Monday, September 09, 2013

Sunlight caught in a web

This little web was shining in the middle of the dark woods near Sturgeon Bay. Each of us is spinning a little web somewhere, and things might come out well for the spider, or for us, but nothing is certain.

A few days ago, Amazon suggested the book String of Beads; complete poems of Princess Shikishi; trnaslated by Hiroaki Sato; University of Hawaii Press, 1993, to me on the basis of other books I have bought. Since I have the greatest respect for Professor Sato, and I really don't know much about tanka (except that many of my friends are very enthusiastic about it---for instance Mariko Kitakubo will soon give her 100th tanka reading in Paris wearing a stunning kimono, I am sure,---how fabulouly elegant is that? I bought the book and it came this morning. The translated tanka are also given in Romaji (so we can get a sense of the sound) and printed as one-line poems, but the Japanese characters are not included.

These tanka are limpid and beautiful. It is possible, of course, to get tired of that convention about crying into your sleeves, but I can overlook that in this case. Here is probably her most well-known poem:

String of beads, if you must break, break; if you last longer, my endurance is sure to weaken. (page 13)

There are three sets of one hundred tanka, arranged by topic, beginning with the seasons. All of her other known tanka are included in the final section. It is really wonderful to think how long people have been reading and reciting these poems, many of which have been included in the various imperial anthologies of Japanese poems, since her death date in the year 1201. Really, 1201!!!

Here are some of my other favorites:

Did I think I'd grow used to living it in, in Fushimi at dusk, in pine winds, this hut  (p. 49)

Grass pillow: over the dewdrops lodged fleetingly lightning at dusk gleams intermittent (p. 61)

The voices of insects and the deer by the fence, as one, disturb me to tears this autumn dusk  (p. 61)

A dew-soaked field was affecting enough I thought, but insects visit me this autumn dusk (p. 62)

The strategies the translator has used sometimes result in English that sounds just a little strange, or foreign. I find these very interesting instead of infelicitous. I think there is something be be learned by bringing this sort of strangeness sometimes into our own work. I chose the above examples because they touched me and not for these ideas. But is do find, for instance, "at dusk, in pine winds, this hut" to be a very interesting model. I also find "intermittently" to be a cumbersome word and rather like the effect of shortening it here.

You might think about writing some tanka, short poems --in one line as here, or arranged in 5 lines and containing no more than 31 syllables.

Syllabics! Now that's a topic for another evening!!! Good night!

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