A Name We Have Known

For ancient Japanese poets, rulebooks aided in the codification of topics—haze always designated spring; moon always meant the fat harvest moon of autumn unless modified by a different season. Place names, too, signified relationships with images or emotions through their codified use, even though the place may differ from an actual sight experienced: on a sunny day at Sayo no Nakayama, the place would still be associated with night and stormy weather.

That’s why poem 382 stands out to me:


The speaker is specifically addressing the disconnect between the symbolic meaning of the place (Returning Mountain, presumably where you would greet friends upon their return home) and the conflicting emotions felt. Rather than feeling ecstatic at greeting someone long-gone, the speaker is already lamenting their next goodbyes. The departure is tied into the arrival, as Joseph Campbell would say: every creation myth contains an apocalypse, because there can be no beginning without an end.

Each season, of course, has recurring images linked with its progression. In spring, there is still snow, then young herbs, then the geese migrate back, then plum and cherry blossoms appear on the trees… Shortly after the wisteria and mountain rose bloom, spring is ending and regrets for the season grow.


Mount Kurabu (location unknown) is associated with darkness through a phonetic similarity (dark = kurai according to google translate). In this poem, the mountain is still obscuring the path, but with color, not darkness.

There are many places in the US that you can say the name of and evoke an image: Seattle is rain; Rte. 66, freedom; Mt. Rainier, ice; Florida, the beach; Sturgis, bikers; Area 51, aliens… even though it’s entirely possible that you wouldn’t feel or see of any of those things in those places.

1 Comment

  • Ericka Taylor says:

    It’d be interesting to see how many place names in the US that were created to be representative still hold the same association in the present day.
    Also, it may be possible to go to Area 51 without seeing aliens, but I bet no one can go there without feeling them.

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