larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
Been a while since I linked a weather timelapse: Chase, this one being thunderstorms of the Plains States. Storms! (via)

10 medieval illuminations of butt-licking cats. Why yes, monks did draw from life. (via)

Over in [community profile] poetry, I recently did a week of women poets from the Kokinshu who are not Ono no Komachi, including an empress, an imperial concubine, a lady-in-waiting, an entertainer, and an otherwise unknown aristocrat. I've posted all these translations here before, but not threaded on such a string: Ise, mother of Ono no Chifuru, Mikuni no Machi/Ki no Kaneko, Shirome, and Fujiwara no Takaiko/Nijô Empress.

---L.

Subject quote from "The Tree of Rivilin," Ebenezer Elliott.
larryhammer: a wisp of smoke, label: "it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls" (curlicues)
It is a Wednesday, and I am actually still reading things -- mostly on my phone these days. The three most recent things poked at, according to the Kobo app, are:

Poems of Places volume 28 -- still. Though I am almost done with the Southern States. The poems of Washington, DC, were especially resonant, so Longfellow clearly wasn't utterly failing as an editor -- but the American Civil War, which the principle obsession of a volume covering the recently former Confederacy, is not mine at the moment. After this, one more volume to go: the Western States, meaning everything from Ohio to the Pacific.

A Japanese Guide to Japanese Grammar by Tae Kim.

Madan no Ou to Vanadis volume 10, which supposedly wraps up the second arc -- resolving the amnesia plot, one hopes. So far it bounces along nicely.

The most recently finished book was The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, in which a mystery-novel detective laid up by injury investigates by proxy the death of the Princes in the Tower and concludes Richard III didn't have them killed, but rather Henry VII. Before that was Kilmeny of the Orchard by L. M. Montgomery, which demonstrates that many of the tropes that go into a Manic Pixie Dream Girl have been around for quite a while.

---L.

Subject quote from "C.S. Lewis Song," Brooke Fraser (adapting C.S. Lewis).
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (Japanese poetry)
After parting and travel, the editors take things in a new direction with a book of wordplay poems. Since wordplay rarely carries over between languages, these are a challenge to translate -- in fact, I completely fail to reproduce their salient feature. I can only hope that at least I've made the poems interesting in themselves.

Aside from a couple acrostics, the game for most of these poems is called "hidden topic." The challenge here is to work the sound of a topic word (or phrase) into the poem's text without actually using the word itself. This is similar how pivot-words work, only without making the secondary meaning part of the poem, resulting in something of a word-find puzzle. Sometimes the poem is somehow related to the topic, and some even are riddles where the topic is the answer, but most of the time the topic is irrelevant. I've no idea what the ideal at the time was, but I personally like it when it is relevant.

The game fell out of fashion a few generations after the Kokinshu, and only one other imperial anthology includes any -- "facile wordplay instead of heartfelt emotion" was the judgment of later taste. (Modern readers often have a similar reaction to acrostic poems in English.) I like them, though, translation difficulties aside -- they show poets engaging with the possibilities of language in itself, even if the point was to be clever rather than write great poetry. Also, the first two groups of topics are sort of mini-recapitulations of the seasonal books, only this time with a lowered level of decorum and thus greater variety.

I mark the hidden topics in the romanized originals, though note that in modernized texts, after a millennium of pronunciation drift and spelling reforms, the poem-version sometimes doesn't exactly match the topic-version.


Kokinshu X:422-468 )


And with that, we're through half the books of the Kokinshu, if not quite yet half the poems. Next up: the first of five books of love poems -- a topic as important as the four seasons. Expect it in six months or so.

(Index for this series)

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (some guy)
Important recent discoveries:

Mnemosyne may indeed be a better flash-card program than Kanji Gold, and not just because it's not just for kanji. (I prefer the way it spaces out cards how well you know them, though I don't always find the period predictable. OTOH, I do like how Kanji Gold separates meaning, kun-yomi, and on-yomi drills. Hmmm.)

A web-widget that converts Aozora Bunko texts to PDFs, vertical text, in standard Japanese paperback page-size. Which also happens to be very close to standard e-reader screen size. (Also, Aozora has the works of Niimi Nankichi, but that's more a belated realization than a discovery. I am very fond of my picture book edition of "Tebukuro o kai ni," and am looking forward to reading more.)

