‘In autumn a friend sent an apple’: On a Japanese poem.

I think this is the translation she showed me. Nonetheless, it’s one that still floors me, even if different. That’s the funny thing about reading in translation (and I’ll never have Japanese in anything other than translation); without recourse to the source, we’re just reading reflections of reflections.

I suppose as a classicist, whenever I think of translation and translation theory I should be thinking of L. Andronicus and Homer. Instead, I often think of the literary arguments about various translations of the great Russian books from Garnett onwards. Regardless of Garnett’s quality, her prose has helped ossify our idea of what a Russian novel is in English.

Here’s the translation taken from the Penguin Book of Japanese Verse.

Autumn in jail – Tsuboi Shigeki

In autumn a friend

Sent in an apple.

I made to eat it

All at once.

Red: too red.

In my palm, heavy:

Heavy as the world.

All of Shigeki’s poems in this collection are worth a lengthy train ride ruminating over. What strikes me about the translation – especially as a poet prone to prolixity – is the sheerness of it. It’s fatless and neat, yet evocative and kind of torturous.

Who hasn’t been that person, so locked up inside themselves (guessing nobody here has been to jail!) that the kindness of a friend, or any sort of intrusion of the ‘real’, seems like technicolor against gray-scale?

What a cruel poem.

By the way, I know this has been neither classical nor anything akin to philological, but I’m clearly not writing much anyway and wanted to share this regardless.

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