Poetry in the throes of death: 7th century Japan

Poetry in the throes of death: 7th century Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Prince Ōtsu (663-686) knew his fate after being condemned to death. Hence, his death poem survives the passages of time, unlike others before him.

Ōtsu knew that pain awaited and one can only imagine his inner-feelings. Deeming himself innocent of all intrigues then such confusion and fear are natural.

The recent death of his father Emperor Tenmu (686) entails that sorrow was already in his heart. Thus knowing his consort Princess Yamanobe would be endangered then hatred, fear, and sadness engulfed him.

Ōtsu died within weeks after the death of his father. This was based on charges of treason.

He was young in years and had one son. Yet the convulsions of the death of his father meant tragedy would follow tragedy. Therefore, the beauty of life turned into the shallowness of humanity.

He wrote:

Today, taking my last sight of the mallards
Crying on the pond of Iware,
Must I vanish into the clouds!

His final moments of foreboding was great. After all, never seeing his son again – nor knowing if his family would survive – brought great sorrow. Hence, his final hours on this earth were based on enormous torment and sorrow.

Sadly, his consort killed herself immediately after Ōtsu was taken from this cold earth. Therefore, one can only imagine the tormented souls of Ōtsu and his consort in their final seconds of life.


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