Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Kokinshu #365

Wednesday, 20 February 2013 07:03
lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)
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    Though I now depart,
should I indeed hear you pine,
    waiting like pines that grow
on Inaba's mountain peaks,
I shall return home at once.

—23 November 2009, rev. 17 February 2013.

Original by Ariwara no Yukihira. Previously posted as Hyakunin Isshu #16, but since revised. On to Book VIII, poems of parting. In Chinese tradition, this genre is all about close male friends saying farewell, especially on the occasion of one departing for an official post. The Kokinshu includes those sorts of poems but expand the genre to include lovers parting plus diversify the tone -- and signal this right off the bat. Scholars have long assumed Yukihira wrote this written in 855 when he was appointed governor of Inaba Province (the eastern half of modern Tottori Prefecture), making this traditional in subject, but rather than imitating the often lachrymose productions of Chinese models, he went for playful wit by using two pivot-words: the old standard matsu meaning "pine tree" / "to wait" (here worked in more naturally than, say, #162) and inaba meaning the province / an auxillary verb meaning "if (I) go" (in translation hidden within "depart"). Given the tradition, which Yukihira was quite familiar with as he was better known in his day for his poetry in Chinese, this was more likely a farewell to a friend than a flirtation with a court lady, but it's possible to read it either way. The second pivot is most readily understood as an implicit comparison, but given even pine trees don't actually pine for anyone, I ended up triple-translating it to bring out the pun. In the original, it's "if" rather than "though," but the sense is strongly implied by the construction. (Note, btw, the peak echoes the last poem of the previous book -- more evidence the editors intended us to read the collection as a whole.)

inaba no yama no
mine ni ôru
matsu to shi kikaba
ima kaerikomu



Warning: contents contain line-breaks.

As language practice, I was translating classical Japanese poetry -- most recently, book 11 (love part 1) of the Kokinshu anthology. This project is, however, on hiatus. Past translations are archived here. Suggestions, corrections, and questions always welcome.

There's also original pomes in the journal archives.

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