Monday, April 14, 2014

Poem/Translation: Hagiwara Sakutaro

So busy these recent have been that unlike in prior years, including 2009, when I was in Cuba, I have been able to post a daily poem from National/International Poetry Month. I will strive to post a few more before April flows into may, but for now, here is one by Hagiwara Sakutaro 萩原 朔太郎(1886-1942), the late, acclaimed experimental Japanese poet, whose volume The Iceland, translated by Hiraoki Sato, will be published this summer by New Directions.

The poem below, which appears with two others on Asymptote journal's website, displays the quintessence of Hagiwara's work: its use of free verse, rather than traditional Japanese forms (which he also employed during his career); its mixture of linguistic registers, including lofty poetic speech, everyday language, and philosophical discourse; and oscillation between pedestrian and psychologically dark imagery. Several previous volumes of his work, including Howling at the Moon and Blue (Green Integer, 2001), translated by Hiraoki Sato, and Rat's Nest: The Poetry of Hagiwara Sakutaro (UNESCO, 1999), translated by Robert Epp, have previously appeared, as has Hagiwara's Principles of Poetry: Shi No Genri, from Cornell University Press in 1998.

The Tiger

It's a tiger
wide and vague as a giant statue
you sleep in a cage in the uppermost floor of a department store
you are born no machine
you may tear apart and eat meat with your fang-teeth
but how can you know human reasoning?
Behold, under the orb sooty smoke flows
from the roofs of a factory-zone town
sad whistles rise and spread.
It's a tiger
It's a tiger

It's an afternoon
the ad-balloon rises high
in twilight-close city sky 
on this high-rise building sitting in the distance
you are as hungry as a flag.
When you scan vaguely
you make the worms crawling along the streets
your live food dark and depressing.

It's a tiger
on the roof of prosperity in the midst of Tokyo City
where elevators go up and down
wearing an amber striped fur
you suffer solitude like a wasteland.
It's a tiger!
Ah it's all your afterimage
a useless total view of a void.

Copyright © Hagiwara Sukitaro, translated by Hiraoki Sato,from The Iceland,
New Directions Publishing Corporation, June 2014.

This poem appears on the website of Asymptote Journal. All rights reserved.

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