Farewell to a Friend

Taken near the Komaba campus of the University of Tokyo. Photo by H. McGaughey

Tokyo, Japan Reading a academic article today, I came across this poem by Retired Emperor Go-toba written when his loyal courtier Fujiwara no Ietaka was about to leave the island where Go-toba was exiled.

われこそは新島守よ隠岐の海の 荒き波風心して吹け

Ware koso wa niijimamori yo Oki no umi no araki namikaze kokoro shite fuke

You wind and waves of the open sea, know I am the new guardian of this island and take care when you roar.

Thereafter, the storm subsided, and Ietaka left safely.

(“Oki” can be read as the open sea and also as the name of the islands where Go-toba was exiled.)

Sure, this poem can be interpreted as spoken by a still power hungry ex-ruler, but even then it’s more of a lament of power lost than a proclamation of power, considering his situation in exile.

What I really like about this poem, though, is the simultaneously strong and soft image it brings forth. A man facing the awesome power of the wind and waves hopes his friend will be able to return home safely. One might even say that he laments the limitations on the ability of all humans to protect their friends and those they love.

Working alone in my room on another sweltering hot day like this, I dream of the weather in this poem.