The emotions that leap from these fragments of verse are startling in their modernity. But they were written 1200 years ago in eighth-century Japan.

They are in From the Morning of the World, poems from the Manyoshu, the first anthology of poetry in Japanese, translated by Graeme Wilson (Harvill, 1991).

         WINTER WAITING

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Is he back? Is he back? I asked them:

No-one seemed to know.

~

I ran outside to look for him

As fast as I could go,

Into an empty courtyard

And the sibilance of snow.

~

Anonymous (eighth century)

            DEAR LADY

You seem, dear lady, to have been

Living in Eternity.

~

Where but in that Timeless Land,

Could you thus have grown to be

More young than when, long years ago,

Last you deign to dazzle me?

~

Otomo no Miyori (died 774)

         BAMBOO FENCE

The fence, I said, may need repair:

New bindings, fresh bamboo.

I’ll just go down and check, I said,

What one may need to do.

~

That’s what I said. I went, of course,

In hope of seeing you.

Otomo no Yakamochi (718-785)

         FRINGED PINKS

That I might not forget her

This lonely autumntide,

The fringed pinks which she planted

In the beds on either side

Of the stone-paved walk are all in bloom

As though she had not died.

Otomo no Yakamochi (718-785)