PRAIRIEFORM

Everyday excursions in the urban landscape

Weeds in eighth-century Japan

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An excerpt from the Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves, an the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, and which contains a poem that talks about weeds
Excerpt from Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves, courtesy of Alive in Tokyo

Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves is the oldest known anthology of Japanese poetry in existence. It was compiled in the middle of the eighth century and contains some unexpectedly relevant glimpses into the lives of ordinary and not-so-ordinary Japanese people, who are living and going about their lives in so much of the same ways that we do now. Given our recent work with Vacant Lands, we could not help but notice and be drawn to one poem in particular, a dialogue poem that makes clear mention of weeds and their real existence in the writer’s life. Beyond the mention of weeds, it is a dear and lovely poem to boot.

It reads as follows:

Had I foreknown my sweet lord’s coming,
My garden, now so rank with wild weeds,
I had strewn it with pearls!

What use to me a house strewn with pearls?
The cottage hidden in wild weeds
Is enough, if I am with you.

From Keene, Donald ed. Anthology of Japanese Literature. New York: Grove Press, 1955.

John Kamp

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