River of Stars: Selected Poems of Yosano Akiko

River of Stars: Selected Poems of Yosano Akiko

by Yosano Akiko, Stephen Addiss
     
 

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Yosano Akiko (1878–1942) is one of the most famous Japanese writers of the twentieth century. She is the author of more than seventy-five books, including twenty volumes of original poetry and the definitive translation into modern Japanese of the Tale of the Genji. Although probably best known for her exquisite erotic poetry, Akiko's work also

Overview

Yosano Akiko (1878–1942) is one of the most famous Japanese writers of the twentieth century. She is the author of more than seventy-five books, including twenty volumes of original poetry and the definitive translation into modern Japanese of the Tale of the Genji. Although probably best known for her exquisite erotic poetry, Akiko's work also championed the causes of feminism, pacifism, and social reform. Akiko's poetry is profoundly direct, often passionate, exposing the complexity of everyday emotions in poetic language stripped of artifice and presenting the full breadth of her poetic vision. Included are ninety-one of Akiko's tanka (a traditional five-line form of verse) and a dozen of her longer poems written in the modern style.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Akiko (1878-1942) was so respected among Japanese poets that the period in which she wrote is nicknamed the Age of Akiko. Famous for her cornerstone translation into modern Japanese of The Tale of Genjii, she also single-handedly redeemed the well-worn tanka, a traditional form employing five lines with a standard syllable count (5-7-5-7-7). Many of the tankas are frankly erotic: "Testing, tempting me/ forever, those youthful lips/ barely touching the/ frosty cold drops of dew/ on a white lotus blossom." With her imagistic use of the form, she employed a fresh, personal perspective not unlike that found in the free verse of her modernist counterparts in the West. Though Akiko wrote a stunning 17,000 tankas during her lifetime, 91 have been selected and seamlessly translated by Hamill and Gibson for this volume. Unfortunately, Akiko's longer poems, free-verse efforts here dubbed "modern-style poems," are didactic. Poems like "Women Are Plunder," which chastises women who shop too much in department stores, show Akiko making socialist and feminist pronouncements. They are of great contextual and social significance, but they lack the elegance of the tankas. But at its best, in the tankas, Akiko's verse exhibits a powerful simplicity and grace that make this volume one of much more than historical interest.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Akiko (1878-1942) was so respected among Japanese poets that the period in which she wrote is nicknamed the Age of Akiko. Famous for her cornerstone translation into modern Japanese of The Tale of Genjii, she also single-handedly redeemed the well-worn tanka, a traditional form employing five lines with a standard syllable count (5-7-5-7-7). Many of the tankas are frankly erotic: "Testing, tempting me/ forever, those youthful lips/ barely touching the/ frosty cold drops of dew/ on a white lotus blossom." With her imagistic use of the form, she employed a fresh, personal perspective not unlike that found in the free verse of her modernist counterparts in the West. Though Akiko wrote a stunning 17,000 tankas during her lifetime, 91 have been selected and seamlessly translated by Hamill and Gibson for this volume. Unfortunately, Akiko's longer poems, free-verse efforts here dubbed "modern-style poems," are didactic. Poems like "Women Are Plunder," which chastises women who shop too much in department stores, show Akiko making socialist and feminist pronouncements. They are of great contextual and social significance, but they lack the elegance of the tankas. But at its best, in the tankas, Akiko's verse exhibits a powerful simplicity and grace that make this volume one of much more than historical interest. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"The canon of modern Japanese poetry is well-enhanced by this first English edition of one of Japan's twentieth century stellar lights, Yosano Akiko (1878-1942)—the most well-known and controversial female writer of that country in this century. In her lifetime, Akiko published seventy-five books, among them twenty volumes of poetry, along with a definitive modern Japanese translation of the classic Tales of Genji.

"A pioneering feminist, pacifist, and social reformer, her passions were intensely reflected in her literary work, reviving tanka—a form similar to the sonnet—to renewed lyrical essence, creating a unique style of true emotional directness. Given the enormity if reverberative effects in Akiko's poems, Hamill and Matsui Gibson's translations are crisp and incisive, with judicious care given the limits of English syntax. The ninety-one tanka and dozen modern style longer poems translated maintain a sustained pitch of such deeply engaged feeling that one almost reaches Zen-like union with Akiko's mind.

