Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sounds from the Unknown

I have been working on a comprehensive article about the history of tanka publishing in English, which has caused me to revisit Sounds from the Unknown edited by Tomoe Tana and Lucille Nixon.

Nixon describes the elements that make up good tanka as:

"The most important requisite for a good poem is that it come from the heart, that the expression must be real and sincere. The image, in other words, the sensory intake, must be clear, but there must be enough space around it so that the reader may delight himself with it by using his own associations."

All the following are the English translations of the Japanese originals. Both are included in the book.

From the high cliff the boat
I see in the middle of the Hudson River
Looks so very small
As it pulls along its own trail
Through the pure blue water.

~Masa Nishi

As my son opened a bundle
Of his luggage
When he returned,
The room was filled
With the odor of soldiering.

~Keigetsu Fukunaga

At the mountain villa
Where my friend's mother
Has just died,
The magnolia fragrances embraced us,
And words were few, very few.

~Junko Iizuka

At Hallowe'en
The baby goblin
Looking so happy,
Whispered from under the mask,
"This is me."

~Totaro Matsui

The sun shone so brightly
Into the Gilroy mountain stream
That the bodies of the fish
Became transparencies
Of yellow intestines.

~Takako Iino

Today at Pearl Harbor,
From the shore line,
At highest tide,
A gossamer mist,
With the deepest stillness.

~Hagino Matsuoka

Going steadily to study English,
Even through the rain at night,
I thus attain,
Late in life,
American citizenship.

~Kiyoko Nieda

The first person's name
My baby spoke again and again
Was that of Donna—
The little colored girl
Who lives across the street.

~Tomoe Tana

Oh, how very cold!
And how bright the frost this morning
On the silent fields,
As the sharp voice of the pheasant
Passes through.

~Tomo Hasaka

I am possessed
By this metropolitan phantom,
And have become as familiar
With New York in twenty years
As with a well beloved elderly wife.

~Kisaburo Konoshima

I, too, add my rock
To the mound of stones
Piled up
By all those who
Have climbed to the top of this peak.

~Shizuko Murakami

How silently
That tower of forty-two towers
Reflects the dawn,
In the harbor
At Seattle!

~Yosei Nomura

Quite early in the day,
Going to their city jobs,
People sit in buses,
And, oh, the beauty of each face
Reflecting early morning sun.

~Fumiko Kiyotoki

On the wide desert,
Before the silent wind,
My body sank
Into nothingness.

~Fumiko Ogawa

At Redondo Beach
Where Mexican people dwell,
Ugly oil wells rise,
But on washdays,
Oh, the flaming reds
That flutter in the breeze!

~Masanori Toyofuku

Sounds from the Unknown was published in January of 1964 as a trade paperback. Copies of it are readily found at low cost through the various online used booksellers.


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