Friday, September 17, 2010

Poetry Friday: Poems from the Japanese

I've been feeling very scattered this week, for various reasons. At school I've been trying to stay caught up on everything so that I will be ready for today's parent/teacher conferences. I've also been writing emails to parents about their children's behavior and posting grades online - without a reliable internet connection. And, of course, I've been teaching five periods a day, plus an independent study, policing the hallways, grading, and generally doing my job. At home I have been watching my kitchen turn into an Appliance Graveyard, tracking the movements of a large rat which chewed through the side of an Action Packer we were using to store dog food, and dealing with the daily drama of husband, children, and household. And always, always, there is the roller coaster of grief and joy that I've been riding since January.

Last night I found something which, while not a permanent cure for all of that, was at least a treatment. I picked up One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, edited and translated by Kenneth Rexroth, from my shelf, and read the entire thing, cover to cover.

These poems are mostly about love, in many permutations: longing for someone who doesn't show up, spending time with someone (though usually brief), mourning for someone who is dead or otherwise gone. They are sad and lovely and take me to a different world, a world of bamboo and pine trees and rocky beaches, a world of four seasons, each one painted with exquisite detail.

The best thing about this book, though, is the bookmark in it. My husband sent me the book for Christmas the first year we were dating. I was in Massachusetts doing my Christmas job and he was in Tennessee doing - I can't remember what. This was, after all, many years ago (about 23). The bookmark is the letter he sent with the gift, such a wonderful letter which I am sure I received with great delight. On the back he had copied out one of the poems from the book, in the romaji, or phonetic rendering, that Rexroth provides under his English translations. I guess I must have had to look through the book to figure out which poem he was sending me, and then read the English. It turned out to be by Hitomaro, who lived from about 662 to 710. (The book contains several poems by Hitomaro, and I love all of them; maybe I'll share more another week. They are about love, and growing old, and some about bereavement.)

Here's the poem:

In the empty mountains
The leaves of the bamboo grass
Rustle in the wind.
I think of a girl
Who is not here.


You can imagine how I reacted to that, and I have to imagine, too, because I feel as though that long-ago girl was a different person from the one I am now. I do remember that I was crazy about him, and I know that I am thankful we are still together all these years later, complete with jobs, kids, dead appliances, rodents, earthquake trauma, and love.

And poems.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.


Tabatha said...

That is the sweetest thing. What a treat for you to find!

david elzey said...

that's a great share. layers of memories and absence. and it reminds me that i used to write my sweetie poems when we were dating, and could probably use to do that again.

even if it does make her suspicious that i'm trying to hide something by doing so.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Wonderful post! What a terribly lovely thing to find and savor all over again. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Diane Mayr said...

The poem made me weep--it's been that kind of day. Thanks for sharing it.

(Hey, how's this for serendipity?--the word verification word is misty!)

Mary Lee said...

"...complete with jobs, kids, dead appliances, rodents, earthquake trauma, and love.

And poems."

You are a GREAT storyteller!

Julie said...

I have that Rexroth book on my shelf, too (though not the story behind it!) and it's been a LONG time since I read through it. Time to do so - thanks for the reminder.

Ben Curran said...

I'm glad to add this book to my list of "must reads." Thanks for sharing.