Saturday, December 12, 2015

Translations of an insignificant Japanese poet

For those of you who have been reading my haiku, I must now reveal that they are not my own works, but translations of Japanese originals. Six of these English translations have now been re-translated into Chinese by Zhou Decheng, and published in the Chinese-language Poetry Monthly. The story of my English translations is as follows:

In February 2011, when I moved into my Upper West Side apartment, not far from 80 Riverside Drive, where Yone Noguchi boarded for a time, I found a sheaf of haiku in the bedroom closet, almost as if it had been left for me. To my surprise, the poet made numerous references to people and places that I knew from living in New York City. I was thus compelled to translate the poems from the Japanese. As I worked on these exhilarating, enigmatic pieces, I found myself searching out the street corner, the tree, and even the bird that had so enraptured our poet. In this manner I traced the route taken through Central Park—entering at 86th Street on the west side, then running south of the reservoir, or else strolling north of the Great Lawn by the Arthur Ross pinetum, and finally exiting on the east side at either 84th or 85th Street. Slowly but surely I was beginning to live the life glimpsed through these haiku. I now walk in the poet’s footsteps every day to where I teach school. The manuscript was untitled, so I have given it a title by quoting one of the poet’s haiku. He or she signed off as “an insignificant Japanese poet."

Below are the six haiku (in English translation) that appeared in Poetry Monthly. Thank you, Zhou Decheng, for re-translating the English into Chinese. Any takers for translating the English or Chinese translations into another language? I hope the haiku will eventually find their way home back into Japanese.


Last cherry blossoms
the tentative steps
of old women


A tiny leaf drops
into my cup of tea
and then another


The wind is rising
the shadow of the pine
holds its ground


In the fall evening
green flies glint
like mica in granite


In the snow
a stone sits on its shadow
a courtier on his robe


The snow unscrolls
for the ancient seals
of children’s shoes

1 comment:

Ms. said...

How miraculous that find in the closet and how very beautiful these six poems.