Ono no Komachi

Ono no Komachi (c. 825 – c. 900) was a Japanese waka poet, one of the Rokkasen—the Six best Waka poets of the early Heian period. She was renowned for her unusual beauty, and Komachi is today a synonym for feminine beauty in Japan. She also counts among the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals.

As a poet, Komachi specialized in erotic love themes, expressed in complex poems. Most of her waka are about anxiety, solitude or passionate love. She is the only female poet referred to in the preface of the Kokin Wakashū, which describes her style as “containing naivety in old style but also delicacy”.

Legends abound of Komachi in love. The most well known is a story about her relationship with Fukakusa no Shosho, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi promised that if he visited her continuously for a hundred nights, then she would become his lover. Fukakusa no Shosho visited her every night, but failed once towards the end. Despairing, he fell ill and subsequently died. When Komachi learned of his death she was overcome with grief.

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The autumn night
is long only in name—
We’ve done no more
than gaze at each other
and it’s already dawn

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This inn
on the road to Iwanoue
is a cold place to sleep…
Oh monk,
would you please lend me your robes?

The monk’s reply:

Those who have given up the world
wear only a single layer
 of moss-rough cloth,
 yet not to offer it would be heartless.
 Let us sleep together, then.