the present year, but spring is in the new year, so is it better to call the current year “last year” instead?

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