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November 14, 2011


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I am humbled by your kind words... and dumbfounded! I've been compared to a few writers, but thinking of myself as Rubenesque - well, that's a first.

In research to prepare for my rendition of the great Fujiwara no Teika's poem, I read over half a dozen translations (and the same number for Kasa no Kanmura's verse). There is even one now in the comments of my blog, from another translator.

Having read all these, I am confident to say that I find your version the best direct translation I have read. Sadly I didn't have it before, but I am glad to have it as a touchstone now!

You capture the salt process succinctly, echo the Manyoshu poem, and even project (correctly) that Teika's narrator is a woman. This last is an incredibly important fact, because if you cannot capture that voice of longing, then you have not captured the essence of the poem.

In my blog, I highlighted the issue that most translations don't make allowance for the fact that "seaweed burning" doesn't resonate with the modern reader. When I write, I feel that it is part of my responsibility to convey this to the reader without their having to read commentary or do research (although research would enhance their experience considerably!).

However, another difficulty is that most translations of this poem unconsciously distance the narrator from the loved one - "one who does not come" "my love". But when you emphasize "him", you make real the person, he is no longer an abstract love, but someone.

In my adaptation (and in all my Chieko adaptations), the way I do this is to empower the narrator to refer to their love as "you". It is a conscious break from what is written in the original poem, but for me an important one. It makes for an immediacy to the reader, it makes the poem personal because now the narrator appears to be talking to the reader directly.

The ambiguous "you" and "I" also allows the reader to experience the same emotion, whether that reader is a man or woman.

I mentioned my adaptation appears in the verse novel I'm writing. It's an interesting context, and links back to your essay's prelude on painting.

The Teika poem, in my novel, is imagined to be inscribed on the back of a square dish by the artisan Ogata Kenzan, fired at his Narutaki kiln, and decorated on the front with a scene depicting the poem. The dish is found in a shipwreck.


Your Blog is a citizen of the singing arts. It is just beautiful
You are one of the few that 'can sail the many seas'.....can speak & 'dwell poetically' about many cultures. I love your explanations of words in the process of seaweed & salt.

I brought you a series of pictures about RED MEDUSA CORAL....there was one of an alchemical text where a man is pulling a medusa coral from the water. 'Farming' out a piece of coral to dry. to get the salt.

SALT IN ALCHEMY IS NEEDED TO BEGIN THE WORK OF FINDING THAT CONUNCTIO---doing all the processes to get the alchemist's gold or philosopher's stone. To 'marry' the elements to find the lapis of the work. The descriptions involve putrefaction, burning,drying, calcifying, turning things dark...really working on the elements.

Take a look in that Alchemy & Psychological Transformation book with the glossy photos that I sent for you to see.

...& that book that poet who did some monologues concerning Rembrandt, Vermeer... If you haven't looked at it........maybe now, with all the beautiful thought & shaping that you have done with Rembrandt, Rubens......maybe now, her work would be a further blossoming for your own ears....Her work might
confirm & delight & have you know more of the texture surrounding your artists.

As I remember, Rembrandt's life, the culture & those women around him...poignant & difficult. You do see those brilliant glints of gold on his canvas...an alchemy, some gold from the work.

In this season of THANKS

Alathea, as I wrote this post, I was not so sure where I was going with it... but as always, you illuminted the way. Thank you so much for your wonderful response.

I loved what you said about “farming salt” and about our alchemical pursuits involving putrefaction, burning, drying, calcifying, turning things dark... to ”really work on the elements,” as you said... and to work with them too is part of the alchemical process (like grinding ink or making jewelrylike pigments)...

You probably didn’t notice yet, but I added this quote below to last week’s post about boats:

I'm not afraid of storms; for I'm learning to sail my ship. -Aeschylus

I think the same can be said of alchemy, of love, of art—one cannot be afraid of getting burnt (or of getting caught in storms)....

Also, to work on the elements and to “marry” the elements (the number “two” being more than the sum of one and one).

And the Three dramatic Monogues with DaVinci, Michaelangelo and Rembrandt, what a wonderful book! I loved the first Monologue about Da Vinci.

Did you read the article about the Discovery of a lost Da Vinci? I don’t think I have ever seen a da Vinci painting with my own eyes and so I really appreciated seeing the reproduction of Lady with the ermine on such a beautiful paper.

Cecilia Gallerani sat for me,
Holding an emine in her
In her slender arms
And in its claws and snout and furtive eyes--
Emblem of purity!” her lover said--
I left its narrow comment on her name
Notihing qite suits me like a paradox

It is a paradox—every bit so as Mono Lisa’s smile....

Wikipedia says this about it:

There are several interpretations of the significance of the ermine in her portrait. The ermine, a stoat in its winter coat, was a traditional symbol of purity because it was believed that an ermine would face death rather than soil its white coat: Leonardo amused himself by compiling a bestiary in his old age; in it he recorded
MODERATION The ermine out of moderation never eats but once a day, and it would rather let itself be captured by hunters than take refuge in a dirty lair, in order not to stain its purity"

Another wonderful stoic image in the Rubens painting just above (bust of Marcus Aurelius, with tulips, some opened and some not yet opened).

I am looking forward to reading this one about a Leonardo painting xoxox

I hold the art of the translator in reverence.

It was a group of translators - Anthony Kerrigan, W.S. Merwin, Alastair Reid, Nathaniel Tarn - who introduced me to Pablo Neruda.

Neruda's poetry and the poetry of T.S. Eliot - himself edited by the remarkable Ezra Pound, an admirer of the Japanese poetic ethic - engendered in me an encompassing love for poetry and poetic craftsmanship that had previously been a casual love.

Years later, I read other translations of Neruda's work - and was at times disappointed.

I realized that, had I not first chanced upon the remarkable skills of Kerrigan, Merwin, Reid, and Tarn, a love of Neruda might have been lost to me.

Coming from the Philippines, I have more than a passing capability in Spanish - so I could understand very clearly how some of those translations stumble - and how some translations sing.

But Neruda, first and foremost, is a poet. Had he been born in Germany, he would have been a German poet, a Rilke. Had he been born in Japan, perhaps another Teika...

And yet, Ezra Pound helped enrich many readers with his renditions of the poetry of Li Bai (Li Po) - some would say in spite of his deviations from the original poems. How many present-day readers of poetry have searched out more of Li Po, because of Ezra Pound's 'The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter'?

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