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I read a wonderful book this week, The Ink Dark Moon. 

This text brings together the poetry of Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu (as translated by Jane Hirschfield with Mariko Aratani), two matriarchs of Japanese poetry who lived and wrote during the Heian period. This week, I'm sharing four of my favorite poems from Komachi, but Shikibu will come next. 

These poems, written more than a thousand years ago, are remarkable for their beauty and their emotional clarity. Reading in translation is an act of trust. The original writing is not so much copied as remade by the translator. In that sense, these poems have more than one author, and their lucidity to a modern reader is at least in part a reflection of Hirschfield and Aratani's skillful translation. Still, the resonance between nature and human emotion, the poignancy of loss, longing and desire—these themes cut through time. As Hirschfield and Aratani observe in the introduction, "We turn to these poems not to discover the past but to experience the present more deeply."

4 Poems
By Ono no Komachi
Translated by Jane Hirschfield with Mariko Aratani

 

Although there is
not one moment
without longing,
still, how strange
this autumn twilight is.


Those gifts you left
have become my enemies:
without them
there might have been
a moment's forgetting.


Since this body
was forgotten
by the one who promised to come,
my only thought is wondering
whether it even exists. 


In this world
the living grow fewer,
the dead increase—
how much longer must I
carry this body of grief?


These poems were written more than a thousand years ago by Ono no Komachi (ca. 850). I read them in The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan, translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani (Vintage Classics, 1990).

The Postscript

Read on for an especially interesting passage from the book's introduction about how poetry was woven into daily life as a mode of processing experience.

"What is extraordinary about the place of poetry in Heian Japan is that this conception of its fundamental importance was not confined to a select few known as "writers" but shared by all members of the court society, for whom every personal or ceremonial experience, whether public or private, called for not only the composing of a verse but also the recollection of earlier poems which might add their resonance to the moment.The first opening of the spring blossoms, the death of a child, a glimpse of the moon, an official ritual, even the return of a forgotten fan—none was complete without an accompanying poem."
The Postpostscript
 
This is a GIF from the movie Spirited Away. Cute little balls of soot with large eyes and spindly arms and legs bump into each other holding pastel colored stars.
Happy Halloween!
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Sonia Feldman · 2529 Detroit Ave · Cleveland, OH 44113 · USA

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