Iroha uta

Posted in Poetry, Writing by netscheri on August 4, 2007

(Moved from the ‘Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto‘ post)

As flowers are brilliant but inevitably fall,
who could remain constant in our world?
Today let us transcend the high mountain of transience,
and there will be no more shallow dreaming, no more drunkenness.

This very well may be a detail that results due to the wording used in the translation, but for the purposes of analysis, I shall [momentarily] treat the translation as if it was an original. While the last two lines seem very much Buddhist-spiritual, I am intrigued by the possible meanings of the first two lines –

As flowers are brilliant but inevitably fall,
who could remain constant in our world?

While it is most likely pointing to the transitory nature of life in this world, the word ‘constant’ suggests that it is also referring to the nature of corruption. ‘Brilliant’ and ‘flowers’ – a flower, brilliant in colour, the paragon of beauty, that will inevitably fall. The highest in our world, the most brilliant, like the flowers, are the ones that are most likely, that will inevitably fall. And since even the highest, the worthiest, are not immune to corruption and loss, what hope do the lower, the more ordinary have, of remaining ‘constant’? ‘Our world’ is emphasized, lamenting the state of our present world and perhaps hoping for a better one that exists either in thought or the afterlife. Cynical yes, dramatic yes, accurate, maybe-maybe not.


After combing through the internet, I now present to you various translations of the iroha uta:

Though fragrant are the colors,
Yet shall the flowers scatter.
Who in our world
Could forever endure?
Over the mountain of transcendence
Let us today cross,
And there will be no more shallow dreams,
No more drunken illusions.

Although its scent still lingers on
the form of a flower has scattered away
For whom will the glory
of this world remain unchanged?
Arriving today at the yonder side
of the deep mountains of evanescent existence
We shall never allow ourselves to drift away
intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.

Bright indeed the flowers may be,
but surely not for long
In this life, who indeed, will not
someday be gone?
Passing beyond the furthest peak in
the Province of Shifting Streams
No longer will I drunken speak;
nor gaze at shallow dreams.

The fragranced hue shall wilt,
As you and I shall not always be.
Crossing the mount of illusions on this day,
In soberness do dreams fleet.




Credit for the translations is due to these sites: Classical Japanese Database, Shinzen.org and this blog here.


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