Seven Poems by CHUYA NAKAHARA
translated by CHRISTIAN NAGLE
Song of Summer Going By


A colonnade—its canopy drew a deep breath
and the sky high, high above was looking at it.
A pilgrim came along in a hurry to find
glass which had fallen on the radiant sand.

The mountain’s verge becomes clear, clear,
and purifies the mouths of goldfish and girl.
On that plane flying this way
I put some insect tears yesterday.

The wind sends a ribbon into the sky,
and I think I shall talk of the once-fallen sea
and about its waves.

I shall talk of cavalry, the motion of upper limbs,
a petty official’s red shoes,
and a bicycle that goes along the mountain
without a rider.




Little Sister


At night a beautiful soul cries and
          —that girl is the one, but—
at night a beautiful soul cries,
          “I may as well die…” she says.

Across the damp field’s black earth, short grass,
          the night wind is blowing and
“I may as well die, I may as well die,”
          says the beautiful soul.

At night, the sky high above, wind blowing delicately
          —there was nothing I could do but pray…




One Autumn Day


This morning, people late to rise are
drowned by sounds of wind against doors, of wheels,
in the ocean where the Sirens live.

No more talk in summer night stalls,
nor conscience of the carpenter.
All is ancient history and
the horizon’s eye color beyond the granite.

Today everything is obedient under the consular office flag,
and I know nothing besides a tin, the plaza, and drums of heaven.
Without a care for the husky voices of mollusks,
in a park with squatting purple shadows, an infant puts sand in its mouth.

          (Pale blue platform,
          noisy girls and scornful Yanks—
          I hate them, hate them!)

Hands thrust in pockets,
down the alley and out to the wharf,
I’m going in search of something
like rags to suit my soul for the day.



Port Town Autumn


Morning sun shines on a stone cliff
and the autumn sky is perfectly beautiful.
The port visible over there—
couldn’t it also be the horns of a snail?

In town, some people clean a pipe.
A tile roof stretches out,
the sky breaks.
An officers’ holiday—they wear dotera.

“When I am born again…”
a sailor sings.
“Let’s jump on the whee-ee-ee—ka-boom!…”
a wily old woman sings.

A port town autumn day is
gentle madness.
I, on that day in my life,
lost a chair.



Midnight Thoughts


This is bubbling calcium’s
sudden
dehydration—an innocent girl’s cry,
a bag shop wife’s evening booger.

The grove twilight is
a cracked mother.
Insects buzz around the treetops,
their funny pacifier dance.

Hunting dog of waving hair unseen,
hunter takes his humpback away.
The field near the forest
   becomes a hill!

Margaret approaches the black shore,
veil ruffled by the wind.
Her body must plunge into
the hard God’s father ocean!

Standing on the cliff above her,
a genie draws an odd stripe.
Memory a sad library’s clearance,
she must die before long.



My Smoking


Your two white legs walk
at dusk, the chilly dusk of a port town,
winding along the pavement like mushrooms.
Stores have their lights on, they’re lit up,
and I walk by looking at them,
hear you say to me,
“Let’s stop somewhere and have a rest.”

Then I, leaving bridges and yawls behind,
enter the restaurant—
roars and clamor, thickening steam,
such a different world.
Then I, gazing ineptly at your happy face,
smoke my cigarette in sadness—
puff, puff, I smoke it…



Hangover


Morning, the dull sun shining,
   and it’s windy.
A thousand angels
   play basketball.

I close my eyes:
   it’s a sad drunkenness.
A derelict kerosene
   heater rusts in white.

Morning, the dull sun shining,
   and it’s windy.
A thousand angels
   play basketball.
逝く夏の歌


並木の梢が深く息を吸つて、
空は高く高く、それを見てゐた。
日の照る砂地に落ちてゐた硝子を、
歩み来た旅人は周章てて見付けた。

山の端は、澄んで澄んで、
金魚や娘の口の中を清くする。
飛んでくるあの飛行機には、
昨日私が昆虫の涙を塗つておいた。

風はリボンを空に送り、
私は嘗て陥落した海のことを
その浪のことを語らうと思ふ。

騎兵聯隊や上肢の運動や、
下級官吏の赤靴のことや、
山沿ひの道を乗手もなく行く
自転車のことを語らうと思ふ。

妹よ


夜、うつくしい魂は涕いて、
          ――かの女こそ正当なのに――
夜、うつくしい魂は涕いて、
          もう死んだつていいよう……といふのであつた。

