Recently I bought a copy of One Hundred Poems from the Japanese: poems selected and translated by Kenneth Rexroth. Years ago I borrowed this book from the library and loved it, but at the time I didn’t have spare money to spend on books.
Reading these clear and heartfelt short poems is to wander in a different world: a world of underground passion, verbal precision and appreciation of small things, many with wide implications.
My favourite so far is:
I go out of darkness
Onto a road of darkness
Lit only by the far off
Moon on the edge of the mountains.
This has the human condition so right in so few words: where do we come from? where do we go?
The original was written by Izumi, who I suppose is the same person as Lady Izumi Shikibu. She was a lady in waiting at the Imperial court in the tenth to eleventh century. Apparently writing poetry was a popular activity for courtiers at the time.
Would that the fashion had spread and endured. If our political scene contained more poets who knows what it might achieve.
Cover art from New Directions publisher.