SHIKI, SUMMER, AND A SINGLE STONE

 

Translating Japanese verses is not always a simple matter.  Some translate easily and well, others present problems.  For example, I might translate a verse by Shiki as

People keep resting
On the one stone there;
The summer fields.

R. H. Blyth, however, translates the same verse as

One after another,
People rest on this stone
On the summer moor.

The truth is that both translations are compromises, because Shiki wrote it in very telegraphic syntax which reads literally

Consecutive persons repose summer fields’ stone single

In my verse, I chose to emphasize the presence of only one stone.  That is why travelers through the fields keep stopping to rest on it.  It is their only chance.  Blyth, however, chose instead to emphasize the “consecutiveness” of the stopping people, which is why he says “one after another.”  He ignores the singularity of the stone.

Blyth even gives an extended commentary on the verse, in which he tells us that “the stone is under a tree, in the shade, and it is just the right height and shape, so that it seems to invite everyone to sit on it.”

Well, as readers here know, I have great admiration for Blyth, and so I understand why he  mentions — creatively adds, really — a tree and its shade over the stone, even though there is not a word about them in the original.   Blyth is intuiting why everyone would stop and sit on that stone, and a tree and its shade would certainly make it more inviting on a hot summer day in the fields.

In my translation, however, I am perhaps more of a cruel realist, more like Thomas Hardy.  The passers-by sit on that stone not because there is a tree shading it (there is not), but simply because it is the only big rock in all the wide fields, their last and only chance to sit and rest their weary feet, whether the sun has heated the stone to a summery temperature or not.

I cannot bring myself, in translation, to add a tree and its shade that are not in the original, but I must admit that to really convey all that is found in the original verse, one has to break out of the hokku form, perhaps

One after another,
People stop to sit on it —
The single stone
In the summer fields.

So there is another way of writing Nature verse for you, a kind of combination of the hokku and the quatrain.  Should I call it a “quakku”?

 

David

 

 

 

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