Friday, October 03, 2014

Ah, we must dance, dance like children

Here he is again! It is a male; one can just see the red end on the streak under his chin--
females don't have red there. I love the fierce evenly-round yellow ring of his eye! 
And those claws must be quite useful. He's a messy eater--see the suet crumbs on his beak? 
I am thankful for the chance I have here to see the creatures of the earth and air!
It has been raining all day. And raining and raining. And raining.

Two nights ago, I posted a short poem in two translations by Miyazawa Kenji, (1896-1933) Japanese modernist poet, agricultural scientist, vegetarian and devout Buddhist, whose life was cut short by that common plague, tuberculosis. Tonight's poem is longer. It draws on his work as he tried to help his compatriots grow better rice, or any rice at all. He came from the Iwate region where crops were uncertain. There had been famines there approximately every 16 years, whenever the ocean current that warms that section of Honshu is disrupted. To the end of his life, he prepared crop plans without charge for those who asked for his help. His knowledge of improved agricultural practices is apparent in this poem, as is his deep understanding of the natural qualities of his region.


from the south, and from the southwest,
the breeze comes filling the valley,
dries my shirt soaked with sweat,
cools my hot forehead and eyelids.
Stirring the field of rice stalks that have risen,
shaking the dark raindrops from each blade,
the breeze comes filling the valley.
As a result of all kinds of hardship,
the July rice, bifurcating,
foretold a fruitful autumn,
but by mid-August
twelve red daybreaks
and six days of ninety percent humidity
made the stalks weak and long,
and though they put on ears and flowers
the fierce rain yesterday
felled them one after another.
Here, in the driving sheets of rain,
a fog, cold as if mourning,
covered the fallen rice.
Having suffered all of the bad conditions,
few of which we thought we'd have,
they showed the worse result we expected,
but then,
when we thought all the odds were against their rising,
because of the slight differences in seedling preparation
and in the use of superphosphate
all the stalks are up today.
And I had expected this,
and to tell you of this early recovery
I looked for you,
but you avoided me.
The rain grew harder
until it flooded the ground.
There was no sign of clearing.
Finally, like a crazy man
I ran out in the rain,
telephoned the weather bureau,
went from village to village, asking for you,
until, hoarse,
in the terrible lightning,
I went home late at night.
But in the end I did not sleep.
And, look,
this morning, the east, the golden rose, opens,
the clouds, the beacons, rise one after another,
the high-voltage wires roar,
the stagnant fog runs in the distance.
The rice stalks have risen at last.
They are living things,
precision machines.
All stand erect.
At their tips, which waited patiently in the rain,
tiny white flowers glisten
and above the amber puddles reflecting the sun
red dragonflies glide.
Ah, we must dance, dance like children,
and that's not enough.
If they fall again,
they will decidedly rise again.
If, as they have,
they can stand humidity like this,
every village is certain to get
five bushels a quarter acre.
From the horizon buried beneath a forest,
from the row of dead volcanoes shining blue,
the wind comes across the rice paddies,
makes the chestnut leaves glitter.
Now, the fresh evaporation,
the transparent movement of sap.
Ah, in the middle of this plain,
in the middle of these rice paddies rustling as powerfully 
as if they were reeds,
we must dance, clapping our hands, like the innocent gods of
the past,
and that is not enough.

Miyazawa Kenji; Selections, trans. by Hiroaki Sato, Univ. of California Press, 2007 
The things I would like to study in this poem as translated are the varying line lengths, the unashamed rejoicing, the specificity of weathers, the knowledge of the agronomy and natural history of the region and the unashamed rejoicing.

Between storms, just before dark tonight, a glimpse of blue sky!

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