Cherry Blossoms 2


Cherry Blossoms (Part 2) by David Lanoue
yo-zakura ya ten no ongaku kikishi hito
evening cherry blossoms--
people listening
to heavenly music
In his journal, Hachiban nikki ("Eighth Diary"), Issa prefaces the following haiku of the same year with the headnote, "Heavenly Music":

ima no yo mo tori wa hokekyô naki ni keri

the world today--
a bird sings
the Lotus Sutra

The divine music in the present haiku is most likely the same bird.

In a similar haiku, written the same year, Issa begins with the phrase, "hazy night" (oboro yo ya).
hana saku ya ushi wa ushi-zure uma wa uma
cherry blossoms--
cows follow cows
horses, horses
Shinji Ogawa notes that the phrase, ushi wa ushi-zure uma wa uma ("cows follow cows, horses follow horses") is a metaphoric expression similar to "birds of a feather flock together." He suggests:

flock according to
their feathers

I think that Issa's Japanese is too wonderfully evocative to lose the cows and horses in translation. On a concrete level, one pictures actual cows and horses, each keeping to its group, walking along to view the spring blossoms: a silly bit of humanizing that I'd like to preserve in my English version. And the metaphorical sense, that cows and horses represent different human groups (peasants, samurai, merchants...), is not impossible to realize if one reflects a bit on Issa's cows and horses.

"Blossoms" (hana) can denote cherry blossoms in the shorthand of haiku.
uma wa uma tsure tote aruku sakura kana
horses follow horses
on their way...
cherry blossoms
In a similar haiku of 1821, Issa has the phrase, ushi wa ushi-zure uma wa uma ("cows follow cows, horses follow horses").

cherry blossoms--
cows follow cows
horses, horses

This, according to Shinji Ogawa, is a metaphoric expression similar to "birds of a feather flock together." The same thing is true of this haiku, he says, which he translates:

Like birds of a feather
we (or they) walk...
blossom viewing

In both haiku, Issa's Japanese is wonderfully evocative. I don't want to lose the silly concrete image (horses following horses on their way to a blossom viewing), even though this literal translation might lose the metaphorical sense. A translator's dilemma!
hana saku ya kyô no bijin no hohokaburi
cherry blossoms--
the pretty women of Kyoto
cheeks wrapped in scarves
Literally, the pretty women of the capital (Kyoto) tie cloths around their cheeks, a fashion statement that symbolizes, for Lewis Mackenzie, their secular "known-nothingness." See The Autumn Wind: A Selection from the Poems of Issa (London: John Murray, 1957; rpt. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1984), 63.

Shinji Ogawa has his doubts about this interpretation. He writes, "It is true that the metaphoric meaning of hohokaburi ("know-nothingism") is used in Japanese, especially in modern Japanese, quite often, but the hohokaburi itself, especially in Issa's day, was a quite normal way to wear the tenugui ("scarf"). This was the uniform of village girls working in the fields: something he saw every day back home." Shinji adds, "It might have been rather refreshing for him to see that Kyoto's pretty women, too, tied scarves around their cheeks in hohokaburi style."

"Blossoms" (hana) can denote cherry blossoms in the shorthand of haiku.
daimyô wo uma kara orosu sakura kana
the great lord
forced off his horse...
cherry blossoms
Though this haiku has the prescript, "Ueno," it was composed in Shinano Province during a snowy Second Month in 1810. The "worthless" beauty of Ueno's cherry blossoms humbles the daimyo. Harold G. Henderson notes that the poem alludes to the protocol of the period, which required common folk to grovel by the roadside whenever a daimyo passed (An Introduction to Haiku, New York: Doubleday, 1958, 128). The tables have been turned in this case, as it is the daimyo who is "forced" to dismount, outranked by Nature's beauty. This haiku also has historical significance. The first Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was enshrined at Ueno (in addition to his more grandiose shrine at Nikko). At the foot of Ueno hill, a "Dismount Your Horse" placard was posted (Maruyama 344, note 1860); the daimyo's dismounting in Issa's haiku thus accords with local custom.

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