Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Welcome to Yorozu no Koto no Ha!

Welcome to Yorozu no Koto no Ha! I hope you'll enjoy this journey through classical Japanese poetry as much as I will!

Now, first off, let's just get the name out of the way. It's long and probably a bit cumbersome for any non-Japanese speaker. It literally means 10,000 words and that's all I'm going to say for now. This title will make more sense later on, I promise!

Second, you're probably wondering what my mission statement is. Well, I don't have one. But I can tell you what my intentions are here in my own little hole on the Internet. I love waka...and I'd like to share my love of this magnificent poetic form with you! I know, how lucky you must be. I'm also trying to spend time each day working on my classical Japanese skills, so I think a blog would be an excellent way to both document and share my work. And I encourage comments! (Even the not so nice ones...though I probably will ignore them if they're not helpful.)

So, what's going to happen on a weekly basis? Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I'm going to check to check out a waka collection fro my local library and translate a few poems for our enjoyment. I'll try to include commentary and some context with each post, to enhance the reading experience. I'll also include the original, so if you want to play along, you'll need Japanese fonts installed on your computer. (And if you really want to play along, I can tell you that I'll be using compilations mostly from the Shinpen Nihon koten bungaku zenshuu.) My plan right now is to use poems the first eight Imperial anthologies, but I do expect to branch out to personal collections and other works that include waka that may not be poetry collections. Also, as time allows, I'll occasionally be adding posts of my own poetic criticism. However these posts will have less to do with specific poems and more to do with the application of post-modern philosophy to the reading and understanding of waka as a whole. Don't worry, these posts probably won't be popping up for a while, and if post-modernism isn't your thing, please feel free to ignore them. (Or berate on them, if you hate post-modernism that much. Though I have to admit, I'll probably ignore those comments. :) Sorry!)

Also, since I'm not terribly interested in using special characters, I'll be using extra u's or o's to indicated long vowels. If that means nothing to you, you can safely ignore it. :)

Now, let's make some sense of the name of this blog. 万の言の葉 (yorozu no koto no ha) is taken from the Kana preface of the 古今和歌集 (Kokin wakashuu), which was written by Ki no Tsurayuki, one of it's esteemed compilers. The Kana preface (which was written with the native Japanese writing system called kana) is one of the first poetic criticism written in Japanese (as opposed to Chinese, which was the common method of writing for men at the time). Personally, I find the opening sentence to be one of the most beautiful and succient commentaries on poetry ever written. I would have liked to title this blog as something along the lines of Seeds in the Heart, but the mere thought of even mildly annoying Donald Keene makes me twitch, so I decided to be a little creative.

So, for the first day, I'm not actually going to translate any poetry... Instead I'll be translating the first paragraph of the Kana preface (or 仮名序). It provided the beginning for the start of a grand tradition that still lives today, as well as influencing poets for hundreds of years.


やまとうたは、人の心を種として、万の言の葉とぞなれなれりける。世の中にある人、ことわざ繁きものなれば、心に思ふことを、見るもの聞くものにつけて、言い出せるなり。花に鳴く鶯、水に住む蛙の声を聞けば、生きとし生けるもの、いづれか歌をよまざりける。力をも入れずして天地を動かし、目に見えぬ鬼神をもあはれと思はせ、男女のなかをも和 げ、猛き武士の心をも慰むるは歌なり。

Yamato uta, from its seeds in the human heart, flows out as ten thousands leaves of words. As the people in this world are overcome with innumerable experiences, what they feel in their hearts, they express through what they've seen and heard. And once you hear the cry of the bush warbler in the flowers and the voice of the frog in the water, what living creature does not sing a song? That which moves the heavens and the earthwithout effort, evokes the deep passions of unseen demons and spirits, eases the affairs of men and women, and calms the tempestuous hearts of warriors is poetry.


For this translation, you'll notice that I've left Yamato uta untranslated. Literally, it means Japanese poetry--Yamato is another name for Japan and uta can mean anything from song to poem, though in this case it means poetry. However, as I feel that what Ki no Tsurayuki has written about Japanese poetry is equally relevant to all poetry, I chose to leave it open to the readers interpretation. This may cause some initial confusion, but I think it helps personalize the work.

Also, you'll notice that I've translated yorozu no koto no ha as ten thousand leaves of words. I'd like to point out a different translation by Helen McCollough as "myriads of words as leaves", which you can find here. I point this out to emphasize the incredibly fluid nature of the Japanese language--particularly classical Japanese. The Kana Preface has been translated innumberable times, and I'm sure each translation says something different. As such, I would not dare to presume that mine is the best--or even 100% right. But I hope that bringing myself to the text will allow for a greater understanding of the text.


Well, that's all for now. But I'll be back on Friday! This time with some actual poetry from the first book of Spring Poems.

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