I took my time reading this book because, more than most poetry, each poem needed to be read slowly and read at least twice. She died at age twenty-four, which is not only sad because of how much potential literature was lost, but also a reminder of how little I’d accomplished at twenty-four. Ugh.
As for the poetry itself, you have probably guessed that I found it amazing. We could go into a discussion here about translation and what not, but I’m really not in the mood. It’s free verse and, according to the intro, this was a wildly revelatory new movement in the Japan of the twenties and thirties. Supposedly, there wasn’t even a word for ‘poetry,’ merely ‘haiku’ and ‘tanka.’ Which is something like if, in English, there were no word for poetry, but only sonnet and villanelle. Besides the long nightmare of too many villanelles, imagine the astonishment of T.S. Eliot’s strange poetry suddenly appearing?
In English, we don’t get an appreciation for how formally groundbreaking her poetry was (not that she was the only, or even the first, Japanese writer to experiment with this), but we can appreciate it’s strange beauty. Heavily influenced by French poetry, it also (in my crude, sad, poor understanding of Japanese culture, which is probably just a horrible mash up of ridiculous stereotypes) feels distinctly Japanese.
Nature and the natural movement towards death (and decay? or do I mean ephemerality?) is frequent. I was constantly struck by how often ‘green’ appeared, but not in a natural sense. Or perhaps underlying that everything is part of nature (and inevitably dies? or is inevitably resurrected?). Snow is the second most common… motif? No, not motif. Maybe just a recurring word. And not so recurring as green.
Here is a short one, maybe not the best, but one whose first line repeatedly struck me:
GATE OF SNOW
People’s outdated beliefs are piled up around that house.
— Already pale, like gravestones.
Cool in summer, warm in winter.
For a moment I thought flowers had bloomed
But it was just a flock of aging snow.