ISLANDS IN THE SEA: TRANSLATING SHIKI

R. H. Blyth, to whom I often refer, called the following verse by Shiki “Shiki at his best” (Shiki would have called it a “haiku,” in keeping with his odd ideas of reform, even though it is a hokku in form and substance).

It is, of course, a spring verse.  In the original (romanized) it is:

Shimajima ni   hi wo tomoshi-keri   haru no umi
Island-island on / lights wo lit have-been / spring ‘s sea

Translated very literally, it would be:

On every island,
Lights have been lit;
The spring sea.

Blyth, in his translation, actually improved the verse by changing “every island” to “islands far and near,” thereby adding visual depth, even though Shiki says nothing about “far and near.”  Blyth’s version:

The lights are lit
On the islands far and near:
The spring sea.

Blyth also permits a bit of ambiguity between completed action and progressive action.  Does Blyth’s The lights are lit mean “The lights have been lit and are burning?”  Or does it mean “The lights are being lit”?

I suspect Blyth’s answer would have been “Yes.”  He would include both meanings, leaving it to the reader to choose.

The original, however, indicates a completed action, so without taking liberties, I would probably translate it as

On every island
Lights have been lit;
The spring sea.

I would not say the effect, even though closer to the original, is better than Blyth’s rendering, however.  If I wanted to put it into English with Blyth’s improvement, I would make it

Lights being lit
On islands far and near;
The spring sea.

That gives us a progression similar to what we experience in Blyth’s version, letting us see all the scattered islands, and tiny lights appearing and multiplying in the dusk throughout the whole vista.

I often say that Shiki really did little to hokku except to forbid it being used as the beginning of a linked sequence, and to advocate a more superficial style; yet even in his aesthetics in practice, one can find traces of what preceded his “reforms.”  In this verse we can see that the action does fit spring, even though Shiki may not himself have consciously realized the implications of what he was writing, as he tried so publicly to leave old traditions behind.

In any case, seen as hokku, the verse would indicate the growing Yang energies of spring, because even though the verse takes place at dusk, which is a Yin time of day, we see the appearance and gradual spread and multiplication of dots of light (increasing Yang) on each island in the growing darkness.  So the appearing and spreading points of light are in harmony with the gradual increase of Yang energies in spring.

The  setting of the verse also shows us the importance of season on the effect of a hokku.  Shiki made it:

Haru no umi — The spring sea.

The verse would have quite a different effect if set in other seasons.

David

 

Advertisements
Aside | This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s