There is a list of poems. It’s the “100 Poems” (百人一首） hyaku nin isshyu (Literally: 100 Poets, One Poem Each) They were compiled by Fujiwara no Teika who was born in 1162.
They are famous, of course. However, a totally random Japanese person declared to me, “I don’t know anything about those poems!”
Another totally random Japanese person did better. She recited one of the poems to me from memory.
The above book is public domain, so it is available here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/shi/hvj/ A better site is probably http://jti.lib.virginia.edu/japanese/hyakunin/hyakub.html although this site does not contain the wood block prints, furthermore the translations are different.
Anyway, I first learned about the 100 Poems while looking at karuta cards in the bookstore. Apparently it is common to play a karuta game with these poems: A person reads the first half of the poem, the players compete to be the first to find the card with the second half of the same poem.
I have no desire to play the 100 Poem karuta game–it sounds way too lofty for me right now. I am just trying to pass N2. An example of the karuta set is here:
If you were to compile a list of 100 poems for your culture, what would you include? I don’t think I could even begin! It would require a lot of thought. For America, let’s see. Some Emily Dickinson? Edgar Allen Poe? Langston Hughes?
I picked out some of my favorite poems of the Japanese one hundred:
ALAS! the blush upon my cheek,
Conceal it as I may,
Proclaims to all that I’m in love,
Till people smile and say—
‘Where are thy thoughts to-day?’
OUR sleeves, all wet with tears, attest
That you and I agree
That to each other we’ll be true,
Till Pine-tree Hill shall be
Sunk far beneath the sea.
DEATH had no terrors, Life no joys,
Before I met with thee;
But now I fear, however long
My life may chance to be,
’Twill be too short for me!
MY doubt about his constancy
Is difficult to bear;
Tangled this morning are my thoughts,
As is my long black hair.
I wonder—Does he care?