Almost Winter

In honor of the Japanese holiday, Marine Day, we present this work by an author considered the soul of modern Japanese poetry.

Katsue Kitasono
Japanese
1902 – 1978

 

winter rain
shines on
slight moss
like on damask

I put on deer
armor
and sit in a
narrow hallway

with the passing days
thoughts are light
bright
and futile

one bitter drop
contained
as in a Chinese bowl
cold and futile there is nothing

there is nothing
I should know by now
also, no books
and no visitors

Hokku Poems in Four Seasons

We present this work in honor of Greenery Day.

Yosa Buson
Japanese
1716 – 1784

 

Spring

The year’s first poem done,
with smug self confidence
a haikai poet.

Longer has become the daytime;
a pheasant is fluttering
down onto the bridge.

Yearning for the Bygones

Lengthening days,
accumulating, and recalling
the days of distant past.

Slowly passing days,
with an echo heard here in a
corner of Kyoto.

The white elbow
of a priest, dozing,
in the dusk of spring.

Into a nobleman,
a fox has changed himself
early evening of spring.

The light on a candle stand
is transferred to another candle
spring twilight.

A short nap,
then awakening
this spring day has darkened.

Who is it for,
this pillow on the floor,
in the twilight of spring?

The big gateway’s heavy doors,
standing in the dusk of spring.

Hazy moonlight —
someone is standing
among the pear trees.

Blossoms on the pear tree,
lighten by the moonlight, and there
a woman is reading a letter.

Springtime rain — almost dark,
and yet today still lingers.

Springtime rain —
a little shell on a small beach,
enough to moisten it.

Springtime rain is falling,
as a child’s rag ball is soaking
wet on the house roof.

Summer

Within the quietness
of a lull in visitors’ absence,
appears the peony flower!

Peony having scattered, two
or three petals lie on one another.

The rain of May —
facing toward the big river, houses,
just two of them.

At a Place Called Kaya in Tanba

A summer river being crossed,
how pleasing,
with sandals in my hands!

The mountain stonecutter’s chisel;
being cooled in the clear water.

Grasses wet in the rain,
just after the festival cart passed by.

To my eyes how delightful
the fan of my beloved is,
in complete white.

A flying cuckoo,
over the Heian capital,
goes diagonally across the city.

Evening breeze —
water is slapping against
the legs of a blue heron.

An old well —
jumping at a mosquito,
the fish’s sound is dark.

Young bamboo trees —
at Hashimoto, the courtesan,
is she still there or not?

After having been fallen,
its image still stands —
the peony flower.

Stepping on the Eastern Slope

Wild roses in bloom —
so like a pathway in,
or toward, my home village.

With sorrow while coming upon the hill
—flowering wild roses.

Summer night ending so soon,
with on the river shallows still remains
the moon in a sliver.

Autumn

It penetrates into me;
stepping on the comb of my gone wife,
in the bedroom.

More than last year,
I now feel solitude;
this autumn twilight.

This being alone may even be a kind of happy
— in the autumn dusk.

Moon in the sky’s top,
clearly passes through this
poor town street.

This feeling of sadness —
a fishing string being blown by the autumn wind.

Winter

Let myself go to bed;
New Year’s Day is only a matter
for tomorrow.

Camphor tree roots are quietly getting wet,
in the winter rainy air.

A handsaw is sounding,
as if from a poor one,
at midnight in this winter.

Old man’s love affair;
in trying to forget it,
a winter rainfall.

In an old pond,
a straw sandal is sinking
— it is sleeting.

Splendor of an Evening Sky

In honor of the Emperor’s Birthday, we present this work by one of modern Japan’s finest poets.

Takeko Kujō
Japanese
1887 – 1928

 

Splendor of an evening sky,
Who can ever fathom its timeless mystery?
Million eyes, when sparkling bright
In the sable sky,
Touch my heart, my lonely heart with serenity.
More than all the countless sands
Ganges river holds
Are the infinite Buddhas who fill this universe,
Ever watchful over us, Throughout day and night.
Hearing this, my lonely heart,
Fills with lasting peace.

This World, or the Man of the Boxes

In honor of the Japanese holiday, Labor Thanksgiving Day, we present this work by one of the nation’s most prolific poets.

Mutsuo Takahashi
Japanese
b. 1937

 

The shade of sooty quince
The bloom of dusty roses
——And beyond that
A fence of metal wire entwined with vines
Of spiderwort or knotgrass perhaps?

There tossed among the plants
Reclining in a weather-worn wooden armchair
Hands folded at his abdomen like a dead man
Who could he be this man who looks as if
He was washed here from some distant world?
This man is a decrepit adolescent a broken angel
Swept here by the ark of dreams a boat in the shape of a box
When was that? Yesterday or a hundred years ago?

The world to which this man really belongs is not here
The world to which this man really belongs
Is far away through the fissures of dream
Guarded by sensible, steadfast parents
This man wearing a starched collar is a clever boy
He has two beautiful younger sisters
And a younger brother with an upright spirit
This family of angels with wings hidden under their fancy dress
Is enveloped in golden happiness
That world of distant memories
Is like a box floating in a galaxy of tears

One morning suddenly that box-shaped boat ran ashore
In the doorway to that timeless world of happiness
When was that? A second or a hundred million years ago?
Dreams are always nightmares interlopers with foul intent
Drawn by death the father was pulled backward
And the rest of the family were dragged quickly away
It was here they disembarked the backyard of a sickly city
Here not even angels could escape human fate
The mother grew ill from anxiety the sisters grew thin
And wrinkles spread across the brother’s spotless soul

In this false world perched atop the scales
This man was the quiet, noble head of the household
Working harder growing old faster than everyone else
But that was not the reality of who he was
His real self is hidden under the disguise of an old man
Strewn across his chair seated like a corpse
He inhales the blue-green seas of his own world of reality
Watches clouds trailing behind airplanes over the sea
And pricks up his ears to overhear the daytime dialogue of the stars

This man suddenly stands from his chair
And slowly descends through the fallen leaves
Underground he finds his own private box-like world
With objects neatly stored in shelves and drawers
Candy boxes pill boxes candle boxes
Cut-outs from old images musical scores lost wooden blocks
Shells brass rings sky blue marbles
Cracked glasses soap bubble sets——
These too are fragments of the real world
Drifted here through the fissures of dream
This man gives himself plenty of time
How long? One week or thirty years?
He chooses the fragments then puts them together
In just the right place in just the right box
While the faint reflection of the golden happiness
Belonging to the real world so far away
Turns into pale afternoon sunlight and falls
Upon his deftly moving fingers

Is this man no longer at his chair in the garden?
Is he no longer at his basement table?
If he is nowhere to be found
This man must never have been here at all
What we thought we saw was nothing more
Than the shadow of his real self
His shadowy eyelashes drawing the bow of vision toward the real world
His shadowy hands caressing the flotsam from the real world
It is not for us to lament his absence
Like little birds we should descend into the garden to bathe as usual
And play on his basement window like light

Then what about these boxes?
The objects captured inside the princesses
The ballerinas the rabbit princes
The parrots the honeybees the butterflies
Does this man lodge inside them
Borrowing the forms of these ephemeral creatures?
Like the garden and basement these boxes are also
Cheap hotel rooms inhabited briefly by this man’s shadow
It swings upon the roost pours some sand
Creates nimble cracks across the panes of glass
And then vanishes
The destination for his shadow is the real world
These wistfully nostalgic boxes before us are
The frames around the well through which
We peer into that world and are drawn in