Presence

I recently came across this poem in the Kokin Wakashu, a collection of poetry from the turn of the 10th century.  It was written by Ki no Tsurayuki, whom I’ve mentioned in a previous post about empathy.

世の中はかくこそ有りけれ吹く風の 目に見ぬ人もこひしかりけり

yo no naka wa kaku koso arikere fuku kaze no
me ni minu hito mo koishikarikeri

in this world some things are lacking and yet present like the blowing wind    yearning for an invisible person

(Please forgive the roughness of my translation.  In the Japanese, the wind is not personified by yearning.  The use of the auxiliary verb -keri in this poem indicates exclamatory recognition or discovery.)

This poem caught my attention for the depth of possible interpretations.  At first, since it is classified with the love (or romantic) poems in the Kokin Wakashu, it is easy to imagine the poet sending this in a message to his distant lover, who is waiting for him in the capital, while he is tending to an official post in the distant provinces.  Or perhaps it is for someone he is not able or allowed to see for one reason or another.

The fascinating question is, therefore, why can’t the poet see the object of his love?  Although it may very possibly be because of spacial distance, differences in class, or court politics, it might very well be that this “invisible person” is very literally not visible – not to anyone, anywhere.

And yet, despite being invisible, this person is present to the poet.  One interpretation would then be, the “invisible person” is someone who has passed away.  Only memories of this person remain.  The memories exist, while the person remains invisible.

Another interpretation might be that the “invisible person” is someone who never existed.  Perhaps it is a person only present in the poet’s mind.  The poet wishes the “invisible person,” perhaps a person who fully understands him, were alive nearby, but also expresses that such a person has no actual physical presence.  Like the wind.