Heian-era Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu lived in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. She married twice and was the lover of both Prince Tametaka and Prince Atsumichi, Tametaka’s brother. Her poems and correspondence, part of a tradition of court love poetry, frequently combine erotic and romantic longing with Buddhist contemplation. In Love Poems from the Japanese (2003), poet and translator Kenneth Rexroth noted of Shikibu, “Of all the poets of the classical period, she has, to my mind, the deepest and most poignant Buddhist sensibility.”

Rexroth included his translations of Shikibu’s poetry in 100 Poems from the Japanese (1955), and her work is also featured in The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Onono Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani (1990).

Shikibu’s most well-known work, a diary or “pillow book” that charted her five-year romance with Prince Atsumichi, has been published in several translations, including Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan, translated by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi (1920) and The Izumi Shikibu Diary: A Romance of the Heian Court, translated by Edwin A. Cranston (1969).

Shikibu is memorialized at Seishin-in Temple in central Kyoto.

Poems by Izumi Shikibu
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