"What is remarkable is her fearless presentation of the sensate reality of the female body in relation to the masculine. Often evoking simple but striking images bordering on fetishism, she shows a very profound sensual connection with her man, her body almost becoming an imbued form of narcissism that challenges him to equal passion as her own. Other riveting poems in this mode address the bodiless perfection of Buddhist novices, immersed in meditation, challenging them to reciprocate and liberate themselves through her passion.

"Her poetry moves swiftly, subsuming one current into another, gathering shades of images and feelings, until the reader is finally swept along in her concentrated intensity of spirit. Some annotation would have been helpful in placing the poems in context to Akiko's eventful life, but the whole range of impact and emotions conveyed in this finely rendered first edition manage to supersede all criticism."—Small Press

"Akiko's verse exhibits a powerful simplicity and grace that make this volume one of much more than historical interest."—Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780834829336
Publisher:
Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
01/07/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
160
File size:
1 MB

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

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The river of stars

begins to part high

in the Milky Way while

through the curtains of our bed,

I
lie awake and watch

Tanka

Immersed in my hot

bath like a lovely lily

growing in a spring,

my twenty-year-old body—

so beautiful, so sublime.

Fresh from my hot bath,

I
dressed slowly before

the tall mirror,

a smile for my own body.

Innocence so long ago!

Wet with spring rain,

my lover finally comes

to my poor house

like a woman in love

under trees of pink blossoms.

Gently,
I open

the door to eternal

mystery,
the flowers

of my breasts cupped,

offered with both my hands.

Following his bath,

I
gave my handsome lover

my best purple robe

to protect him from the cold.

He blushed, and was beautiful.

I
whisper, "Good night,"

slipping silently from his room

in the spring evening,

and pause at his kimono,

and try it on for size.

The handsome boatman,

singing,
floating the river,

fills me with longing—

he's thrilled just remembering

last night's port-of-call girl.

So all alone

beside the temple bell:

I
stole away

to secretly meet you here.

But now the fog has cleared.

By a nameless stream,

small and very beautiful,

last night spent alone—

these broad, desolate fields

in the harsh summer dawn.

Kiyomizu
Temple's

picturesque across Gion:

cherry blossoms in

moonlight,
these passing faces,

every one so beautiful!

Sutras grow bitter

on this long spring evening.

Deep within the shrine,

O
twenty-five bodhisattvas,

please accept my humble song.

You've never explored

this tender flesh or known

such stormy blood.

Do you not grow lonely, friend,

forever preaching the Way?

He does not return.

Spring evening slowly descends.

Only this empty heart

and,
falling over my koto,

strands of my disheveled hair.

Raindrops continue

to fall on white lotus leaves.

While my lover paints,

I
open the umbrella

on his little boat.

Among the new leaves

of all these budding trees,

I
see everywhere

your smiling friendly face,

O
my beloved Buddha.

A
man, like a twig

of the blossoming wild plum,

is sufficient:

it's temporary, and

temporary our parting.

Standing beside him

at his poor mother's grave,

we place the anise sprig

upon her tomb. And I weep

the tears of a common-law wife.



Meet the Author

Keiko Matsui Gibson is a poet and translator who teaches literature at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan.

Sam Hamill has translated more than two dozen books from ancient Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Latin, and Estonian. He has published fourteen volumes of original poetry. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Mellon Fund. He was awarded the Decoración de la Universidad de Carabobo in Venezuela, the Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry from Washington Poets Association, and the PEN American Freedom to Write Award. He cofounded and served as Editor at Copper Canyon Press for thirty-two years and is the Director of Poets Against War.

Stephen Addiss, PhD, is Professor of Art at the University of Richmond in Virginia. A scholar-artist, he has exhibited his ink paintings and calligraphy in Asia, Europe, and the United States. He is also the author or coauthor of more than thirty books and catalogues about East Asian arts, including The Sound of One Hand: The Paintings and Calligraphy of Zen Master Hakuin.

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