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    Leave your worries behind

    Good weekend. It was sunny Saturday (it’s supposed to be the rainy season, remember), so the view from the mountaintop restaurant we went to was fantastic. We’d had lunch at a lakeside cafe not far from the airport. At one very Japanese moment, we were looking out at the (many) dragonflies buzzing around the window. The flightpath to the airport was in the middle distance, and suddenly, a landing airliner glided into view so that it looked the same size as the dragonflies flitting around inches away. They seemed to be playing together for a moment. It was beautiful.

    Sunday we went to the hot spring, stopping at an old aqueduct along the way. Water is released in a big, frothy arc for 15 minutes at noon; along with a lot of other tourists, we were there to take pictures and stuff. From there to the inn, Atsushi decided to follow the GPS map program’s suggested route. Apparently, the suggestions were made by dryads. We found ourselves on a one-lane road snaking over a mountain, with leaves growing in so closely the car touched them on both sides. (They were great for visibility, too. Poor Atsushi took a deep breath before every hairpin turn.) Most of the way there was no shoulder–and I don’t mean they didn’t bother to pave anything beyond the white line; I mean the vertical dropoff began at the white line. At one point, where the forest canopy converged what seemed like inches above the car roof, I said, “I keep expecting to see a witch’s cottage around every bend,” at which point my much-tried man muttered, “No self-respecting witch would be caught dead living back here.”

    The inn was worth it, though. It was new, so there were more man-made materials and obvious machines around than one might have liked for a hot spring, but you can’t get away from that. All the guest huts were named for flowering plants. We unfortunately didn’t get the one called after the flower of Atsushi’s family crest, but ours was on a high point with a great view of the valley and fields (and ubiquitous electrical-line tower–which wasn’t nearly as endearing juxtaposed with nature as the passenger jet had been). We were in one of the baths when the lashing rains and lightning drew near. When I was no longer able to count “1-one thousand” between the flash and the boom, we decided bath time was over for now.

    The drive back into the city was relatively uneventful. There’s a national park with flower gardens at the edge of Oita Prefecture, so we stopped there. It’s lavender season, so the fields were grey with it. It looked like purplish steel in the sun. We had lavender-flavored ice cream at one of the stands before heading back.

    Needless to say, all of this butching it up took a lot out of me. I’m back in Tokyo and headed to the office and may or may not feel up to posting tonight. On the other hand, there was an article about Japan in Atsushi’s latest Time Asia that got my blood boiling–Isn’t July a little early for such a big turkey? I thought while reading it. I may be banging something out about it before bed. Few comments I want to respond to, too.

    For now, I leave you with a summer poem by Princess Shokushi:



    kaerikonu / mukashi wo ima to / omohi ne no / yume no makura ni / nihofu tachibana

    Shokushi Naishinnô

    I float into sleep,
    a past that will come no more
    made now in my thoughts–
    at the pillow of that dream
    the scent of orange blossoms

    The Princess Shokushi

    The fragrance of orange blossoms is said to excite the memory. When the princess awakes, the scent makes her feel the more keenly that some nostalgic memory, which she knows she will never live through again, had actually returned to life in her dream. It’s a little late in the summer for this poem, I think, and it’s not one of those with 500 fascinating allusions you can write a thesis on. Lovely, though.

    Hope everyone else had a wonderful weekend.

    Added on 20 July: I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I inserted that caesura above. Many Japanese waka are, in fact, constructed so that the first three lines (5-7-5 syllables) conjure up a feeling or reaction and the last two lines (7-7 syllables) give the concrete sensory stimulus for it. They can be difficult to translate because putting the caesura in the same place, in order to preserve the dramatic pause of the original as faithfully as possible, gives you less leeway in rendering each of the two parts.

    Princess Shokushi’s poem above is different. It’s one of those that come out in a long rush. The m and n consonants that dominate give the description a heady feel, when the images are actually rather plain. The whole poem is a long prenominal modifier for the final word, 橘 (tachibana: “orange tree,” which refers to a variety of citrus that’s a little different, of course, from those that produce the baseballs you buy with “Sunkist” stamped on them). If you translated it directly and in English word order, you’d get something like this (I’d like to apologize in advance to the Princess’s kami for the act of violence I’m about to commit):

    The orange tree wafts its scent at the pillow of the dream in which I’ve gone to sleep thinking that the past that will not return is now.

    Obviously, this was an occasion for compromise, and I figured that maybe making each line kind of self-contained and billowy would compensate for not being able to reproduce the liquidity of the original. It seemed most important to keep the orange tree at the end, where it supplies the moment of sensual awareness. I’m afraid the result was a little precious, though.

    4 Responses to “Leave your worries behind”

    1. Marzo says:

      As one who on occasion indulges himself in translating poetry (to Spanish), I have appreciated your 7/20 postscript.


    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks, guy. BTW, is it Japanese poetry you translate into Spanish, or just foreign-language poetry in general?

    3. Marzo says:

      I have translated some English and Latin poems. Which is interesting, for both languages are more concise than Spanish and so I almost always must left something out, as I hate adding extra verses… Compromises, compromises!

      I do not always, and almost never promptly, finish what I begin; for instance, Macaulay’s Lay of Horatius (this is a two-in-one for me: an English poem on a Roman subject!) has remained at just 28 stanzas for several months now.

      I don’t speak Japanese, which, as you will doubtless agree, would be a serious handicap for translating Japanese poetry. But your reflections on this waka of Princess Shokushi’s were so engaging that I began to try and translate it, via your two versions.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      During my abortive year in graduate school, I took a seminar on one of the court anthologies with Venerable Professor K. His view was that, in translating waka, you should adhere as closely as possible to the 5-7-5-7-7 pattern because it showed a devotion to at least one of the same strictures that the original poet had followed. He was also, of course, big on preserving caesuras and pivot words if you could. You often can’t without wrenching the whole thing out of alignment, but it’s always seemed a good idea to try and see. When people translate using free verse, they tend to turn the pseudo-Zen-ilator on full-blast, with hideous results. And those who’ve tried to make the things rhyme (usually writing about 100 years ago) end up sounding like freakin’ Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

      BTW, different subject, but: thanks for the frequent links. I’ve occasionally tried to use my high school Latin and French (along with the words I learned from Maria and Luis on Sesame Street 30 years ago) to bluff my way through one of your posts, but even with all the cognates, it never works for very long.

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