Wuxia translations, which may not have all the fan translations of wuxia novels that are out there, but the bulk of completed ones are available in ebook formats (with links to projects in progress).

An actually good Chinese restaurant in town. It's Szechuan rather than Americanized Chinese, and very little English was being spoken.

There are such things as albino hummingbirds.

---L.

Subject quote from "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan," Lafcadio Hearn.
larryhammer: a woman wearing a chain mail hoodie, label: "chain mail is sexy" (fantasy)
I forget who asked for this ([livejournal.com profile] mme_hardy?), but I finally found it -- recordings of the poems of One Hundred People, One Poem Each being chanted. (Click a poem link in the left frame, then the first link in the right frame, labeled "Windows Media." )

Phonetic descriptions of seven sounds teenagers make, with a recording of examples. (via)

Forty interesting and sometimes even useful maps, slicing geography and demography into different perspectives. (via)

---L.

Subject quote from "all the way," Mikuni Shimokawa. (trans: "the sky has no end because it's the mirror of my heart / every day the colors change as if reflecting it")
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (some guy)
The Shinkokin(waka)shu, "New collection of older and recent (Japanese poems)," was the eighth imperially commissioned anthology of poetry in Japanese, and is generally considered the best and most important one after the Kokinshu (together with the Man'yoshu, they are the three cornerstones of classical poetry). It was compiled around 1205 near the end of the Heian period, almost exactly 300 years after the Kokinshu it emulated, and it is interesting to compare how the fashions of style changed in that time.

The most obvious is a shift in emphasis from voice and wit to image and emotional resonance. There's a greater reliance on concrete nouns instead of verbs, and many poems end on a noun phrase without a main verb. It looks like there are fewer speculative conjugations and deductions from appearance and more direct presentation of the (supposed) scene, but my sample size is too small to confirm this, ah, speculation. The poems are, also, the work of the first intertextual generation, who systematically developed the technique of "allusive variation" by partial quotation of one or more earlier poems from the canon, using the sources to provide additional resonance.

Below are translations of a random baker's dozen of seasonal poems from the first six books. There's no method to my choices aside from (obviously) the opening handful and getting one from each season -- they just caught my eye. My notes are light on the biographicals and allusions, and don't even touch the elaborate system of association and progression that govern the arrangement of poems. This should do for non-scholarly comparison, though.

Ephemeral beauty prefers being hidden behind a cut tag )

---L.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (Japanese poetry)
A pome by Matsuo Bashô:

Wild chrysanthemums
forgotten in the heat
of fringed pinks.

(nadeshiko no / atsusa wasururu / nogiku ka na)

Although the fringed pinks (a particularly pretty type of wild carnation) are one of the canonical seven flowers of autumn, they start blooming in summer -- 'mums, on the other hand, are fully autumnal. This was written in summer for a painting of light-yellow chrysanthemums, so he's looking at autumn flowers and longing for cool weather. The hot pink color of the pinks may also play into the image.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: HAIKU TRANSLATION

---L.

Subject quote from "Ode to Autumn," John Keats.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Japanese)
Not much reading-reading these two weeks -- I've been kinda wrapped up in Japanese studies-n-poems.

What I've recently finished since my last post:

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaô volume 4 by Shôtarô Mizuki. The moral dimensions of the world are starting to come into focus, or some aspects are, highlighting how our reluctant Big Bad could end up fulfilling his prophetic role despite himself. Hand in hand with that, one of the more appealing harem members contenders for the protagonist's ultimate romantic partner potted herself into the Unworthy bin -- she's a got of Learning Better to make up for. Possibly fortunately, series metadata is pointing towards another contender. The series remains cheesy but still entertaining, though it was annoying to find out only at the end this is the first half of a two-part story. (BTW, a better translation for the title might be "the last-in-line demon king.") (Also, am amused to find that this series' defining trope has a TV Tropes page.)

Lost Horizon by James Hilton -- that was an oddly elliptical ending, with the reasons for the protagonist's climactic decision veiled by sudden narrative distance. That the life-extending techniques of Shangri-La is not available to natives remains a BIG problem.

What I'm reading now:

Orlando Furioso by Ariosto (Rose) -- now partway through canto 44, and in the home stretch. I'd forgotten how lonnng 43 is.

Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson translated by W.S. Merwin and Takako Lento. This has settled into my reading over breakfast -- a dozen-odd haiku to start the day off. Am into autumn.

