Book Review: The Ink Dark Moon

The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems 

by Ono no Komachi (Author),‎ Izumi Shikibu (Author),‎ Jane Hirshfield  (Translator),‎ Mariko Aratani (Translator)


240 pages.

Genre: Poetry

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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These translated poems were written by 2 ladies of the Heian court of Japan between the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D. The poems speak intimately of their authors’ sexual longing, fulfillment,  and disillusionment.

My Thoughts:

It will be difficult for me not to give a bit of a biased review because Ono no Komachi is my favorite poet.  I could read her poems over and over as a daily ritual and never tire of them.

With that out of the way, The Ink Dark Moon highlights the poems of two Heian Era Japanese poets, Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu.  Both women were ladies of the Imperial court and are included in the group of Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry. 

The book is beautifully translated into English by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani.  The translators are kind enough to provide us with an introduction that gives us a wonderful glimpse into the culture of the Heian period and the importance that poetry played in their society.

The poems themselves are split into two sections: the first featuring the works of Komachi, followed by the works of Shikibu.  The book concludes with a lengthy appendix, which covers the process of translation, notes to the poems, and selected bibliography.

The poems themselves are quick reads, most written in waka style at just 5 lines long.  The passion found within the words run deep and the connections between nature and the human experience leave the reader stopping after each poem to reflect on the beauty and intensity that these two women experienced as they walked through their life of love, desire, and yearning.

Overall, I cannot even begin to recommend this book enough.  Both women are wonderful poets, though I do lean toward reading Komachi’s poems more. Again, I am biased because she was a favorite before I opened this book.  Shikibu’s poems are equally powerful and mesmerizing, and it’s interesting to compare and contrast the subtle differences in their style and personalities.

Favorite poems:

My longing for you—
too strong to keep within bounds.
At least no one can blame me
when I go to you at night
along the road of dreams.


I thought to pick
the flower of forgetting
for myself,
but I found it
already growing in his heart.


This pine tree by the rock
must have its memories too:
after a thousand years,
see how its branches
lean towards the ground.


Rather than recall
in these flowers
the fragrance of the past,
I would like to hear this nightingale’s voice,
to know if his song is as sweet


and the path you took
coming and going from me
is also gone,
woven closed by spiderwebs and sorrow.

Too painful
that you became smoke—
even the cicada’s
empty, useless shell
lasts on in existence.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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