The poem “After the Death of His Wife” by Kakinomoto Hitomaro expresses profound sorrow for the author’s loss of his wife. Throughout the poem, the poet used imagery of despair and regret for a love that has been held back. The poem relates how the poet and his wife were forced to live separately but with the hope that someday they will be together, at least on the part of the poet.
The poet felt despair as soon as he learned about his wife’s passing. In the end, the poet expresses regret about the love that is forever lost.
The loss of wife, or of a husband for this matter, is always a personal one. The sense of personal loss experienced by the poet is magnified as he and his wife are forced to live separately. There is a mystery in their separation. Marriage is usually a relationship from which the partners put on display before the public through the eyes of God and the law. Their story suggests a secret vow made between forbidden lovers.
The husband and wife are unable to see each other constantly, though were granted a few private meetings, because of curious eyes around them. The poet stated that a “deep desire to see her filled my soul,” stressing his desire to be with the one he loved. They had kept their secrets like a “pool sheltered in warm rock” comparing their emotions for each other to a reservoir eager to burst out.
Even with the difficulty of their situation, the poet lived everyday of his life in the hope that he and his wife would see each other again. The hope, however, is accompanied with fear. The poet wrote that he is like a “hopeful sailor trusting on his tall ship”—that is, like a sailor, the poet realizes the dangers of treading the sea but trusts on his ship to carry him safely to his destination.
All hope is gone and the danger came to be realized as soon as he learns of his wife’s departure from life. The poet experienced great sorrow stating his world became a sunless wasteland. The news of his wife’s passing away is likened to clouds that “snuffed out the moon that lit [his] heaven.” The poet was in deep despair that he finds “no word to answer or means to offer solace” and that any word is an “aching pain.”
The poet’s loss is so painful that at first he refuses to accept that his love is already gone. His denial is expressed through the use of autumn’s imagery. He stated that his wife has “faded from [his] days like autumn’s glory,” implying his hope that the news is devastating indeed, but his wife, just like autumn which has ended for the year, will return next season.
He came to Karu, the place where his wife used to live, to search for her but his search is proved to be in vain. He went to Karu listening for his wife’s voice only to “hear the screams of wild fowl flying.” He scanned the faces of those he met but sees no face like hers. It is not surprising that the poet comes to the place where his wife lived in the hope the he would find her there yet again.
Going to Karu is not a thing he could do very often when his wife was still alive, yet he goes there now that he learned that his wife is already gone. The futility of it all only shows how desperate the poet is about the passing of his wife, his denial of the truth that he and his wife would no longer be together.
Regret is also reflected in the poem. Perhaps the poet is thinking that he could have risked being with his wife. That he could no longer be with his wife now that she is gone is a lesson painfully learned. The poet finally accepted the death of his love.
His despair from the personal loss, however, has caused him to have disturbing thoughts. By stating that he “would gladly follow the wandering spirit of [his] love,” poet hinted at committing suicide just to be with his wife—a further evidence of regret.
He, however, decided against it stating that he “cannot tread those unknown mountain trails that lie beyond [his] ken.” Despite the profound sorrow of a personal loss, the poet has finally come to realize the bitter truth—that from then on he could only “think of one day of love that never more shall be.”
Hitomaro, K. “After the Death of His Wife.”