WINTER SOLITUDE

A loose translation of yet another old Japanese winter waka:

My dwelling;
In the fallen snow
The path is gone;
Forging through to visit me
Comes no one at all.

The first part of the waka is:

My dwelling;
In the fallen snow
The path is gone.

The “turning point” that joins the first and second parts is “The path is gone”; so the second segment is:

The path is gone;
Forging through to visit me
Comes no one at all.

 

 

David

 

Advertisements

SO COLD THE WINTER….

Here is a loose translation of another old Japanese waka for the season of winter:

So cold the winter!
The wind never ceases
In the mountain village.
Still the sleet is falling
Ever more heavily.

As previously mentioned, a waka in form is like a hokku with two extra lines.  It has a “turning point” in the middle that acts both as the last line of the hokku portion and as the first line of the second (originally 5/7/7/ phonetic units) part.  In this verse it is “In the mountain village.”

We can separate them like this:

So cold the winter!
The Wind never ceases
In the mountain village.

In the mountain village,
Still the sleet is falling
Every more heavily.

 

BRIEF INTERVAL

Another loose translation of a very old Chinese poem, this time by Chen Zi’ang (661-702)

A Song on Climbing Youzhou Tower

Unseen are those who came before;
Unseen are those to come after.
Thinking how endless are heaven and earth,
Alone and disconsolate, the tears drip down.

前不見古人

後不見來者

念天地之悠悠

獨愴然而涕下

Qián bù jiàn gǔ rén
hòu bù jiàn lái zhě
Niàn tiān dì zhī yōu yōu
dú chuàng rán ér tì xià

We cannot see the people of old times who came before us, nor can we see those who will come after we are gone.  On thinking of the vastness of time, the endlessness of heaven and earth and the brief interval of our short lives, the poet is filled with sadness and cannot hold back the tears.

ONLY WHITE CLOUDS….

Here is a loose translation of a poem by Wang Wei (王維; 699–759):

Amid the hills are many Dharma friends;
Meditating, chanting, gathering in groups;
But look out from the far city wall,
And only white clouds are seen.

山中多法侶
禪誦自為群
城郭遙相望
唯應見白雲

shān zhōng duō fǎ lǚ ,
chán sòng zì wéi qún 。
chéng guō yáo xiāng wàng ,
wéi yīng jiàn bái yún 。

“Dharma friends” refers to those who practice the Buddhist way.
Meditation 禪 (Chán) is the Chinese word for Jhana — Buddhist Meditation, the same character that in Japan is used for “Zen.”

The point of the poem is the separation — physical and psychological — of the Buddhist practitioners from the busy world of the city — the “world of dust.”  When one looks from there to the far mountains where they live and meditate, only white clouds are seen.  It reminds me of the title of the Thomas Hardy novel Far From the Madding Crowd.

REFLECTION

The old year has departed.  Here is a loose translation of a waka by Ki No Tsurayuki (c.  872-945).  You will recall that a waka, in form, is like a hokku — but with two extra lines added.  In Japanese the number of phonetic units was:
5/7/5/7/7.

Waka was considered a “high-class,” aristocratic form of verse, and unlike hokku, it often deals either openly or subtly with romance.  It is thus in general a more personal and emotion-centered verse than hokku.

Regrets
At the ending year —
A mirror;
Seeing the reflection —
Reminded of transience….

As you see, we can take this as a combination of two verses, sharing “a mirror” as the link that joins them:

1.
Regrets
At year’s end;
A mirror.

2.
A mirror;
Seeing the reflection —
Reminded of transience….

We picture someone — whether man or woman depends on the individual — looking into a mirror, and feeling sadness at the face reflected there.  It shows signs of age, and is not as it once was.  That, of course, reminds us of our own impermanence, of how all things in life are transient and passing — including youth and beauty.

As Lorenzo de’ Medici wrote,

Quant’e bella giovinezza,
Che si fugge tuttavia!

How beautiful is youth,
Which nonetheless is fleeting!

We see in the waka a kind of internal reflection similar to that in hokku:  the passing of the year  is reflected in the passing of beauty and youth.