No time for a proper post today, but here's a couplet from a Fang Xiaoru 方孝孺 poem that I think many No-sword readers will identify with:


A man of this age I am not, and yet
I bear in vain this age's many woes.

Is "and yet" the right glue there, I wonder?

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Yasuoka Masahiro would be against the addition of "and yet". From his Study of the Japanese Spirit:


There is a poem that goes:


Nowhere to throw / the water from my bath / the cries of insects

-- Onitsura

When one foreigner translated it, he changed it to something like, "Where can I pour out this bathtub? After all, everywhere I go the insects are chirping." We, however, cannot feel any poetic inspiration towards this. For us, poetry is not intellectual. It's not introspective. It is a real participation in the life of nature. As much as possible, poetry must be a direct outpouring of the life of nature.

Nowhere to throw the water from my bath. The cries of insects. Once when I was still a high school student, I made a literal translation of it and showed it to a German instructor. He said, "This is a strange way to write poetry. I don't get it at all." There probably isn't anyone who understood poetry as deeply as he, but I believe his way of thinking just illustrates the difference between the brains of Easterners and Westerners.

A real, living unification is at work to be able to grasp, just as it is, both the fact of standing still for a while without pouring out the bath-water and that the insects are chirping and then to write, "Nowhere to throw the water from my bath; the cries of insects." There is a pure continuity in this. On the other hand, to order this into the causal relationship of "_after all_" is already to lose the truth of reality to introspection, to conceptual cognition. Poetic inspiration must not become as cold as the void.


LaMarre has a lot to say about juxtaposition in classical Japanese poetry—making things ressonate by electing to put them together. He relates this content-level technique with syntax-level techniques like pivot-words and wordplay, or kanshi-style parallelism.


"I believe his way of thinking just illustrates the difference between the brains of Easterners and Westerners"

Well, perhaps. But it doesn't need to be as mystical as that. The problem is just as easily seen as a difference in syntax and word order. For example, if the components of the poem are reversed, it seems (to me) to make a lot more sense in English:

The cries of insects. Nowhere to throw the water from my bath.

Whether you consider it poetic or not, at least it makes some kind of sense, unlike a completely literal version that follows the Japanese order. And that is where, it seems to me, the failure of the German instructor lay -- a failure to understand the meaning. Without some kind of meaning, the poetry is simply lost in a sense of puzzlement.


Of course the bit about brains is pointless ethnocentrism, but I don't see what's the problem with:

Nowhere to throw the water from my bath.
The cries of insects.

I mean, I’m not a native speaker (of either language!), but this order makes as much sense to me as the other. (I might use "voices" or "chirping" or something to avoid implying that insects are shedding tears over my predicament…)

It can be argued that even this kind of punctuation and line-breaking is a kind of "and yet"—they’re added cues that explain things, whereas the original lets you find meaning yourself. But in my opinion this isn't relevant in this particular verse—some poems do clever things with multiple parsing possibilities but not this one; ((sute-dokoro naki) mushi) is promptly discarded as nonsensical, and all the Japanese reader got from it was slightly more trouble with deadends.


"Well, perhaps. But it doesn't need to be as mystical as that."

For sure, Yasuoka was a true Nihonjinronist. I'm definitely not endorsing his views. I just thought of it because I translated the passage for a job.

This passage was particularly memorable because his thesis was basically that the poem was untranslatable. :-)


Oh I just love that trope. "The expression 'foo', which means 'bar', is untranslatable."


From a Chinese, "and yet" is OK, because an initial "空" creates a strong enough resonance of "but".


I hope I'm not missing something here, but the two orders seem to me to differ somewhat in interpretability.

"Nowhere to throw the water from my bath. The cries of insects."

The connection of 'the cries of insects' with the lack of a place to throw bathwater is pretty incomprehensible, unless you know the conventions of haiku. What has the sudden reference to the cries of insects got to do with bathwater? Some kind of abstruse Buddhist philosophy? Some literary allusion? For the German instructor, the juxtaposition must have seemed pretty strange. On the other hand, in the alternate order,

The cries of insects. Nowhere to throw the water from my bath.

the reasoning is clear even without connectors: 'The cries of insects, (therefore) nowhere to throw the water from my bath.'

Of the two versions, the second is definitely clearer in meaning.


For me, the connection is equally easy in both orders. I don't know if I've been spoilered by conventions of haiku or by my mother tongue or what. I simply don’t feel one as easier to infer than the other. at all (I had to keep scrolling back to make sure of which one was that you preferred).

Nowhere to park my car; childrens playing.

Childrens playing; nowhere to park my car.

Nowhere to throw the water from my bath; [why?] the cries of insects.

The cries of insects; [therefore] nowhere to throw the water from my bath.


Yes, but that is a different example. It's definitely more comprehensible with something prosaic like 'nowhere to park my car, children playing'. But this is 'poetry'; it could just as well be 'Nowhere to throw the water from my bath; the setting sun', which would make about as much sense as 'the cries of insects' in this context. Remember, the German instructor FAILED to understand the implication. This is quite unlike your example, where both orders are actually understandable. My suggestion is that even the German instructor might have picked up the implication if the two were reversed. You're free to say that he wouldn't have, but your prosaic example doesn't provide a basis for making that assertion.


I'm with Leo, I don't find one order particularly more or less comprehensible. Once you realize that the bugs shouldn't be drowned, the order is irrelevant.


One doesn't have to, of course, but if we do think of the poem as addressed, in a general way, to the poem-consuming audience, then the order: (problem without context)-->(ahh, that's why) makes perfect sense.

It might not even be too far-fetched to trace this kind of figure of speech back to haiku's roots in renga, either, where the tsukeku is often, like here, the "answer" that puts an unexpected construction on the maeku.


How about, "I am not a man of this age; it is for nothing that I bear this age's many woes"? Let the 空 carry more of the weight without using any extraneous parts.


Great thread! Clearly I need to leave this blog unattended more often.

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