THE GREEN WILLOW ROAD

Buson the artist-writer was also a classicist heavily influenced by Chinese poetry.  Put very simply, Chinese poetry in general has a feeling of great distances, while Japanese poetry more often concentrates on the small and near.  Nonetheless, one sometimes finds the “vast space” of Chinese poetry in the very small envelope of a hokku.  One example with a very obvious Chinese influence is this verse by Buson:

Kimi yuku ya   yanagi midori ni   michi nagashi
You go ya willow  green at      road long

Rather literally it is:

You are going;
In the green of the willows,
The long road.

It is a “departure” verse, for which we find many prototypes in Chinese poetry.  Essentially it is an expression of one’s feelings when a dear one is going away.  It is quite obvious, though, that those feelings are expressed in ways other than we would usually do it in the West.  Here they are expressed through Nature rather than through “bare emotion.”

We could also translate Buson’s verse more freely:

Your leaving;
The green willow road
Is long.

Two old friends are saying goodbye in spring.  The willows that line the road are bright green with new leaves, and the road itself stretches on and on into unimaginable distance.

Inevitably one is reminded of Hans Bethge’s loose rendering of Wang Wei in Die Chinesische FlöteThe Chinese Flute, as used in Gustav Mahler’s “Song of the Earth”:

Er stieg vom Pferd und reichte ihm den Trunk
Des Abschieds dar. Er fragte ihn, wohin
Er führe und auch warum es müßte sein.
Er sprach, seine Stimme war umflort: Du, mein Freund,
Mir war auf dieser Welt das Glück nicht hold!
Wohin ich geh? Ich geh, ich wandre in die Berge.
Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam Herz.
Ich wandle nach der Heimat, meiner Stätte.
Ich werde niemals in die Ferne schweifen.
Still ist mein Herz und harret seiner Stunde!
Die liebe Erde allüberall
Blüht auf im Lenz und grünt
Aufs neu! Allüberall und ewig
Blauen licht die Fernen!
Ewig… ewig…

(http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/assemble_texts.html?SongCycleId=235)

He dismounted and handed him the drink of parting;
He asked him where he was going and why it must be.
He replied, his voice was veiled;
“You, my friend — Fortune was not kind to me
In this world.
Where do I go?  I go — I wander in the mountains,
I seek peace for my lonely heart.
I wander to my homeland, my place.
No more shall I travel in far regions.
My heart is still and awaits its hour!
The dear earth all and everywhere
Blooms forth, and grows green anew.
All and everywhere the blue light
In the distance —
Eternal… Eternal….

David

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