Tag: japanese poetry

Shuntaro Tanikawa, “River” and “Song of March”


Why is the river laughing?

Why, because the sun is ticking the river.

Why is the river singing?

Because the skylark praised the river’s voice.

Why is the river cold?

It remembers being once loved by the snow.

How old is the river?

It’s the same age as the forever young springtime.

Why does the river never rest?

Well, you see it’s because the mother sea
is waiting for the river to come home.

* * *

I go flinging away flowers
everything is budding
in March.

I go flinging away paths
children are scampering about
in March.

I go flinging away song
skylarks are singing
in March.

I go embracing only love
the pain and fear and
you –

Your laughter
in March.

Shuntaro Tanikawa, “Twenty Billion Light Years of Loneliness”


Mankind on a little globe
Sleeps, awakes and works
Wishing at times to be friends with Mars.

Martians on a little globe
Are probably doing something; I don’t know what
(Maybe sleep-sleeping, wear-wearing, or fret-fretting)
While wishing at times to be friends with Earth
This is a fact I’m sure of.

This thing called universal gravitation
Is the power of loneliness pulling together.

The universe is distorted
So all join in desire.

The universe goes on expanding
So all feel uneasy.

At the loneliness of twenty billion light years
Without thinking, I sneezed.

– – –

Oh my. I seem to be quite obsessed with Mr. Tanikawa’s poetry right now. But you just read that, so I’m sure you must be too now. What a beautiful little work of art there. If there’s one thing Japanese poets can do, perhaps better than anyone, it’s jump light-quick between the profound and the absurd so that you hardly notice until you’re laughing your ass off, or crying. Perhaps its because the Japanese poets figured out long ago that the profound and the absurd are the same thing, or on two sides of the same coin at the very least. Consider this: the same Shuntaro Tanikawa who wrote this, and the poem I posted earlier, and whose poems I will continue to post, this Tanikawa also translates Peanuts into Japanese for the newspapers there. Peanuts! Yes! Charles Schultz! Translated by Japan’s most well-read and well-respected poet! I mean, isn’t that just…just beautiful? So profoundly absurd? If you don’t think so, well, then there’s nothing more I can do for you.

Shuntaro Tanikawa, “Evening”


For the sake of night that meets the dead
there remains today a single evening;
in the faint darkness
the neck of a turning girl.

For the sake of tomorrow for the poor
there remains today a single evening;
holding hands
and going home,
children are singing.

– – –

Picked up this book randomly today. Glad I did, for it’s filled with beautiful poems. “Shuntaro Tanikawa is the most popular poet in Japan today, respected by literary critics and general readers alike.” It also has little notes in it, I guess from the original buyer. Little sheets of paper with quotes from the poems they’re stuck next to. But there’s one that reads:

Sadly, my loves,
I could pick few of you
out in a crowd
Lynn in Mankato Mall

Looks like I got some extra poetry with my poetry today!

Japanese Songs


As I cross the mountains,
The brambles stop me;
Brambles, let me go!

The sun is setting!

– – –

A girl picking violets:
I asked the way to the field,
And she pointed with her flowers

Where the butterfly was going.

– – –

I’ll be in Cali for a few days so I’ll leave you to ponder these little gems in a Zen-like state and hope for enlightenment. Later!



When I picked up that Proust book the other day I also found a great book of American haiku called Haiku Moment. Here are a few that struck me this springy morning.

Virgil Hutton

Cloudless spring sky;
off and on all day
the caw of a crow

Spring dawn;
young tree just big enough
to rest a blackbird

Matthew Louviere

Spring wind –
sweeping the clouds
from puddle to puddle

One dragonfly
– the whole rice field

Bernard Lionel Einbond

The thousand colors
in her plain brown hair –
morning sunshine

Twenty Oh-Eight!


I love the tone of this hilarious little New Year’s haiku by Issa.

New Year’s Day–
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

– – –

Issa was a 16th century writer famous in Japan for his haikus, or hokkus, as they should technically be called. The hokku is a short poem, usually a single vertical line in the original Japanese. It’s only through Western translation that we get the familiar three lines. The traditional hokku does follow the 5/7/5 format we all know (and love!), but the units being counted were not syllables but morae, which are related to, but not entirely synonymous with syllables. A traditional hokku was not a stand-alone poem, but actually the opening verse of a longer poem called a renga–although later on, when poets wanted to write hokku and nothing more, they implied a theoretical renga to follow it. It was only in the 19th century that the hokku became haiku and was stripped of its connection to the renga.