Watching Rain – Brief poems by Ono no Komachi

Ono no Komachi drawn by Kikuchi Yōsai (1781 – 1878)

Ono no Komachi (小野 小町, c. 825 – c. 900) was a Japanese waka (now known as tanka) poet. Very little is known of her life other than a broad date of birth and that she was active in the mid-9th century. Despite extensive research attempting to discover her place of birth, her family and her life, she remains a mystery and a legend. Some believe that she was a lady-of-the-bedchamber in the service of Emperor Ninmyō, others believe that she was a low-ranking consort of the emperor. She had romantic entanglements with various men and these poetic exchanges are preserved in the Kokin Wakashū,  a collection of “Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times”, an early anthology of the waka poetry dating from the Heian period. Her poetry is so well regarded that she is listed among the Rokkasen (Japanese Poetry Immortals), as well as in the introduction to the Kokin Wakashū, which contains her only surviving works. She is also one of the Sanjūrokkasen (the Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry) and the Nyōbōsanjūrokkasen (Thirty-six Immortal Lady Poets).

She was famous for her beauty and passion; she likely served at the court of Emperor Ninmyo, and her poems were a success in her own lifetime. The legends that have developed about her life have eclipsed the historical Ono no Komachi. One such legend is that concerning her harsh treatment of her admirer Fukakusa no Shosho, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi warned her suitor that he would have to visit her every night for 100 nights before she would submit to his charms. Fukakusa set about his task with determination and turned up each evening at Komachi’s house in all weathers. Tragically, though, the strain proved too much and Fukakusa died on the 99th night. Further legends tell of an aged Komachi living to be one hundred, forced to wander in ragged clothes, her beauty faded and her appearance so wretched that she was mocked by all around her, as punishment for her earlier mistreatment of her lovers. Another legend concerns her dying in poverty, her skull lying in a field; when the wind blows through the skull’s eye socket the sound evokes Komachi’s anguish. The true facts may never be known. 

The poetry, however, continues to endure. She is, arguably, the earliest and best example of a passionate woman poet in the Japanese canon commencing a tradition continued by Izumi Shikibu in a later age and Yosano Akiko in the modern one. Those poems, usually sad, deal with such subjects as lost love, unrequited love, loneliness, and the passing of time symbolised by changes in nature, especially fading blossoms and the changing colour of leaves in autumn. In his book, Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century, translator, critic and literary historian Donald Keene said that The intensity of emotion expressed in Komachi’s poetry not only was without precedent but would rarely be encountered in later years. The poetry of the Kokinshu was usually pitched in a lower key, and the ingenious use of language was a mark not of overpowering emotion but of a kind of intellectuality. Komachi’s poetry, however extravagant in expression, always seems sincere. 

The poetess Ono-no Komachi in the rain by Utagawa Toyokuni II.

TRANSLATORS

Helen Craig McCullough (1918 –1998) was an American academic, translator and Japanologist, best known for her 1988 translation of The Tale of the Heike. Her translations are included in Kokin Wakashū: The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry (1985)

Donald  Keene (1922 –2019) was an American-born Japanese scholar, historian, teacher, writer and translator of Japanese literature. While staying at Cambridge, after winning a fellowship for Americans to study in England, Keene went to meet Arthur Waley, one of whose translations is included below, who was best known for his translation work in classical Chinese and Japanese literature. For Keene, Waley’s translation of Chinese and Japanese literature was inspiring, even arousing in Keene the thought of becoming a second Waley. He discusses the poetry of Ono no Komachi in his book, Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century (see above).

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) often regarded, much to his disdain, as one of the central Beat poets was also a prolific reader of Chinese  and Japanese literature. Some of the translations below are from his collection One Hundred Poems from the Japanese. Oddly there are two translations of one poem: a translation he did with his collaborator, Ikuko Atsumi, and one credited only to himself. I prefer the latter. More of his Japanese translations are available on the Kenneth Rexroth post on this blog.

Jane Hirshfield is an American poet, essayist, and translator who has received lay ordination in Soto Zen at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her poetry reflects her immersion in a wide range of poetic traditions, both Asian and Western. She has edited and co-translated, with Mariko Aratani, a collection of the work of the two foremost women poets of classical-era Japan: The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990). Through these, and other translations, she was instrumental in bringing tanka  to the attention of American poets.

