This week I’m sharing tanka by Yosano Akiko as translated by Roger Pulvers.* In a previous post about her work, I focused on the role of tension in her poems. This time around, I have selected tanka that shift narratives midway.
Line by line, the three poems below develop their narrative arc, only to shift in the last two lines. This nuanced skill allows for shifts in perspective (first tanka), a shift in rhetoric (second), or a sudden shift in action (third). Each is a little drama that is accessible to the reader without losing any of its lyrical intimacy.
Two stars deep into heaven
Behind the nighttime curtain
While down below, now, people lie
Their hair in gentle disarray…
Made to punish men for their sins
The smoothest skin
The longest black hair…
The girl in a springtime window
Calls to awaken a young priest
Barely a man
His sutras toppled
By her dangling sleeve
Pulvers’ article ends with a final tanka which he prefaces by sharing how the poem was born out of Akiko’s husband, Tekkan, wanting “her to apply his blood to her lips as lipstick.” The manner in which Akiko describes and seizes upon how quickly physical things change reflects the emotional change and reaction to this strange, if intimate, request.
What will come into my burning lips?
“The blood from my little finger.”
But that blood is too dry now
For my mouth
*Check out Roger Pulvers’ full article & translations here.
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