larryhammer: a symbol used in a traditional Iceland magic spell of protection (iceland)
Repeat After Me, a comic by Maki Naro about psychology's reproducibility problem. (via)

The Saga-Steads of Iceland, a blog documenting reading the Icelandic sagas in the locations where each is set. (via)

I really want a Finnish-speaker's opinion on what it's like to read The Song of Hiawatha in Finnish. (Did the translator use the Kalevala meter that Longfellow was imitating, or did they imitate the imitation? And what would THAT sound like?)

---L.

Subject quote from "Life Less Ordinary," Carbon Leaf.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (completed)
Stories, stories.

With Great Power: "She didn’t recognize the villain. Was he new, or had she been even more out of touch than usual lately? He was cast from the same mold as most of the others—white, middle-aged, handsome in a roughly-carved way. He’d get a lot of fan letters, if he was taken alive." (via)

A Day In the Life of an Empowered Female Heroine: "“Feminism,” she said to herself, and then put on some red lipstick. Then she kicked another guy through a window, and he fell all the way." (via)

I hosted another week on [community profile] poetry, posting poems by Ariwara no Narihira. Or rather, passages from Tales of Ise with poems identified in the Kokinshu as his. For those poems I haven't translated yet, I used Helen Craig McCullough's edition of Ise. Sliced: chapter 17, chapter 103, chapter 99, chapter 82 (first part), chapter 4, chapter 125.

---L.

Subject quote from "Unwelcome," Mary Elizabeth Coleridge.
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)
What I've recently finished since my last post:

I got nothin'.

What I'm reading now:

The Stories: Five Years of Original Fiction from Tor.com. This ... will take a while, even with liberal skipping. Assuming I keep with it.

Orlando Furioso by Ariosto (Rose) -- finished canto 44. Once the main invasion plot has been disposed of and the titular Orlando's wits have been restored, the only business left is romantic shenanigans (in both the medieval and modern senses of "romance") between the legendary ancestors of Ariosto's patron -- stuff important to his immediate audience, but rather thin compared to, yanno, Charlemagne expelling Moorish invaders from Europe. I always forget how anticlimactic the last few cantos are. Two more!

The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch -- have less than 10% to go, and keep stumbling over interesting pieces of cultural jetsam. The most entertaining part is the third quarter, covering roughly everyone between the Rossettis and the Decadents exclusive (the selection for Christina Rossetti is particularly annoying), though there's some odd choices in that range even so -- such as the Hopkins' only selection being one of his lesser efforts. One poem, in particular, made me put the collection down for quite some time -- I should probably put a trigger warning on the link as while the narrative claims to be seduction symbolism, the emotional effect is the exoneration of a rapist. Also, the collection as a whole has rather a lot of Christian devotional verse, and while I can't say how well they work as devotional verse, as poetry they all too often feel lacking. The last quarter is, in general, a good object lesson in just why the modernists felt the need to react against their predecessors. OTOH, this is not your typical mid-Victorian topic. I am looking forward to seeing how The English Poets handles the period.

Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson translated by W.S. Merwin and Takako Lento. Halfway through winter, so nearly done. Also, more scattered samplings from the Shinkokinshu and from the Bashô's haiku. And tables of counters, in another attempt to memorize more of them.

What I might read next:

Here's where I do my impression of an owlet and blink at you gormlessly.

---L.
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: 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)
The autumn Tanabata arc isn't the only place the myth is used in the Kokinshu. Here's an exchange of poems that's also given in Tales of Ise chapter 82 -- I translate the Kokinshu headnotes, but they convey substantially the same thing as the Tales of Ise prose context.



418. When Prince Koretaka went hunting with some friends, they came to the bank of a place called Ama-no-gawa ("river of heaven") whereupon they drank sake. When the prince said, "Offer me up a cup while reciting a poem in the spirit of arriving at the bank of the River of Heaven while hunting," Ariwara no Narihira recited:

karikurashi
tanabata-tsu-me ni
yado karamu
ama no kawara ni
ware wa kinikeri
    We've hunted till dark:
let's seek out lodgings from
    the Weaver Maiden --
for we have come to the bank
of the River of Heaven.


419. The Prince repeatedly recited this poem but was unable to reply, so Ki no Aritsune, who was with them, composed this for him.

hitotose ni
hitotabi kimasu
kimi mateba
yado kasu hito mo
araji to zo omou
    Given she awaits
a husband who visits
    but one time a year,
I rather think she isn't
someone who'd give us lodgings.



(Things useful to know: The Prince is Narihira's patron and friend, insofar as possible given their difference in rank, Aritsune is both the Prince's maternal uncle and Narihira's father-in-law, and according to Ise, this takes place in cherry blossom season, a few months before Tanabata.)

Needless to say, I totally want the fanfic about a strayed hunter ending up at the Weaver Maiden's house at the bank of the Milky Way. It need not be Acteon, though that would make an awesome crossover. It just needs to exist RIGHT NAO.

ETA: Ask, and thou shalt receive.

---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" (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: 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.
larryhammer: animation of the kanji for four seasonal birds fading into each other in endless cycle (seasons)
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, so expect it in a couple months.

---L.
larryhammer: Yotsuba Koiwai running, label: "enjoy everything" (enjoy everything)
I am more pleased than I expected to find there's a Kokinshu poem about going mushroom-gathering with one's father. Well, it's really about autumn leaves, the dying year(s), and missed opportunities. And other symbolic things, I'm sure. But really -- how many classical literatures have poems about hunting 'shrooms with Dad? Fewer than you might hope.

Bonus link: a portrait, as imagined a thousand later, of Ono no Komachi as an old woman. I like this one a lot -- that's the face of a woman who has lived a lot and made her peace with it all. (Note that's a gravestone she's sitting on.)

---L.
larryhammer: Yotsuba Koiwai running, label: "enjoy everything" (enjoy everything)
I am more pleased than I expected to find there's a Kokinshu poem about going mushroom-gathering with one's father. Well, it's really about autumn leaves, the dying year(s), and missed opportunities. And other symbolic things, I'm sure. But really -- how many classical literatures have poems about hunting 'shrooms with Dad? Fewer than you might hope.

Bonus link: a portrait, as imagined a thousand later, of Ono no Komachi as an old woman. I like this one a lot -- that's the face of a woman who has lived a lot and made her peace with it all. (Note that's a gravestone she's sitting on.)

---L.

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