Michael R. Burch is an American, poet, columnist, essayist, and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He also edits The HyperTexts  a literary website which has been online for two decades and currently gets around 1.5 million page views per year. On this site he includes translated poetry from Old English and numerous other languages into modern English. One page on his site is devoted to the poetry of Ono no Komachi where he offers numerous translations of her brief poems. More of what he calls “loose translations” of Ono no Komachi are available on the Michael R. Burch post on this blog.

Brief Poems by Ono no Komachi

花の色はうつりにけりないたづらにわが身世にふるながめせしまに

Hana no iro wa
utsurinikeri na
itazura ni
wa ga mi yo ni furu
nagame seshi ma ni

Alas! The beauty
of the flowers has faded
and come to nothing,
while I have watched the rain,
lost in melancholy thought.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough

***

The flowers withered
Their colour faded away,
While meaninglessly
I spent my days in brooding,
And the long rains were falling.

Translated by Donald Keene

***

While watching
the long rains falling on this world
my heart, too, fades
with the unseen color
of the spring flowers.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

Without changing color
in the emptiness
of this world of ours,
the heart of man
fades like a flower.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and  Ikuko Atsumi 

***

Watching the long, dismal rains
inundating the earth,
my heart too is washed out, bleeds off
with the colors of the late spring flowers.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

Aki no yo mo
na nomi narikeri
au to ieba
koto zo to mo naku
akenuru mono o

Autumn nights, it seems,
are long by repute alone:
scarcely had we met
when morning’s first light appeared,
leaving everything unsaid.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough

***

The autumn night
is long only in name—
We’ve done no more
than gaze at each other
and it’s already dawn.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

Autumn nights are “long”
only in verse and song:
for we had just begun
to gaze into each other’s eyes
when dawn immolated the skies!

Translated by Michael R. Burch

Hito ni wan
Tsuki no naki ni wa
Omoiokite
Mune hashiribi ni
Kokoro yakeori

This night of no moon
there is no way to meet him.
I rise in longing:
My breast pounds, a leaping flame,
my heart is consumed by fire.

Translated by Donald Keene

***

On such a night as this
When no moon lights your way to me,
I wake, my passion blazing,
My breast a fire raging, exploding flame
While within me my heart chars.

Translated by Earl Miner

***

You do not come
On this moonless night.
I wake wanting you.
My breasts heave and blaze.
My heart burns up.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth 

***

He does not come.
Tonight in the dark of the moon
I wake wanting him.
My breasts heave and blaze.
My heart chars.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and  Ikuko Atsumi 

***

When I cannot see him
In the dark of a moonless night,
Fire rises in me—
Leaping in my burning breast,
Charring my heart with its flames.

Translated by Steven Carter

***

Nights when the moon hides
All hope of seeing you leaves me
Desire lies smoldering
Within my breast flames burn wild
Fire scorching my sleepless heart

Translated by Charles Cabell

***

On nights such as these
when no moon lights your way to me,
I lie awake, my passion blazing,
my breast an inferno wildly raging,
while my heart chars within me.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

わびぬれば身をうき草の根をたえて誘ふ水あらば去なむとぞ思

Wabinureba
mi o ukikusa no
ne o taete
sasou mizu araba
inamu to zo omou

In this forlorn state
I find life dreary indeed:
if a stream beckoned,
I would gladly cut my roots
and float away like duckweed.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough

***

So lonely am I
My body is a floating weed
Severed at the roots.
Were there water to entice me,
I would follow it, I think.

Translated by Donald Keene

***

This body
grown fragile, floating,
a reed cut from its roots . . .
If a stream would ask me
to follow, I’d go, I think.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

Wretched water-weed that I am,
severed from all roots:
if rapids should entice me to annihilation,
why not welcome their lethal shoots?

Translated by Michael R. Burch

色見えでうつろふ物は世中の人の心の花にぞ有りける

Iro miede
Utsurou momo wa
Yo no naka no
Hito no kokoro no
Hana ni zo arikeru

The flowers and my love
Passed away under the rain,
While I idly looked upon them
Where is my yester-love?

Translated by Yone Noguchi

***

A thing which fades
With no outward sign—
Is the flower
Of the heart of man
In this world!

Translated by Arthur Waley

***

How invisibly
it changes color
in this world,
the flower
of the human heart.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

Imperceptible
It withers in the world,
This flower-like human heart.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

***

Two things wilt without warning,
bleeding away their colors:
a flower and a man’s heart.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

思ひつつぬればや人の見えつらむ夢としりせばさめざらましを

Omoitsutsu
Nureba ya hito no
Meitsuramu
Yume to shiriseba
Samezaramashi wo

Thinking about him
I slept, only to have him
Appear before me—
Had I known it was a dream
I should never have wakened.

