High Priest Jien’s “My black sleeves, a cold shoulder” (Hyakunin Isshu #95)

Classic Ukiyo-e Woodprint


Translation

Former High Priest Jien (1155-1225)
Receiving not
The people of this floating world
A burden I carry…
Cut off from former times
My black sleeves, a cold shoulder.
Original Japanese
Pronunciation
前大僧正慈円
Saki no Daisojo Jien
おほけなく
Ookenaku
うき世の民に
Ukiyo no tami ni
おほふかな
Oou kana
わがたつそまに
Waga tatsu soma ni
墨染の袖
Sumizome no sode
Literal Notes
         
Receive/catch not
[floating/merry/gossip/rumor/scandal/bad-reputation/rainy-season] [world/society/age] ’s [citizen/people/nation] to
[Chase/cover/hide/conceal/bear/drive/expel/carry-on-back] how!/alas!
[Me/I/harmony/peace] [stand/build/pass/elapse/sever/cut-off/abstain] [while/during/sparse-time/former-times]
Black-ink dye/color/stain/print ’s sleeve/give-someone-cold-shoulder
“Ukiyo” is a “floating world” or the merry, pleasure seeking urban life, but also has the connotation of being empty, seeking pleasures in a fleeting and transient life. Here, “uki” is written in the hiragana alphabet rather than in the kanji graphic character, leaving it open to other meanings, including scandal, bad reputation, and rainy season.
“Black sleeves” denotes the black garb of priests. He is referring to turning away from the meaningless, pleasure-seeking world of society and his former life and going on a more spiritual path.

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