Writing Japanese Poetry in English, was Titles of Address;
- --- In email@example.com, Maria <tace@m...> wrote:
> Trying to use such forms as makura-katoba are difficult in Englishthat
> because it comes over as trite and cliched. Our tradition is such
> we are not supposed to use a previously coined phrase from anotherpoetry. So
> poet. Yet it was expected and admired in classical Japanese
> how do we adapt that into English?[Grin] I occasionally contribute some of these on the Outlands Bardic
list in response to weekly challenges on given themes. A couple of
weeks ago, the challenge was to write a lament. I gave them this:
Waiting in the dark
To hear the faintest footfall -
But he did not come.
Sorrow's dew weights silken sleeves,
A tear for each leaden hour.
The wet sleeves image got "Wows" from my readers. THEY didn't think
it was a cliche because they didn't know it was one. English readers
may not recognize allusions or quotations from Japanese classics. I
think that the appreciation a Japanese would have of a makura-katoba
may be akin to an SCA audience appreciating a filk. "Ah, that's
familiar so it's funny!" Or sad or whatever.
As a non-Japanese speaker limited to reading translated works, I am
aware that there are nuances I am missing because there are
linguistic cues I am by necessity divorced from. (It bugs the hell
out of me, but I don't have the time or resources to try to learn to
read Japanese. So I stick to the syllable count as it is what gives a
non-rhymed, non-metric poem its structure. It's also an exercise in
discipline. I concentrate on trying to distill a thought or image
within said structure. If I can effectively use an image or allusion
to give the poem a Japanese flavor that a Western reader can "get"
without a four paragraph preface on context, I figure I've
> We are all students here, and we are all learning.Here here.
Makiwara, eternal student
- Maria wrote:
>Oh, no... I like the website. It has useful material. It just has some dangerous
> Sorry you didn't like the website, Hiraizumi-dono. I mainly posted it
> because of the paragraph that explained what a makura-kotoba was (since
> people might not understand the term, and I lack the vocabulary to
> explain it properly).
eccentricities that can really mess people up if they don't know what they're
doing or looking at.
> However, I guess my point was trying to adapt the concept ofOne of the great problems with makurakotoba and utamakura is that they require
> makura-kotoba into English, and whether it could be done without
> sounding stupid or trite (or plagiaristic) our language. It's less
> about translation from Japanese and more about composition in English.
> I apologize if I wasn't clear.
an innate understanding of the literature and the culture on the part of the
reader -- otherwise it's like an in joke that falls flat. And reading short
poetry with subtitles can really be annoying. :)
Ultimately, makurakotoba and utamakura are cliches, or puns, or both; and while
we tend to deride cliches and such in English, they were the lifeblood of
Japanese poetry. It's a tough haul. :)
Here's a bit I translated for vol. 3 of "The Story of Japan" by Hiraizumi
Kiyoshi, on the birth of Emperor Meiji (note the footnote on the poem):
"Sakura Azumao, who had been praying fervently for an easy birth, was overcome
and wept tears of joy, and wrote the following poem:
'When I think deeply
of the prince
of the heir to the goddess
on this day of shining sun,
my tears flow.'
(FOOTNOTE: The poem includes a pun:
'Amaterasu hi tsugi no miko no mikoto zo to
fukaku omoeba namida shi nagaru.'
Amaterasu is the name of the sun goddess, the ancestral deity of the imperial
line, and here it can also mean 'shining sky.' Likewise, as the kanji 'nichi/hi'
(sun) is the first element in the name of Japan (nichi + hon = nihon), the
"Hitsugi" can either be 'the heir of the sun' or 'the heir of Japan.')"
All that kind of stuff is normally picked up on by the reader of Japanese
poetry. We have to explain it. Makes life difficult. :)
Anthony J. Bryant
Effingham's Heraldic Avatars (...and stuff):
Grand Cross, Order of the Laurel:
- Greetings, friends all.
I have a question! Was there a demon in japanese
mythology similar to the sirens? One that lured in
it's victims (not necessarily sailors) with song? Any
information is helpful, especially a name.
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