Not even the finest translations can fully convey the subtle nuances of tone, the delicacy of imagery, and the great suggestiveness and complex allusiveness of Yosano Akiko’s poetry—or indeed of most Japanese literature; English simply does not have the “feel” of Japanese, in sound, diction, grammar, or prosody. For example, there are no English equivalents for poignant sighs at the ends of many poems, or exclamations such as ya! and kana!
Fortunately, Rexroth’s masterful renditions reveal Akiko’s sensibility, passion, and imagination in English poems that are themselves enduring works of art. In the selections from her work included in his One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese (1974)—in which each English version is followed by the poem in romanized Japanese—Rexroth captures the erotic intensity that shocked Akiko’s first readers. Other poems in this selection poignantly foreshadow separation—as a man fondles his lover in the autumn, as lovers gaze at each other without speaking or thinking of the future, or as a woman smells her lover’s clothes in the darkness as he says good-bye. In others, the poet remembers writing a poem with her lover before separating from him, looks back on her passion like a blind man unafraid of the dark, contemplates sorrow as if it were hail or feathers falling, and watches cherry blossoms fall as stars go out in a false dawn. Such poems suggest the intricate, heartbreaking...
(The entire section is 1674 words.)
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