Translated by Donald Keene

***

Was it then because
I fell asleep with yearning thoughts
That he appeared to me?
Had I known it was a dream
I never would have awakened.

Translated by Edwin A. Cranston

***

Was it that I went to sleep
Thinking of him,
That he came in my dreams?
Had I known it a dream
I should not have wakened.

Translated by Geoffrey Bownas

***

I fell asleep thinking of him,
And he came to me.
If I had known it was only a dream
I would have never awakened

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

***

Did he appear
because I fell asleep
thinking of him?
If only I’d known I was dreaming,
I’d never have wakened.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

I nodded off thinking about you
only to have your appear in my dreams.
Had I known that I slept,
I’d have never awakened!

Translated by Michael R. Burch

いとせめてこひしき時はむばたまの夜の衣をかへしてぞきる

Ito semete
Koishiki toki wa
Mubatama no
Yoru no koromo o
Kaeshite zo kiru

When longing for him
Tortures me beyond endurance,
I reverse my robe —
Garb of night, black as leopard-flower berries —
And wear it inside out.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough

***

When love presses me
Relentless in the glistening night
I take off my robe,
Then lie down to sleep again,
Wearing it inside out.

Translated by Edwin A. Cranston

***

When my desire
grows too fierce
I wear my bed clothes
inside out,
dark as the night’s rough husk.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

***

I feel desire so intensely
in the lily-seed darkness
that tonight I’ll turn my robe inside-out
before donning it.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

LINKS

The Ono no Komachi page on the Waka Poetry site with links to poems in original Japanese.

Ono no Komachi: Modern English Translations by Michael R. Burch.

Japanese and English quotations from the poetry of Ono no Komachi.

Jane Hirshfield discusses the poetry of Ono no Komachi.

An e-text of her poems (in Japanese).

Ono no Komachi and the Standard of Japanese Female Beauty.

Ono no Komachi: A Waka Poet Renowned for her Beauty.

Burning in the Fires of Longing: The Kokinshu Poetry of Ono no Komachi, an essay and translations by Charles Cabell.

Summoning the Spirit: Poems of Komachi

The Wikipedia page on Ono no Komachi.

Wild Geese – Brief Poems by Takaha Shugyo

Takaha Shugyo (鷹羽狩行) was born in the mountainous Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, on October 5th 1930. Due to the work of his father, he spent his youth in Onomichi (Inland Sea). He began writing haiku when he was 15 years old, studying with Yamaguchi Seishi and Akimoto Fujio. He received the Minister of Education’s Young Poets Award in 1965 for his haiku collection Birth and in 1975, the Mainichi Newspaper Art Award for Wing Lights and Thirteenth Day Moon. He is founder and leader of the haiku magazine KARI (Hunting) established in 1978. In 1979 he resigned from the company for which he had been working since graduating from university and now heads a group called Kari and earns his living as a selector and commentator. Since then he has devoted himself to haiku, providing guidance in the composition of haiku for the Kari Haiku Society’s thousands of members as well as publishing a monthly magazine, also called Kari. To this day he is the President of the Haijin Kyokai (the Association of Haiku Poets), which is the largest association of haiku poets in Japan and has some 14,000 members. Takaha Shugyo has consistently played a central role in the world of contemporary Japanese haiku and at the same time has been an enthusiastic exponent of the art of composing haiku overseas. He is also an executive director of HIA, a haiku judge for the Mainichi newspaper and NHK television’s national haiku contest, a director of the Japan Writers’ Association, and has won many awards for his haiku.

As a professional haiku poet, he has been known to judge some 30,000 haiku each month. That works out at  about 1,000 haiku per day, just the ones he’s judging, mostly for publication. He has even written a poem about this amazing achievement:

the chirping of tree crickets—
after having judged
a thousand verses in one day

He received many prices for his numerous haiku collections and has also written many educational texts about haiku. As one of his translators, Hoshino Tsunehiko has noted, Takaha Shugyo has consistently played a central role in the world of contemporary Japanese haikuand may be said to be one of the busiest and most productive professional haiku poets active in Japan today.

