Poem No. 312 by Miyazawa Kenji
To live straight and strong means
Everyone senses the whole universe as a darkness
…… They sprayed a fine blue mist into the bee hive,
Conjuring a small rainbow
Around the time the plums were getting ripe,
The villagers were delighted……
Beyond the line of pine trees, a whiteness leapt out to my eyes
Which mountain ridge is that?
(Whether they are worshipped or not, Gods own their bodies and lands)
A zigzag charcoal line
(The true path has never been thought, never been trodden
That sole path exists in itself)
This must be the Goro Swamp, famous for its lotus flowers
The west is strangely orange
The pine tree trunks are so distinct in the sunset, and a single star passes
…….. Today, at noon, I drew a bold pencil line
Of the surface of the Kitakami River
Now, it is a deep blue, sparkling line….
I climb up this blackened bank,
To see the waters of the swamp,
Where they say a tornado’s silver tail swirled long ago
….. Tiny blue sparks fly and scatter on its surface….
Miyazawa, K. (1965). MiyazawaKenji sishu [The poetries by Miyazawa Kenji]. Tokyo: Hakuho-sha.
Notes on the Translation:
The first time I saw this poem in the library, I thought this poem is worth translating because it had many difficult Japanese expressions, although it just focused on one scene that the author saw during his walk. However, it has another deep meaning, which I recognized through translating the poem in class. In this work, Miyazawa Kenji, who wrote it in 1924 when he was 28, indicated his thoughtful idea about Buddhism, while selecting related terms, using many colors and brightness constantly, and going back and forth between the memory and the reality.
Firstly, this poem is about Buddhism, and has many expressions related to this religion. I learned in the class that “gizagiza no haiiro no sen,” which I translated to “the gray zigzag charcoal line,” indicates the Buddhist idea that the state of human’s life is always mysterious and full of suffering (Ratanakul, 2004, pp.141-146). The word “charcoal” here gives the readers the sense of faint, fragile, misty texture of the line. The word “meimei (めいめい) ” was also difficult for me to translate, but should be connected to Buddhism again. It has almost three meanings and each has a different Chinese character: 銘々, which means “individual,” 明々, “bright or clear,” and 冥々, “darkness.” Although Miyazawa wrote this just in Japanese hiragana, I eventually chose the last one, “darkness,” because it can express the Buddhist idea better, where people can be peaceful by realizing that life is full of suffering (Ratanakul, 2004). As for “Goro-numa swamp (五郎沼),” this marsh actually exists in Iwate prefecture, and has many ancient lotus flowers in July, which are sacred to Buddhism (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2019). Since this swamp doesn’t sound well-known even in Japan, I avoided using the literal word-to-word translation. I translated here into “the swamp where lotuses live,” so that both Japanese speakers and non-Japanese speakers could understand the meaning behind it. In these ways, Miyazawa Kenji selected very meaningful words and places to write about Buddhism in this poem, and that was one of the difficulties for me through the translation.
Secondly, each part of this poem is full of colors, which I found very beautiful in this poem, and easy to give the readers the clear images of each scene. Counted from the beginning, the words that show colors and their brightness are used eleven times: black, blue, sparkling rainbow, shimmering white, charcoal gray, orange sunset tints, deep black, sparkling blue, black again, silver, and again, sparkling blue. Although not all of them are expressed directly by mentioning colors, the certain words such as “nishi ha ayashiku akaruku nari” allow the readers to imagine how Miyazawa saw those colors, in this case, orange. Therefore, I used as many colors as possible in my translation, so that the readers can picture the sceneries easily and unconsciously. Therefore, Miyazawa Kenji mentions several colors to make the work attractive.
Thirdly, Miyazawa uses three different ways of sentence marking: ellipsis dots “….”, parentheses “( )” and zero marking, to distinguish his unconscious thoughts, the Buddhist ideas and his consciousness or affirmation respectively. When he puts ellipsis points before and after the sentences, they are his unconscious recollections or what he perceives during his walking. For example, as for the first part with the ellipsis dots, “mitsubachi no furui no…,” he might be on his way home from a village where the people kept bees and grew plums. On the other hand, the parentheses show that the sentences are about the universal Buddhist ideas. Since he uses these round brackets only for the sentences in the front and behind of “gizagiza no haiiro no sen,” here, he should put some Buddhist explanations to this middle sentence, which he seems to say abruptly. Except for the first line “tadashiku tsuyoku ikirutoiukotoha..” and the sentence “gizagiza no haiiro no sen,” which Miyazawa originally declares about Buddhism, the other parts that have no marking show Miyazawa’s conscious statements, which he could say to himself while walking alone. In these ways, Miyazawa contrives not only the words but also the structure of the poem with some dots and brackets.
In these three ways, the poet Miyazawa Kenji expresses his idea towards Buddhism in an attractive way, through using many words with indirect messages on Buddhism, filling the poem with colors, and inserting brackets and dots effectively. Without working on the translation with the class, I would not have found these points of view. Translation enables us to realize another aspect of the work.
Ratanakul, P. (2004). The Buddhist Concept of Life, Suffering and Death, and Related Bioethical Issues. Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics,14, pp.141-146. Retrieved from https://www.eubios.info/EJ144/ej144f.htm. Accessed on Dec. 8, 2019.
Water lily. (2019). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=134501527&lang=ja&site=ehost-live. Accessed Dec. 7, 2019.