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Also in this issue, Patrick's poems

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Contributors



CROSSING THE OCEAN OF SUFFERING

TRANSLATIONS OF EIGHT BUDDHIST POEMS FROM THE JAPANESE IMPERIAL ANTHOLOGIES




Patrick Donnelly and Stephen Miller

Translated by Patrick Donnelly and Stephen Miller







Senzaishû 1208: “Written on the Spirit of the Verse 'Turning to the Moon Brings Paradise to Mind,” by Minamoto Toshifusa

Senzaishû 1222: “From a Hundred Poems on the Law, This One on the Verse 'Only the Boddhisattva of Wisdom Will Never Abandon Me,'” by Shikishi Naishinnô

Senzaishû 1227: “On the Meaning of the Teaching 'Secretly Inside He Is a Boddhisattva' from the Lotus Sutra,” by Sakon Middle Captain Yoshitsune

Shûishû 1328: “Noticing a Painting in the Monks' Hall in Which the Priest Chûren Weeps Over a Corpse, the Author Speaks as the Priest,” by Minamoto Sukekata

Senzaishû 1210: “Written Before the Poet Endured Troubles on Pilgrimage to Present a Lotus Sutra in Gold Ink,” by Fujiwara Atsuie

Senzaishû 1232: “Written When the Minister of the Right Came to the Paradise Hall of Sensai Shônin's Temple,” by Jingihaku Akinaka

Shûishû 1338: “Written When the Tenryaku Emperor's Plans for a Celebration in His Mother's Honor Were Cut Short by Her Death, and a Ceremony to Recite the Sutras Was Held Instead,” by Gyosei

Shûishû 1347: [untitled] “the debt I owe the breasts,” by Gyôki






WRITTEN ON THE SPIRIT OF THE VERSE “TURNING TO THE MOON BRINGS PARADISE TO MIND”


people who think
       I'm only watching
               moonset behind the mountain:

               when I face the West,
       I'm composing
my will

              —Minamoto Toshifusa



Senzaishû 1208

      iru tsuki o
miru to ya hito wa
      omouran
kokoro o kakete
nishi ni mukaeba




FROM A HUNDRED POEMS ON THE LAW, THIS ONE ON THE VERSE “ONLY THE BODHISATTVA OF WISDOM WILL NEVER ABANDON ME”


on the night
       when I leave home
               forever—

               an out of this world trip—

       I hear it's moonlight
will lead the way

              —Shikishi Naishinnô






Senzaishû 1222

      furusato o
hitori wakaruru
      yûbe ni mo
okuru wa tsuki no
kage to koso kike




ON THE MEANING OF THE TEACHING “SECRETLY INSIDE HE IS A BODHISATTVA” FROM THE LOTUS SUTRA


before they realized
       you didn't need to cross—

               were helping others across—

                      did they think you crossed it alone,
                             the ocean of suffering?

              —Sakon Middle Captain Yoshitsune



Senzaishû 1227

      hitori nomi
kurushiki umi o
      wataru to ya
soko o satoranu
hito wa miruran




NOTICING A PAINTING IN THE MONKS' HALL IN WHICH THE PRIEST CHÛREN WEEPS OVER A CORPSE, THE AUTHOR SPEAKS AS THE PRIEST


my fate
       brought me
               to this corpse—

               who will
       visit me
when I'm in this shape?

              —Minamoto Sukekata



Shûishû 1328

      chigiri areba
kabane naredomo
      ainuru o
ware oba tare ka
towan to suran




WRITTEN BEFORE THE POET ENDURED TROUBLES ON PILGRIMAGE TO PRESENT A LOTUS SUTRA IN GOLD INK


                      while I wait for daybreak
               to wake me out of this dream
       light the dark     bedazzlement
of the Law


(—found by someone
       in the poet's house, after he
               made his offering
                      on the mountain and died)

              —Fujiwara Atsuie



Senzaishû 1210

      yume samemu
sono akatsuki o
      matsu hodo no
yami o mo terase
nori no tomoshibi




WRITTEN WHEN THE MINISTER OF THE RIGHT CAME TO THE PARADISE HALL OF SENSAI SHÔNIN'S TEMPLE


looking down into
       the flawless pond

               I saw my face
                      reborn

       when for so long I was sure
I'd fall into hell

              —Jingihaku Akinaka



Senzaishû 1232

      isagiyoki
ike ni kage koso
      ukabinure
shizumi ya sen to
omou waga mi o




WRITTEN WHEN THE TENRYAKU EMPEROR'S PLANS FOR A CELEBRATION IN HIS MOTHER'S HONOR WERE CUT SHORT BY HER DEATH, AND A CEREMONY TO RECITE THE SUTRAS WAS HELD INSTEAD