HAIKU CONVENTIONS

Takaha Shugyo preserves the convention of the 5/7/5 sound symbol pattern and, also, the use of a season-word. He places great importance on tradition and on classical haiku while also adding a contemporary touch to his own compositions. This is evident in one of his best-known poems, the first in the series below which is accompanied by four different translations. This was written in 1969, he explains, on a visit to New York, while looking down from the Empire State Building. During a month-long business trip to America in 1969, I wrote one hundred and seventeen haiku. I looked down on Central Park’s verdure (336 hectares) from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. Expressing it just as a miniature garden would be trite like a cheap picture postcard. From this height it looked like the parsley served on a dish in Western cuisine. I felt that this expression could convey my feeling. With the advance of internationalization, this verse was regarded as a groundbreaking example of haiku composed overseas by Japanese haikuists, but many people criticized it for that reason.

Hoshino Tsunehiko explains that the “contemporary note” that Takaha adds to his poems is an “intellectual lyricism” and a skill for “composing haiku overseas”.  He further remarks that this latter tendency “has provided us with many works which can serve as guides or models as to how to adapt season-words—poetic terms which were originally born from Japan’s climate, geography and culture—to the different seasons and climes of foreign countries.

Brief Poems by Takaha Shugyo

摩天楼より新緑がパセリほど

matenrō yori shinryoku ga paseri hodo

from the skyscraper
the fresh greenery of the trees—
just like parsley

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

From a skyscraper,
nothing but so much parsley—
springtime’s new greens

translation by Jack Stamm

___

from a skyscraper 
fresh green trees 
look like parsley

translation by Michael Dylan Welch and Emiko Miyashita

___

Seen from the skyscraper
the trees’ fresh greenery:
spring parsley

translation by Michael R. Burch

 

落椿われならば急流へ落つ

ochitsubaki ware naraba kyūryū e otsu

fallen camellias—
if I were one,
I’d throw myself into the torrent

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

if I were a fallen camellia
I would fall
into a rapid stream

Translation by Fay Aoyagi

___

Oh, fallen camellias,
if I were you,
I’d leap into the torrent!

translation by Michael R. Burch

 

スケートの濡れ刃たづさへ人妻よ

sukēto no nureba tazusae hitozuma yo

O, somebody’s wife!
carrying ice skates
with wet blades

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

***

ハート型彫られて一樹はや芽吹く

hātogata horarete ichiju haya mebuku

one tree,
a heart carved on its trunk,
buds early

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

A single tree,
a heart carved into its trunk,
blossoms prematurely …

translation by Michael R. Burch

 

美しき五月の汗を拭はずに

utsukushiki gogatsu no ase o nuguwazu ni

sweat in May—
too beautiful
to wipe it off

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

***

 秋暑し籠のひしめく小鳥市

aki atsushi kago no hishimeku kotoriichi

autumn heat—
the cages jostle
at the bird market

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

***

馬小屋の一頭で満ちクリスマス

umagoya no ittō de michi kurisumasu

one horse fills
the nativity stable—
Christmas

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

 

kurumi waru kurumi no naka ni tsukawanu heya

cracking open a walnut —
inside the shell,
one unused room

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

Inside the cracked shell
of a walnut:
one empty room

translation by Michael R. Burch

***

道化服ぬがずてんたう虫の死よ

dōkefuku nugazu tentōmushi no shi yo

still wearing
its clown’s costume,
the ladybird has died

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

Still clad in its clown’s costume—
the dead ladybird.

translation by Michael R. Burch

 

雁渡るらし燭の火の揺れつづけ

kari wataru rashi shoku no hi no yuretsuzuke

geese seem to be flying south—
the candle’s flame
continues to flicker

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

Are the geese flying south?
The candle continues to flicker …

translation by Michael R. Burch

***

kari sugishi ato zenten o miseitari

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven
revealed

translation by Michael R. Burch

___

Wild geese pass
Revealing
The whole of heaven

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

 

 

LINKS

A brief profile and five poems on the Haiku International Association website.

Arriving Geese: Learning from Shugyō Takaha

The Takaha Shugyo page on the Introducing Haiku Poets and Topics site.

Translations by Michael R. Burch of poems by Takaha Shugyo are included on the Haiku: the Best of the Masters page on the HyperTexts site.

The image used on this page is a woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige, Full Moon at Takanawa.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Michael R. Burch in providing original Japanese poems and his translations for this post.

