伊呂波 (いろは, iroha) – The Perfect Poem

Do you know 伊呂波 (いろは, iroha)?


It is a Japanese poem written in the Heian era (AD 794–1179). The first record of its existence dates from 1079. It is famous because it is a perfect pangram – sentence using every letter of the alphabet -, and in the same time an isogram – sentence written without repeating a letter -, containing each character of the Japanese syllabary exactly once. Because of this, it is also used as an ordering for the syllabary, in much the same way that the A, B, C, D… sequence traces its origin back to the Phoenician alphabet and its Semitic predecessors.

And here it is!

いろはにほへと
ちりぬるを
わかよたれそ
つねならむ
うゐのおくやま
けふこえて
あさきゆめみし
ゑひもせす

i ro ha ni ho he to

chi ri nu ru wo
wa ka yo ta re so
tsu ne na ra mu
u wi no o ku ya ma
ke fu ko e te
a sa ki yu me mi shi
we hi mo se su

And writing with kanji…


色は匂へど

散りぬるを
我が世誰ぞ
常ならむ
有為の奥山
今日越えて
浅き夢見じ
酔ひもせず

Please have a closer look at the 5th and 8th lines. Yes! There are two strange characters! ゐ (wi) and ゑ (we) are no longer used and might be substituted respectively by い (i) and え (e). Also, ん (n) is not present, as it was later introduced.


An English translation by Professor Ryuichi Abe reads as:

Although its scent still lingers on

the form of a flower has scattered away
For whom will the glory

of this world remain unchanged?
Arriving today at the yonder side

of the deep mountains of evanescent existence
We shall never allow ourselves to drift away

intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.

Also, there is still another very interesting fact!

As I have introduced to you HERE, the musical notes names in Japanese are:

Musical Notes
English A B C D E F G
Japanese イ (i) ロ (ro) ハ (ha) ニ (ni) ホ (ho) ヘ (he) ト (to)

YES! The first characters of the poem! Isn’t it just fascinating? ^O^

Iroha is also used in numbering the classes of train car for Japanese National Railways (now known as JR). I is first class, Ro is second class and Ha is third class.

I just love this kind of things! 😀

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