from Goat Songs

Chuya Nakahara

Song of Upbringing

I

        infancy
the snow which fell on me
was like floss silk

        childhood
the snow which fell on me
was like sleet

        seventeen to nineteen
the snow which fell on me
dropped like hail

        twenty to twenty-two
the snow which fell on me
seemed like balls of ice

        twenty-three
the snow which fell on me
looked like a blizzard

        twenty-four
the snow which fell on me
became so mournful

II

the snow which falls on me
falls like petals
when the burning firewood makes a noise
and the frozen sky darkens

the snow which fell on me
so delicate and lovely
fell reaching out a hand

the snow which fell on me
was like tears
that sink into a burning forehead

to the snow which fell on me
I offered heartfelt thanks and prayed to God
that I would live a long life

the snow which fell on me
was so chaste





Sorrow Already Spoiled

today again a little snow falls
on sorrow already spoiled
today again even the wind blows
through sorrow already spoiled

sorrow already spoiled
is for example a fox's hide
on sorrow already spoiled
a little snow falls and it shrinks

sorrow already spoiled
never hopes nor wishes anything
sorrow already spoiled
in languor dreams of death

pitifully I fear
sorrow already spoiled
dusk and there's nothing I can do
against sorrow already spoiled . . .





Exhaustion

For all men, there comes a time of languishing.
                    —Proverb

First, one must have a thirst.
                    —Catherine de Medicis


I didn't awaken with a sense of purpose anymore.
I awoke and a sad, everyday scene
I'd bitterly dreamed of ...
(I could neither settle in
nor escape that place)
Then evening came, and I thought
this world is like an ocean.
I imagined a watery expanse at dusk,
where a haggard boatman rows
with unsteady hands.
Looking to see if there are any fish or not,
he passes by staring at the surface.

II

once I believed
love poems were foolish

now I read love poems
just for the sake of it

and yet perhaps I want
to reach a higher state of poetry

I don't know if that's right or wrong
but such a feeling persists anyway

and sometimes irritates me
provoking outrageous desires

once I believed
love poems were foolish

yet now I do nothing
but dream about love

III

how am I to know if this
is my degradation or not

this arm-dangling indolence
the sun still shines today  blue sky

perhaps this idleness is all I have
ever been able to manage

or perhaps I only yearned
for honest desires because I was idle

ah  even so even so
I have never thought to be a man who only dreams!

IV

nevertheless the good and evil of this world
are not easily understood by humanity

countless reasons which we cannot fathom
govern every little thing

yet if I am patient and quiet like spring water
in mountain shade  it can be fun

I believe all that is visible from the train
mountains  grass  the sky  river  everything

will soon melt into complete harmony
and rise into the blue to form a rainbow

V

now  how to turn a profit
how to avoid losing face

I mean  you people who spend all your time
on such things  making demands of others

I used to think your attitude was reasonable
and eagerly went right along with you

but today I will come to my senses again
like a rubber band snapping back

thus  within this window of idleness
I spread my fingers in the shape of a fan

and inhale the sky  drink time
floating   a frog on the water

night sees the stars as night
ah  back of the sky  back of the sky

VI

But this condition persists:
although I believe I must behave as others do,
I feel myself small,
am even shocked by a department store delivery boy.

And although the reason is always clear—
trash, trash, trash of disbelief at the bottom of my heart.
However absurd it seems, these two
no doubt consist in me eternally, can never fall away.

Drawn to the sound of music,
I feel revived a little,
but the moment those two die within me—

ah, songs of sky and ocean,
I think I know the very essence of beauty,
and yet how hard it is to have no way of shaking off my idleness!



translated from the Japanese by Christian Nagle



Click here to read the Special Feature: Christian Nagle on Chuya Nakahara.



Read the original in Japanese

Chuya Nakahara was a Japanese early modernist of conflicting impulses: apolitical but iconoclastic; a progressive formalist. Dismissive of institutions, he was a successful auto-didact, and his mastery of waka (formal, 7/5-syllabic verse) combined with a competency in French to provide for his hybrid evolution. His English, however, was inadequate to an academic understanding of English-language poetry. He wrote in the wake of his Meiji-era predecessors, while straining towards those Symbolists and Surrealists he admired and translated, and he is recognized today as one of the most scrupulous pre-war Japanese writers of poems informed by European models, especially the Petrarchan sonnet. Chuya died of tuberculosis, having sold only a thousand books, but the 1967 edition of his collected works spans six volumes, and to date more criticism has been written on him than any other Japanese poet.

Christian Nagle holds a PhD in writing and literature. He has published or has forthcoming poetry, essays, translations, interviews and prose fiction in The Paris Review, Esquire, Raritan, Southwest Review, New England Review, Subtropics Antioch Review, Measure, Kyoto Journal, Quick Fiction, and many other magazines. For more than a decade he has lived in Japan, translating the poetry of Chuya Nakahara, and he is the Managing Director of Nuance Partners, a consulting and full-service media company.



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