The Shape of Love and Loss: Izumi Shikibu’s “Gojusshu waka” (五十首和歌, Fifty-Poem Sequence)


  • Roselee Bundy Prof Emerita, Kalamazoo college



This paper will examine the lesser known poetry of Izumi Shikibu (b. 976?). As a poet, she had an interest in composing (or at times assembling) sets of poems in novel formats, and through a number of them, summoning up an image of herself as a solitary woman, bereft of the care of family or a lover.   This paper proposes to examine two of these sequences of novel format: “Jūdai jusshu” (Ten Poems on Ten Topics) and “Gojusshu waka ” (Fifty-Poem Sequence).“Jūdai jusshu,” a less ambitious forerunner of “Gojusshu waka,” presents in ten poems on ten self-assigned topics the feelings of a woman dwelling alone without a lover, who fashions an image of herself within the poetic narrative of love, in particular that of the “waiting woman.” 

I will argue that these two sequences show the integration of two forms of poetic production: the composition of novel formats of poems that became popular from the mid-tenth into the eleventh century and women’s tenarai, the solitary composition or copying of verses to express or explore their feelings, especially in times of emotional distress.  

Author Biography

Roselee Bundy, Prof Emerita, Kalamazoo college

Professor Emerita, East Asian Studies, Kalamazoo College.