I wanted to hurry them
       to you
               for your journey—

               the tender
       shoots of spring
I picked today

              —Gyosei



Shûishû 1338

      itsu shika to
kimi ni to omoishi
      wakana o ba
nori no michi ni zo
kyô wa tsumitsuru



[Gathering young herbs was a springtime ritual at the court. The poem also alludes to the Buddha's teaching (in the “Devadatta” chapter of the Lotus Sutra) that he reached enlightenment in a previous lifetime by performing tasks for others: gathering herbs, chopping wood, carrying water.]







the debt
       I owe the breasts
               my mother in tender mercy gave—

               to one hundred stones
       add eighty—

I repay today

              — Gyôki



Shûishû 1347

      momokusa ni
yasokusa no soete
      tamaiteshi
chibusa no mukui
kyô zo waga suru



[This poem is thought to be based on a sutra called the Shinji-kangyô which gives thanks for the four blessings of parents, sovereign, sentient beings, and “the three jewels” (Buddha, Dharma, and sangha). The version of this poem in the Shûishû reads “one hundred grasses” rather than “one hundred stones,” but commentators suggest this is a miscopying.]




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Note on the Poems and Translation:


Between the early 10th century and the 15th century, the Japanese emperors ordered the compilation of twenty-one anthologies of poetry. These anthologies contained anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand poems. Our translations are drawn from the third such anthology (the Shûiwakashû or Shûishû for short, the “Collection of Gleanings of Japanese Poetry,” completed at some point between 1005-1011), and the seventh anthology (the Senzaishû, the “Collection of a Thousand Ages,” compiled between 1183 and 1188).

The compilers of the anthologies, in addition to arranging the poems under thematic headings (seasons, love, grief, travel, etc.), gave many poems a short prose preface. These prefaces, which addressed the poems' thematic content or the occasions of their composition, are now considered aesthetically inseparable from the poems. In our translations, to join preface to poem in a way analogous to English poetry, we've presented prefaces as the poems' titles.

Our translations are all of poems with Buddhist themes, called shakkyô-ka. The Senzaishû was the first imperial anthology in which shakkyô-ka appeared as an independent category; our translations from the Senzaishû are all drawn from this section, the 19th book. Our Shûishû translations are from the Aishô-ka section (“Laments”), the 20th book. This group of poems is particularly concerned with death and other forms of impermanence and transformation, a common focus of shakkyô-ka. The poems make frequent reference to Buddhist scriptures, such as the Lotus Sutra, and to Buddhist concepts or personalities, such as the bodhisattva, a compassionate person or heavenly being dedicated to seeking enlightenment for everyone. (For instance, the poem by Yoshitsune makes reference to a passage in the Lotus Sutra in which the Buddha explains that someone was a hidden bodhisattva.) Likewise, because they would have known that the moon sets in the west, Japanese poets and readers of this period would have easily associated references to the moon or moonlight in these poems with a Buddhist desire to be reborn in the Western Paradise of Amida Buddha. (This goal was the particular focus of the “Pure Land” teachings that were popular with the aristocracy—the writers of these poems—during the Heian period.)

The Japanese originals of these poems (like most poems in the imperial anthologies) are waka, the thirty-one syllable form that was predecessor to the haiku. Because Japanese poetry is written in vertical columns, there are no “lines” as such, but in waka the syllables are broken into groups of 5 - 7 - 5 - 7 - 7 syllables. These groupings are often rendered as five lines in English translations, but we chose to let the syntax in English take precedence over the poem's original form. Likewise, our translations don't imitate the syllabic form of the originals, on the reasoning that there isn't a strong tradition of syllabics in English poetry. In part, this is because English, unlike Japanese, is a language in which the alternation of strong and weak stresses is important, a fact that gave accentual rhythm precedence over syllable-counting in English prosody. Our goal was to create interesting English poems that convey the emotional and spiritual arguments of the Japanese originals.

Patrick Donnelly
Stephen Miller
South Deerfield, September 25, 2006



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Translators:


PATRICK DONNELLY's collection of poems is The Charge (Ausable Press, 2003). He is an Associate Editor at Four Way Books, and has taught at the New School University, Clark University, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Massachusetts Review. With Stephen Miller he has translated the 16th century Japanese Nô play Shunzei Tadanori for Translations and Transformations: the Heike Monogatari in Nô.

STEPHEN MILLER is assistant professor of Japanese language and literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is translator of A Pilgrim's Guide to Forty-Six Temples (Weatherhill Inc., 1990), and editor of Partings at Dawn: An Anthology of Japanese Gay Literature (Gay Sunshine Press, 1996). He lived in Japan for nine years between 1980 and 1999, in part as the recipient of two Japan Foundation fellowships for research abroad. He is currently working on a study of the Buddhist poetry in the Japanese imperial poetry anthologies.

Donnelly and Miller are married and live in Western Massachusetts.