Oriori no Uta : Poems for All Seasons

In the river fireflies
I seem to see my soul,
suffused with sadness,
gone forth in longing
from my body


Izumi Shikibu

Goshūishū, Miscellaneous 6. The prefatory note says that Shikibu composed this poem while watching the fireflies fly over Mitarashi River during a retreat at Kibune Shrine in Kurama, after her lover had forsaken her. It was believed that the body and the soul were originally separate, and that the soul split off at times of great sadness, as here, akugare, “in longing.” Sunk in grief, even the flickering light of the fireflies in the darkness looks like her own soul strayed from her body. The poem's inspiration may have been fear, but the tone is wonderfully strong, almost voluptuous. The god of the shrine is said to have replied: “Do not grieve so long/ that your soul becomes like/ the spray flying off from / the foaming rapids/ as they cascade through remote moutains.” (okuyama ni/ tagirite otsuru / takitsuse no/ tama chiru bakari/ mono na omohi so).


和泉式部(いずみ しきぶ)