Tying a rice cake / Held with one hand / Oh, the strands of my hair
粽結ふ 片手にはさむ 額髪
Chimakiyufu katate ni hasamu hitaigami
The Tale of Genji
We have all played this game – summarize a complicated story in a few words. Perhaps, one of Matsuo Basho’s disciples issued the challenge for the 11th century masterpiece, The Tale of Genji.
Matsuo Basho’s word picture portrays a woman, no doubt she is lovely, wrapping and knotting (結) a chimaki (粽 a sweet and savory rice cake) with a bamboo leaf. With one hand she ties it with a string while with the other hand she brushes a strand of her hair behind her ear.
Thus, Basho explains the Tale of Genji, a work that recounts the love of the Emperor Kiritsubo for a low-ranking concubine, Kiritsubo no Koi (Consort), and the tale of their son, Hikaru Genji, “Shining Genji” who is demoted to the status of commoner.
Notes on translation
粽 Chimaki, or Zongzi, a rice dumpling wrapped in palm leaves. In Japan this is traditionally prepared on Children’s Day, thus, for Basho, it describes Kiritsubo Consort’s love for her son Hikaru Genji.
結 yui, tie, to fasten, hold, a knot
片手 katate, one hand
む mu, used for inflection
額髪 hitaigami, the hair on the forehead, bangs