Pearls – Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Michael R. Burch  (born February 19, 1958) is an American computer company executive, poet, columnist, essayist and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the originator and editor  of  The HyperTexts www.thehypertexts.com a literary website which has been online for two decades and, according to Google Analytics, has received more than eight million page views since 2010. He has also been very active in the poetry movements known as New Formalism and Neo-Romanticism. He is an editor and publisher of Holocaust, Hiroshima, Trail of Tears, Darfur and Nakba poetry. He has translated poetry from Old English and other languages into modern English. Poets he has translated include Basho, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Burns, William Dunbar, Allama Iqbal, Ono no Komachi, Takaha Shugyo, Miklos Radnoti, Rainer Maria Rilke, Renee Vivien and Sappho. His work has appeared in such publications as Light Quarterly, The Lyric, The Chariton Review, The Chimaera, Able Muse, Lucid Rhythms, Writer’s Digest—The Year’s Best Writing, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, The Best of the Eclectic Muse and Iambs & Trochees.

Michael Burch is also a peace activist, the author of the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative, a proposal for peace through justice in Israel and Palestine. He was one of the featured speakers at a Freedom Walk for Palestinians held on October 10, 2009 in Nashville.

 

 

PEARLS – BRIEF POEMS BY MICHAEL R.BURCH

Pearls are small, hard, durable and, at times, valuable, like the brief poems of Michael R. Burch. His epigrams show a mastery of concision, balance, brevity and wit. He can use rhyme deftly and humorously, even in a title such as “Nun Fun Undone”. Adding rhyme to the haiku form, which he sometimes employs, may antagonise the purists; but it works. He is not afraid of emotional honesty as in the brief poem below for his wife, Beth. In a post on The Hypertexts site  he amusingly recounts how he was banned for life from the Eratosphere site  for such honesty.

He has also translated a wide variety of short poems. While he calls these “loose translations” they do not deviate far from more exact translators. His versions of Sappho, for example, appeal to me more than the, perhaps, more accurate but, also, more austere versions of Anne Carson. As he explains in a note on the Athenian Epitaphs, “These are epitaphs (a form of epigram) translated from inscriptions on ancient Greek tombstones. I use the term ‘after’ in my translations because these are loose translations rather than ultra-literal translations.”  He has translated widely from the Japanese and has introduced me to the ninth century Japanese poetry of  Ono no Komachi who wrote tanka (also known as waka).

 

Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child

―for the children of Gaza

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

***

Piercing the Shell

If we strip away all the accoutrements of war,
perhaps we’ll discover what the heart is for.

***

Autumn Conundrum

It’s not that every leaf must finally fall,
it’s just that we can never catch them all.

***

Love

Love is either wholly folly,
or fully holy.

***

Sex Hex

Love’s full of cute paradoxes
(and highly acute poxes).

***

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.

***

Nun Fun Undone

Abbesses’
recesses
are not for excesses!

***

don’t forget …

don’t forget to remember
that Space is curved
(like your Heart)
and that even Light is bent
by your Gravity.

***

Saving Graces

for the Religious Right

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter …
(wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.)

***

Love has the value
of gold, if it’s true;
if not, of rue.

***

A snake in the grass
lies, hissing
“Trespass!”

***

Dark-bosomed clouds
pregnant with heavy thunder …
the water breaks

***

Late autumn; now all
the golden leaves turn black underfoot:
soot

***

Honeysuckle
blesses my knuckle
with affectionate dew

***

Dry leaf flung awry:
bright butterfly,
goodbye!

***

bachelorhoodwinked

u
are
charming
& disarming,
but mostly alarming
since all my resolve
dissolved!

***

Duet, Minor Key

Without the drama of cymbals
or the fanfare and snares of drums,
I present my case
stripped of its fine veneer:
behold, thy instrument.

Play, for the night is long.

***

Midnight Stairclimber

Procreation
is at first great sweaty recreation,
then—long, long after the sex dies—
the source of endless exercise.

***

Warming Her Pearls

for Beth

Warming her pearls, her breasts
gleam like constellations.
Her belly is a bit rotund . . .
she might have stepped out of a Rubens.

***

Feathered Fiends

Conformists of a feather
flock together.

(Winner of the National Poetry Month Couplet Competition)

***

The Poem of Poems

This is my Poem of Poems, for you.
Every word ineluctably true:
I love you.

 

EPIGRAMS ABOUT WRITING EPIGRAMS

Brief Fling I

“Epigram”
means cram,
then scram!

***

Brief Fling II

To write an epigram, cram.
If you lack wit, scram!

