Tuesday, 14 October 2014
from Walking Poems, No 5
A poem by Keijiro Suga
Autumn comes walking with the infallible feet of the wind,
Through the shallow marshland, through the narrow openings of the tall, silver grass.
We too are walking, speechless
With the intention of welcoming this autumn that has come too early.
Walking on this narrow wooden boardwalk we see the shapes of the faraway mountains,
In the shade of the tall silver grass dragonflies with cheerful knowledge dance wildly.
Hiding in the shades are the living of what past periods?
Did you break ice here?
Did you burn stones here?
Under the orange sun of which season and under what kind of rain clouds?
Did you sing songs?
Did you play the pipes and strings?
Did you capture flocking birds?
My ears cannot reach the old melodies buried under the silver grass
But there's no need to give up your hope that is humming like clouds.
I am addressing all of you.
Poem translated by the poet.
This poem is one of eight in a booklet Keijiro Suga gave me. I am always wary of making any judgment on translated text since one is judging the translation as much as the original, indeed sometimes more the translation, and I am especially wary of judging translation from a language that is so different from those I know, whose history, traditions and expectations are unfamiliar to me.
Not entirely unfamiliar in this case perhaps. I have of course read poems translated from languages and cultures far removed from mine and, as concerns Japanese verse, I have the kind of glancing acquaintance with it expected from someone who reads other Japanese poems in translation in individual collections or anthologies such as the Penguin Book of Japanese Verse.
Keijiro Suga is a well known and prize winning Japanese poet. There is something about him here along with other translated poems. This poem, like the others at the link, consists of single lines rather than joined up text - that, at least is how I read them - with a little space of silence around them. The lines are often statements and the poem itself walks, moving forward step by step in a space that is partly thought, partly meditative condition, a way of proceeding through nature and understanding it or rather, perhaps more accurately, perceiving the conditions under which man and nature meet.
In many respects it is not unlike the tradition we sense in old Japanese forms such as the haiku, the tanka or the renga, but here the sensibility takes on a more direct, more modernist, more improvised slant. Less is assumed, there is less formal addressing of a historical body of common experience. We have instead a way of walking, a slow proceeding, in which nature has to be re-experienced and handled somewhat gingerly. The poem begins with statements then moves to a series of questions addressed directly to the past but also, by extension, to us - as is made clear in that last line.
And all the time we are brought to see things: the silver grass, the orange sun, the boardwalk, the dragonflies. The poem is more than the record of a hike. It is a philosophical journey towards hope of communication: the human in the natural. It has a calm gravity that does not take itself for granted.