A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin & Gao E into chapter 6 (of 120). Given Japanese and Chinese popular culture, I think it's safe to assume that somewhere, someone has rewritten the story so that the twelve women constellated around Bao-yu are are ninjas. Internets, I ask you: WHERE CAN I FIND THIS? (Having them all be wuxia heroines would also be acceptable, and even culturally appropriate.) I mean, if there are multiple versions of Three Kingdoms with all the fighters as young women, ditto Journey to the West, surely this one. Regardless, entertaining, and I'd be further along if I were reading-reading more.

Irregular update on Japanese, aside from lessonwork: in my systematic working through of the Kokinshu, I'm more than halfway through book 10, and I've supplemented my diet with random samplings from the Shinkokinshu -- the comparison is illuminating (to overgeneralize with a small sample set), as in the 300 years between the two, the stylistic focus shifted from voice and wit to image and, um, symbol's not the right word. Resonance, maybe? I might pull together a post about it, if I can manage coherent. In any case, though, being able to apprehend this feels pretty cool. So is reaching to point I can jot down a rough literal translation (possibly minus an unknown word or two) of a poem as an annotation on my Kobo. OTOH, I've barely touched Ginga tetsudô no yoru this past month :-( . I should pick up a manga from my pile.

What I might read next:

Saa. Er, I mean, who knows ...

---L.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (Japanese poetry)
Following partings with travelers, in Book IX we get poems of travelers on the road. This is, surprisingly, the shortest book in the Kokinshu -- you might think, especially given the Man'yoshu tradition, it would be a more popular genre. Apparently, though, just as the provinces -- that is, any place that wasn't the happening capital -- were unfashionable, so were the vicissitudes of traveling out there. In later poetry, the topic would return as a suitably refined loneliness, but for now, it seems the editors had slim pickings to chose from.

But enough -- let's get this show on the road. So to speak.


Kokinshu IX:406-421 )


And that's the end of traveling. In the next book, the editors mix things up with a collection of wordplay poems -- some of them acrostics like #410, but most of another game entirely. These are an interesting challenge to translate, so expect it in four months or so.

(Index for this series)

---L.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (Japanese poetry)
Book VIII is poems of partings of various sorts. This was a standard genre in Chinese tradition: close male friends bidding each other farewell, especially as one left to take a new post (Chinese officials were rotated regularly, to reduce the chance they'd build local alliances), and the results are frequently lachrymose.

The Kokinshu includes these sorts of poems from a range of public and private occasions, but also mixes in farewells by lovers -- never a common genre in China -- and even chance encounters. The result is a diversity of tone (or least, more diversity than the previous book -- I know, not hard) and a distinct and unexpected progression.


Kokinshu VIII:365-405 )


And so the book of partings ends with informal words after momentary meetings -- a far cry from the formal banquets of the start. Next up: the logical consequence of farewells -- traveling.

(Index for this series)

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (anime)
So according to this and several other Japanese-to-English dictionaries, a mantô is a "ninja weapon disguised as a pair of garden shears." This, of course, demanded immediate investigation. As in, hello what?

However, the usual ninja reference sites don't seem to know about it, nor do ninja weaponry stores offer to sell any. None of the main online Japanese dictionaries know about it either, nor Japanese Wikipedia. The bulk of the first couple pages of searches in Japanese are ... all Japanese-to-English dictionary sites. (Searches in English are overwhelmed with noise from Spanish hits.) Hmmm. And, hmmm.

There are a couple Japanese hits that claim to know of this thing and even a couple images, one even more or less claiming that it's used exactly how you'd expect: for infiltrating a castle while disguised as a gardener. So while I'm not fluent enough to evaluate webpage reliability in Japanese, it looks to not be a complete invention of a translation dictionary compiler, propagated outward. But I can't completely rule out feedback from same.

Has anyone ever heard of this? Anyone have an All Things Ninja Reference Book? Or a ninja joke?

(Found because I was looking up 萬, an outdated kanji for 10,000 used in one of the two ways of writing the word.)

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (La!)
Possibly inappropriate responses to 1100-year-old poems: When a female singer/entertainer seeing off a male friend traveling to Kyushu* for a hot-spring cure writes (in Kokinshu #387):


inochi dani
kokoro ni kanau
mono naraba
nani ka wakare no
kanashikaramashi

    If only our lifespans
somehow corresponded to
    our hearts' desires,
would separation still be
something so agonizing?


