80 Following

Allusion is not Illusion

You'll pry my books off my cold, dead body. By the time you shift them all I'll be flat and dessicated.

Currently reading

Winter's Tales
Karen Blixen, Isak Dinesen
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Penguin Classics)
Rebecca West, Christopher Hitchens
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Susanna Clarke
Already Dead
Charlie Huston
The Rings of Saturn
W.G. Sebald, Michael Hulse
Lady Audley's Secret
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, David Skilton
Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" - And How You Can Fight Back
Thom Hartmann
The City, Not Long After
Pat Murphy
You Can Sketch: A Step-by-Step Guide for Absolute Beginners
Jackie Simmonds
Lonely Werewolf Girl
Martin Millar
Strong in the Rain: Selected Poems - Kenji Miyazawa

Kenzi Miyazawa died in 1933 of tuberculosis. Only 37, he was known only slightly as writer in his lifetime, primarily for his stories for children (in fact, this is how I myself first encountered him, with Night of the Milky Way Railway). Today he is considered one of the greatest Japanese poets of his generation, although, unusually, his recognition came through media and popular attention rather than the Bundan literary establishment.

A devout Nichiren Buddhist, Miyazawa almost entirely avoids the sexual and romantic themes that were prevalent in the poetry of the time. His writing is centered on the natural world, using nature themes even when discussing social and political ideas.


They're just a bunch of scaremongers
Raising alarm wherever they can
And drinking their fill all the while
fern fronds and clouds
the world is that cold and dark
But before they know it
These fellows
Rot all on their own
Are washed away by the rains all on their own
Leaving nothing but silent blue ferms
The some lucid geologist will come along and put this on record
As the Carboniferous Age of man

His posture in the cover photo by Oshiima Hiroshi seems to have been characteristic, which makes sense given how many poems are about him walking outside and thinking.

Another significant influence on his writing was the early (age 24) death of his favorite sister, Toshi, also from tuberculosis. Miyazawa wrote several poems about her death, and also some in which her voice speaks to him from the woods. This one is one of his best known, after the titular poem.


O my little sister
Who will travel far on this day
It is sleeting outside and strangely light
(fetch me the rainlike snow)
The sleet sloshing down
Out of pale red clouds cruel and gloomy
(fetch me the rainlike snow)
I shot out into the midst of this black sleet
A bent bullet
To gather the rainlike snow for you to eat
In two chipped ceramic bowls
Decorated with blue watersheds
(fetch me the rainlike snow)
The sleet sloshes down, sinking
Out of sombre clouds the color of bismuth
O Toshiko
You asked me for a bowl
Of this refreshing snow
When you were on the point of death
To brighten my life for ever
Thank you my brave little sister
I too will not waver from my path
(fetch me the rainlike snow)
You made your request to me
Amidst gasping and the intensest fever
For the last bowl of snow given off
By the world of the sky called the atmosphere the galaxy and sun
The sleet, desolate, collects
On two large fragments of granite blocks
I will stand precariously on them
And fetch the large morsels of food
for ma sweet and tender sister
Off this lustrous pine branch
Covered with transparent cold droplets
Holding the purewhite dual properties of water and snow
Now today you will part for ever
With the deep blue pattern on these bowls
So familiar to us as we grew up together
(I go as I go by myself)
You are truly bidding farewell on this day
O my brave little sister
Burning pale white and gentle
In the dark screens and mosquito net
Of your stifling sickroom
This snow is so white everywhere
No matter where you take it from
This exquisite snow has come
From such a terrifying and disarranged sky
(when I am born again
I will be born to suffer
Not only on my own account)
I now will pray with all my heart
That the snow you will eat from these two bowls
Will be transformed into heaven's ice-cream
And be offered to you and everyone as material that will be holy
On this wish I stake my very happiness.

I happened across a German translation of this poem (I'm guessing translated from the English above rather than the Japanese) by Anja Greeb, so I'm adding it for any readers who prefer that language.
(view spoiler)

Since I know hardly any Japanese and haven't heard the poem read aloud (Hey, wouldn't it be a great idea to package translated poetry volumes with recordings of the poems read in the original language? Do publishers ever do that?) I can't address how accurate the translations are. I would guess that the sound is pretty dissimilar and that Pulvers was going for meaning.

Here is a painting inspired by his poems:

"The Forest" by Yuji Kobayashi, 2011

The titular poem "Strong in the Rain" comes last in this collection, so I will end my review with it.

Strong in the rain
Strong in the wind
Strong against the summer heat and snow
He is healthy and robust
Free from desire
He never loses his temper
Nor the quiet smile on his lips
He eats four go of unpolished rice
Miso and a few vegetables a day
He does not consider himself
In whatever occurs . . . his understanding
Comes from observation and experience
And he never loses sight of things
He lives in a little thatched-roof hut
In a field in the shadows of a pine tree grove
If there is a sick child in the east
He goes there to nurse the child
If there's a tired mother in the west
He goes to her and carries her sheaves
If someone is near death in the south
He goes and says, "Don't be afraid"
If there are strife and lawsuits in the north
He demands that the people put an end to their pettiness
He weeps at the time of drought
He plods about at a loss during the cold summer
Everyone calls him Blockhead
No one sings his praises
Or takes him to heart . . .
That is the kind of person
I want to be