Chieko's Sky

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

During his lifetime Kotaro Takamura was a widely popular and highly respected poet in Japan. He published a number of volumes of verse which were highly acclaimed, and one, Tenkei, won the Yomiuri Literary Prize in 1951. He was also noted for his translations of poetry and prose, and wrote a biography of Auguste Rodin. He pursued these diverse literary activities while simultaneously devoting himself to a lifelong career as a sculptor. Despite his long established position as a leading modern poet in Japan, his work is scarcely known outside his own country. This posthumous volume, which is a revised version of a book of verse first published in 1938, then updated in 1974, is one of the few publications of Takamura’s which has received any real international attention. It is an attention long overdue.

Takamura was an extraordinarily creative artist, equally adept at shaping language or stone, carving wood or arranging words. Whether his verbal talent in any way affected his sculpture would be difficult if not impossible to say, but his sculptor’s vision—the compelling impulse to embody the abstract idea in the concrete representation—lends to his poetry a singular impact, a unique effectiveness. His poetry is very translatable because words for concrete images have so much more nearly identical counterparts in other languages than do abstractions or intangible ideas. This is not to suggest that the ideas are not there, for Takamura’s poems are much more than interesting images conjured up through words. The images, metaphors, and similes he uses are special vehicles, yoked to his ideas, infused with his vision, and expressed through his poetic control of words.

The poetry in this volume is not only intensely visual, but often sensually tactile as well. He refers to Chieko’s body as agatelike, maintains that she is “phosphorescing in my cells,” and describes how in the hour of her death her “clean teeth bit fresh into the lemon,” and the juice restored lucidity for an instant.

Chieko’s Sky has a single unifying subject, Chieko, and an unrelieved seriousness and directness of approach. The poet speaks in his poems of playing, laughing, and romping with his beloved wife, but he does not play, or laugh, or romp with words. There is no comedy, no satire, no merriment in his verse. It is lyric verse, expressing a vast range of human emotions from anguish and despair...

(The entire section is 995 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Booklist. LXXV, September 15, 1978, p. 148.

Sewanee Review. LXXXVI, July, 1978, p. R108.