湿つた野原の黒い土、短い草の上を
          夜風は吹いて、
死んだつていいよう、死んだつていいよう、と、
          うつくしい魂は涕くのであつた。

夜、み空はたかく、吹く風はこまやかに
          ――祈るよりほか、わたくしに、すべはなかつた……
秋の一日


こんな朝、遅く目覚める人達は
戸にあたる風と轍との音によつて、
サイレンの棲む海に溺れる。

夏の夜の露店の会話と、
建築家の良心はもうない。
あらゆるものは古代歴史と
花崗岩のかなたの地平の目の色。

今朝はすべてが領事館旗のもとに従順で、
私は錫と広場と天鼓のほかのなんにも知らない。
軟体動物のしやがれ声にも気をとめないで、
紫の蹲んだ影して公園で、乳児は口に砂を入れる。

          (水色のプラットホームと
          躁ぐ少女と嘲笑ふヤンキイは
          いやだ  いやだ!)

ぽけっとに手を突込んで
路次を抜け、波止場に出でて
今日の日の魂に合ふ
布切屑をでも探して来よう。
港市の秋


石崖に、朝陽が射して
秋空は美しいかぎり。
むかふに見える港は、
蝸牛の角でもあるのか

町では人々煙管の掃除。
甍は伸びをし
空は割れる。
役人の休み日――どてら姿だ。

『今度生れたら……』
海員が唄ふ。
『ぎーこたん、ばつたりしよ……』
狸婆々がうたふ。

          港の市の秋の日は、
          大人しい発狂。
          私はその日人生に、
          椅子を失くした。
深夜の思ひ


これは泡立つカルシウムの
乾きゆく
急速な――頑ぜない女の児の泣声だ、
鞄屋の女房の夕の鼻汁だ。

林の黄昏は
擦れた母親。
虫の飛交ふ梢のあたり、
舐子のお道化た踊り。

波うつ毛の猟犬見えなく、
猟師は猫背を向ふに運ぶ。
森を控へた草地が
   坂になる!

黒き浜辺にマルガレエテが歩み寄する
ヴェールを風に千々にされながら。
彼女の肉は跳び込まねばならぬ、
厳しき神の父なる海に!

崖の上の彼女の上に
精霊が怪しげなる条を描く。
彼女の思ひ出は悲しい書斎の取片附け
彼女は直きに死なねばならぬ。
わが喫煙

おまへのその、白い二本の脛が、
     夕暮、港の町の寒い夕暮、
によきによきと、ペエヴの上を歩むのだ。
     店々に灯がついて、灯がついて、
私がそれをみながら歩いてゐると、
     おまへが声をかけるのだ、
どつかにはひつて憩みませうよと。

そこで私は、橋や荷足を見残しながら、
     レストオランに這入るのだ――
わんわんいふ喧騒、むつとするスチーム、
     さても此処は別世界。
そこで私は、時宜にも合はないおまへの陽気な顔を眺め、
     かなしく煙草を吹かすのだ、
一服、一服、吹かすのだ……
宿酔