I want to tell her to ask the elves about what farewells are like when you're immortal. Go ahead, ask them. I dare you.


* An arduous journey that suggests he was doing it for health reasons -- and was in serious condition.


---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Japanese)
As I biked to work the other day, I was spinning out an imaginary conversation in another language, as one does, this time in Spanish because it had been a while -- and I found myself stumbling not just out of rustiness, which I expected, but because I kept reaching for methods of indicating politeness that aren't there. "No, all you have is Usted," I had to tell myself. "The verbs stay the same." (Or rather, "No -- Usted solamente. Verbos, ah, quedan lo mismo. ... quedan? estan? ¡ay ... !") It's been a while since I've had a language collision with Japanese. It fact, it's been very rare compared to learning European languages.

Español no es Japonés. Mata, Nihongo wa Supaingo ja nai yo -- or in that politeness form I wanted to use, Nihongo wa Supaingo de wa arimasen.

May you all have a safe and happy Passover -- just watch out for wayward angels.

---L.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (Japanese poetry)
After the seasons of the year, celebrations of years: book VII contains poems expressing wishes for good fortune at coronations, important birthdays in the sense both of years that are multiples of 10 and of important people, and the like. Given such public occasions, the genre is very formalized, with a uniformly elevated tone and a limited palette of acceptable images. Fortunately, it's the second-shortest book of the Kokinshu, so the tedium of stiff felicitations to people one doesn't know (and don't care about) is relatively brief. I can hope, however, that there's a few bits of human interest and cultural details to keep your attention.

If it feels like I'm underselling this, I'll fess up: it *is* my least-favorite book of the Kokinshu. Book X is often slighted but I actually like it, though we'll see how good I'll be at translating the word games. But first this one:


Kokinshu VII:343-364 )


Next book: poems of farewells by friends and lovers, and while they're influenced by Chinese conventions, they aren't nearly as formal and were nativized into modes beyond their models. Expect it some time this summer.

(Index for this series)

---L.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (Japanese poetry)
Like summer, winter is a short book with a single overriding image: snow. Also like summer, there is a narrow range of responses compared to the longer and more varied spring or autumn books. Despite this, I was surprised to find myself moved by some of the stark black-and-white imagery -- for there are hints of what would in medieval times develop into the aesthetics of wabi-sabi, especially the aspects dealing with austere beauty.

But mostly, it's about the isolation of heavy drifts in an age without snowplows. Keep in mind, while reading these, that the Kyoto area had heavier winters in the Heian period than today.


Kokinshu VI:314-342 )


And with that, the seasons come round to where we started. Book VII takes the collection in an entirely new, more social direction. It's another short one, so I should have it in two months or so.

(Index for this series)

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (anime)
It's like someone sold all their haiku collections to our local used book store -- just in time for me to snap 'em up. Sweet.

Obligatory disclaimer: I'm far from expert in Japanese haiku, but I can recognize a couple dozen popular ones and am comfortable enough with the language to Have Opinions about translations. My judgment of the accuracy of books with only English text is based on these touchstones; those with Japanese text, I read both texts, arguing or nodding as the case may be.

Japanese Haiku (1955), The Four Seasons (1958), Cherry Blossoms (1960), Haiku Harvest (1962), trans. Peter Beilenson (final volume completed by Harry Behn) - Each volume has 200+ haiku plus original decorations, arranged around the seasons (even the third, despite the title). In general, Beilenson does a decent job -- I rarely go "you just completely misread that." On the other wing, unlike the others below he sticks to 5-7-5 syllables in English, and to fill out the form he adds interpretive words -- some justifiable by way of setting the scene more clearly or reproducing something of the original poet's voice, but just as often ... not so much. The first and best volume is legally available here (note that it reproduces the odd layout, where the long middle line was broken in two by the typography of a narrow collumn). (English only)

Haiku (1952, 2003), trans. R.H. Blyth, ed. Peter Washington - A recent selection from Blyth's landmark collections, divided into ten topical sections. Blyth's translations are generally literally accurate and as stripped down as the originals -- in some cases more so, to the point where particles/inflections of emotion can get lost in the shuffle. More problematic, to my ear, is that he makes every poet sound the same -- and Issa at his best, in particular, does not sound like, say, Basho or Buson. No more does Shiki. But otherwise, a pretty good introductory volume. As for Washington's experiments, relegated to the back, at snipping lines from modern poems and declaring them found haiku, the less the said the better. (English only)

