Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

ONO NO KOMACHI
(ca. 830/835-899)

Japan
Waka Poet and Rokkasen

Ono no Komachi's status as one of Japan's most highly regarded poetic geniuses represents a singular accomplishment. A remarkable woman, Ono no Komachi was intensely passionate and devout, as well as being an immensely gifted poet. Her surviving poems have secured her a permanent place in the history of women, and her legendary life has provided inspiration for numerous works of outstanding literary achievement.

Ono no Komachi's father is presumed to have been the governor of Dewa Province. If, as is reported, her father was Ono no Yoshizane, then Komachi may have inherited her poetic aptitude from her paternal grandfather, Ono no Takamura ( 802-852), a distinguished poet versed in both Chinese and Japanese letters. Scholarly consensus about the details of Komachi's life is limited. Supposedly born in Dewa, as a member of the Ono clan, Komachi is said to have been connected in some manner with the imperial court in Heiankyō (modern-day Kyōto), during which time she engaged in a number of intimate relationships with men. Her specific role at the imperial court is uncertain, although she may have been a lady-in-waiting. Komachi also had an older sister, who probably spent time at the imperial court along with Komachi. A poem that appears in a later royal anthology, one attributed to "Komachi's grandchild," suggests that Komachi had at least one child.

What else is known about Ono no Komachi has necessarily been reconstructed from the circumstances surrounding her literary output and from the content of her poems. Approximate dates for her birth (ca. 830-835), for the time she spent at the imperial court (ca. 850- 869), and for her death (ca. 899) have been derived from her poems. The poems Komachi is known to have exchanged with men about whom some historical information still exists have been especially helpful to scholars in reconstructing the details of her life.

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