朝、鈍い日が照つてて
    風がある。
千の天使が
     バスケットボールする。

私は目をつむる、
     かなしい酔ひだ。
もう不用になつたストーヴが

     白つぽく銹びてゐる。

朝、鈍い日が照つてて
     風がある。
千の天使が
     バスケットボールする。
CHRISTIAN NAGLE is a writer and musician. He made his professional debut in 1978 as an original cast member of EVITA on London's West End, singing before HRH Princess Margaret in a preview performance, and subsequently often performed at The Royal Albert Hall. He made his recording debut the same year on Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik's Thames Pageant, and went on to found, record and tour internationally with the progressive rock band, Clockhammer, and with the progressive jazz band, Chainsaw Jazz. He now writes music for film. His works for the stage have been produced in three states and Washington, D.C., with the play Pawns being selected by three-time Pulitzer prizewinner Edward Albee for his New Play Series. He holds a PhD with honors in writing and literature from the University of Houston, where he was invited to study as a Stella Erhardt Scholar and Cullen Graduate Fellow. He has published or has forthcoming poetry, essays, translations, interviews and prose fiction in Esquire, Raritan, The Paris Review, Subtropics, Southwest Review, New England Review, Antioch Review, TLR, Measure, Kyoto Journal, Quick Fiction, and many other magazines. He has lived for more than a decade in Japan, translating the early modernist, Chuya Nakahara, and has two books forthcoming—his own first collection of poems, Flightbook, which will be published in English and Japanese by Salmon Poetry, and Goat Songs, a translation of Nakahara’s first volume.
CHUYA NAKAHARA was a Japanese early modernist of conflicting, even paradoxical, impulses: almost apolitical but fiercely iconoclastic; a progressive formalist; occasional swain of his own urban pastorals; an agnostic singer of prelapsarian hymns. He rejected the language of his age, of any age, strove to articulate what he called “the world before the word,” wherein the primeval saturates the sensorial present. He was dismissive of institutions, especially literary schools and scholasticism, because, as he claimed at the start of his career, he was beyond their prescriptions. Yet, for all his bohemian airs, Chuya (like Dante, he is always affectionately referred to by his first name) was a proudly successful auto-didact, and his mastery of waka (formal, 7/5-syllabic verse) combined with his eventual competency in French to provide the touchstones for his hybrid evolution. He wrote half under the shadow of his Meiji-era predecessors, while straining towards those Symbolists he admired and translated—Rimbaud, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Mallarmé—and, with an assurance unrivaled by any of his peers, the Surrealists. His English was inadequate to an academic understanding of English-language poetry and, like many other Japanese modernists, he was privy only to a random body of English poems in translation, scattered through the journals of his time.

One should not, therefore, consider Chuya in the context of Western poetry. He wrote not within its traditions, only partly out of them. Yet he was, like many other 20th-21st century Japanese artists, a master of assimilation and transmogrification. Fundamental linguistic and prosodic differences between Japanese and English mean that while incorporating whatever Western formal standards he could, Chuya was obliged to make Japanese versions of others. In his sonnets, for example, since Japanese is non-accentual, he refigures iambic pentameter as waka-form syllablic lines. Although not a pioneer in this regard, Chuya is admired today as one of the most scrupulous pre-war Japanese writers of poems informed by European models. He acquired new thematic and tonal license from his obsession with collections like Le Bateau Ivre, but the element of Symbolist poetry that held the greatest value for him was refrain. Through it he found liberation from the claustrophobic dimensions of tanka and haiku, even while the echoes of their decorum kept his poems grounded in the culture from which they derive.

Chuya was a Japanese poet as defined by his language and the literary traditions he was helping both to uphold and transform. Like many of his quasi-revolutionary friends, he was fond of making universal proclamations about poetry, these born of a relativistic despair that the Continental experiment would achieve, as it did, without him. Yet, unlike most of them, Chuya’s art quickly outgrew the limitations of manifesto, and he lent his voice sparingly to the salons of his day and their fleeting, spirited publications. His intense, private industry was a disdainful response to the Japanese ‘group society’ mindset, but resulted in an oeuvre and artist now revered as distinctly Japanese. Still, Chuya’s biography leads one to think of certain Western poets whose early demise also spawned cult followings, popularity that far exceeded what they had enjoyed in life: Keats, Rimbaud, Plath. His death in 1937 (legend says from a broken heart; the coroner’s report, tuberculosis) hardly registered in a country feverish with military nationalism, but not even his then-greatest admirers could have predicted his eventual status in Japanese letters. He published only one volume of poetry in his lifetime—Goat Songs, a vanity printing funded by his mother, which sold about 50 copies. A second, posthumous book, Songs of Days Past, went a modest 1000. But in 1947, war-shattered and penniless Japan bought over 20,000 copies of a new Chuya collection, and interest in his unpublished poems and drafts has continued at a peak ever since. The 1967 edition of his collected works spans six volumes.

Although Chuya is not a household name in Japan, the title and refrain to his most celebrated poem, “Sorrow Already Spoiled,” is known by a majority of Japanese adults. More criticism has been written on him than any other Japanese poet, and he is the continuing subject of heated, sometimes absurd, scholarly debate. In his hometown there is the Chuya Nakahara Memorial Museum, and Yamaguchi prefecture sponsors an annual festival dedicated to his life and work. As with any genius who is cut off prematurely, the buzz over Chuya since his death has become his surrogate life, chatter trying vainly to occupy the void of his unrealized potential. More tragic still, a dearth of interested, qualified translators has until now kept Chuya’s poetry from the Western literary table.