***

Brief Fling III

No one gives a damn about my epigram?
And yet they’ll spend billions on Boy George and Wham!
Do they have any idea just how hard I cram?

***

Nod to the Master

If every witty thing that’s said were true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!

***

The Whole of Wit

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.

***

Fleet Tweet I: Apologies to Shakespeare

A tweet
by any other name
would be as fleet.

***

Fleet Tweet II: Further Apologies to Shakespeare

Remember, doggonit,
heroic verse crowns the Shakespearean sonnet!
So if you intend to write a couplet,
please do it on the doublet!

***

Ars Brevis, Proofreading Longa

Poets may labor from sun to sun,
but their editor’s work is never done.

 

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF SAPPHO

fragment 11

You ignite and inflame me …
You melt me.

***

fragment 22

That enticing girl’s clinging dresses
leave me trembling, overcome by happiness,
as once, when I saw the Goddess in my prayers
eclipsing Cyprus.

***

fragment 42

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.

***

fragment 52

The moon has long since set;
the Pleiades are gone;
now half the night is spent,
yet here I lie—alone.

***

fragment 58

Pain
drains
me
to
the
last
drop
.

***

 fragment 155

A short revealing frock?
It’s just my luck
your lips were made to mock!

***

More of his translations of Sappho are available on the Sappho page on this briefpoems blog and on the Sappho page of The Hypertexts.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF ATHENIAN EPITAPHS

after Plato

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.

***

after Glaucus

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.

***

after Simonides

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.

***

after Leonidas of Tarentum

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.

***

after Diotimus

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”

***

More of his translations of these ancient Greek epitaphs  are available on the Athenian Epitaphs page of The Hypertexts.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF PABLO NERUDA

You can crop all the flowers but you cannot detain spring.

***

While nothing can save us from death,
still love can redeem each breath.

***

As if you were on fire from within,
the moon whitens your skin.

***

Please understand that when I wake up weeping
it’s because I dreamed I was a lost child again,
searching leave-heaps for your hands in the darkness.

***

I am no longer in love with her, that’s certain,
but perhaps I love her still.
Love is so short, forgetting so long!

***

More of his translations of Pablo Neruda are available on the Pablo Neruda page on this briefpoems blog and on the Pablo Neruda page of The Hypertexts.

 

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF ONO NO KOMACHI

As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
and consolation.

***

Submit to you —
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?

***

I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.

***

Though I visit him
continually in my dreams,
the sum of all such ethereal trysts
is still less than one actual, solid glimpse.

***

Sad,
the end that awaits me —
to think that before autumn yields
I’ll be a pale mist
shrouding these rice fields.

***

More of his translations of these tanka are available on the Ono no Komachi page of The Hypertexts.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF MATSUO BASHO

The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid

***

An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water

***

The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low

***

The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw

***

This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)

***

The cicada’s cry
contains no hint to foretell
how soon it must die.

***

High-altitude rose petals
falling
falling
falling:
the melody of a waterfall.

***

More of his translations of Matsuo Basho are available on the Basho page of The Hypertexts.

 

LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF SELECTED HAIKU AND TANKA

After the French of Patrick Blanche

One apple, alone
in the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter

***

After the Japanese of Hisajo Sugita

This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain

***

After the Japanese of Issa

Petals I amass
with such tenderness
prick me to the quick.

***

After the Japanese of Chiyo-ni

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?

***

After the Japanese of Yosa Buson

White plum blossoms –
though the hour is late,
a glimpse of dawn

(this is believed to be Buson’s death poem; he is said to have died before dawn)

***

After the Japanese of Kajiwara Hashin

No sky,
no land:
just snow eternally falling …

***

After the Japanese of Hashimoto Takako

The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.

***

after  the Japanese of Takaha Shugyo

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven
revealed

***

Our life here on earth:
to what shall we compare it?
It is not like a rowboat
departing at daybreak,
leaving no trace of us in its wake?

More of his translations of Takaha Shugyo are available on the Takaha Shugyo page on this briefpoems blog.

***

More of his translations of haiku are available on the Haiku:Best of the Masters page of The Hypertexts.

All poems © Michael R. Burch. Reprinted by permission of the author.

 

LINKS

The HyperTexts site curated by Michael R. Burch.

An interview with Judy Jones and selected poems.

A recent (January 2017) interview with Michael R. Burch

An interview on Poet’s Corner.

18 poems by Michael R. Burch on the PoemHunter site.

A larger selection of poems on the Michael R. Burch site.