Haiku: The Poetry of Nature (2002), ed. David Cobb, trans. R.H. Blyth, David Cobb with Akiko Sakaguchi, and others - A brightly and generously illustrated (something from the British Museum every page) selection, arranged by the four seasons. More than half the translations are Blyth updated by Cobb and his collaborator, but there's a variety of hands at work. In general, they work well, but I sometimes quibbled with the emphasis (I didn't correlate quibbles with translators). An excellent gift book. (English, romaji, and kanji)

A Haiku Menagerie: Living Creatures in Poems and Prints (1992), trans. Stephen Aldiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto - Another poem + art book, this one much less colorful as they are more subdued woodblock prints from books (some reproduced in black-and-white) rather than the bright ukiyo-e prints of the previous book. The translations are ... okay. I honestly cannot explain why, but they are all too often are just sort of there. I mean, even when Blyth strips the verse down too much, he at least the lines are still pulling with tension, and that's often lacking here. I dunno. OTOH, the collection is refreshing in that it's not a seasonal but biological arrangement: the sections are "Walkers," "Flyers," "Crawlers," and "Swimmers" -- kudos for this, as kigo notwithstanding, haiku are not entirely about the seasons. (English and kanji)

Classic Haiku: A Master's Selection (1991), trans. Yuzuru Miura - This isn't one of the recent acquisitions, but I haven't mentioned it before. It is, hands down, my favorite haiku collection, mostly for the excellent translations and selection (which has only some of the Usual Suspects), but also for the sumi-e decorations. The arrangement is by the five seasons -- for in haiku tradition, the New Year is a separate time of year. Highly recommended. (English, romaji, and kanji)

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Japanese)
Between deadlines and distractions and a built-up a backlog, I basically spent a month-plus not translating. With deadlines done and backlog exhausted, I take up a new poem and settle in, digging into the images and cadences, balancing out the play of sounds, and a part of me I hadn't realized was wound up relaxes. Ah -- this stuff. I've been missing it.
    I keep tallying
the grains of sand on the beach
    by the wide ocean:
may they total as many
as my lord's millennia.

—Anonymous, Kokinshu #344

It is not quite an addiction. But it is not far from one.

Much like writing.

---L.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (Japanese poetry)
I did warn you that autumn goes on for more even poems than spring. Moreover, this book is more obsessive than the first half of autumn: with most of the miscellaneous topics out of the way, the focus is on the autumn leaves -- in all their spendor and transience. That the editors could keep the obsession from becoming tedious may have been due to a deep tradition of autumnal poetry, in part because of Chinese influences, resulting in poets using a large range of often quite striking imagery. Separating leaves into two sections, on changing and on falling, separated by a digression into one last late flower, didn't hurt.

But enough -- on to the leaf-peeping. Elegant leaf-peeping, to be sure. (As always, corrections and suggestions for improvement welcome.)


Kokinshu V:249-280 )


Since there's far too many leaves for one mere signature, time to start another -- one filled with swirling, scattering colors.

(Index for this series)

---L.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (Japanese poetry)
Continued from the previous installment of (interrupted) autumnal leaves. Oh, for a muse of foliage!


Kokinshu V:281-313 )


Next book: "Blow, blow, thou winter wind." It's short, like summer, only even more so.

(Index for this series)

---L.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (seasons)
I did warn you that autumn goes on for more even poems than spring. Moreover, this book is more obsessive than the first half of autumn: with most of the miscellaneous topics out of the way, the focus is on the autumn leaves -- in all their spendor and transience. That the editors could keep the obsession from becoming tedious may have been due to a deep tradition of autumnal poetry, in part because of Chinese influences, resulting in poets using a large range of often quite striking imagery. Separating leaves into two sections, on changing and on falling, separated by a digression into one last late flower, didn't hurt.

But enough -- on to the leaf-peeping. Elegant leaf-peeping, to be sure. (As always, corrections and suggestions for improvement welcome.)


Kokinshu V:249-280 )


Since there's far too many leaves for one mere signature, time to start another -- one filled with swirling, scattering colors.

---L.

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