A senryū from Yamazawa Hideo 山澤英雄's Yanagidaru meiku sen (ed. Kasuya Hiroki 粕谷宏紀 1995, Iwanami Shoten):

mushiyoke wo/ yomi-yoku haru wa/ muhitsu nari
Those who paste up insect-repelling poems in a way that makes them easy to read, can't read.

Kasuya explains in a footnote that Edoites believed that insects could be kept out of the bathroom, kitchen, etc. by pasting up a copy of the poem "千早ふる卯月八日は吉日よかみさけ虫の成敗ぞする" ("The marvelous eighth of the fourth lunar month is an auspicious day; flies will be punished severely") written in ink mixed with the sweet tea served by temples on Buddha's birthday (the eighth of the fourth, you see). For real efficacy, you apparently wanted to paste the poem upside-down, or at least have the 虫 ("insect") character inverted.

As a result, hanging your insect-repelling poem the right way up reveals that you do not actually know which side is up, in the sense that the characters are just squiggles t you.

Kasuya further notes that this practice can be observed in the illustrations in Santō Kyōden 山東京伝's Edo umare uwaki no kabayaki (江戸生艶気樺焼, "Playboy, Roasted à la Edo"*) — and it's true! In fact, thanks to the magic of Waseda University's online Edo literature collection, we can confirm this without even standing up. The book is here; the poem can be seen at the bottom right of page 9, above a pair of geta.

Note also that the word corresponding to "illiterate" isn this senryū is 無筆, literally (!) "brushless". Etymologically speaking, the conceptual divide is the ability to produce letters, not just understand them.

* I can't take credit for this great translation of the title, it's apparently Adam Kern's. More on the book itself at BMSF.



According to Iwanami Bunko's recent collection of haiku by Nagai Kafū (荷風俳句集, ed. Katō Ikuya 加藤郁乎), this is a hauta written as a jingle for Matsuya, back when it was Matsuya Gofukuten ("Matsuya Japanese-Clothing Store"):



The cool wind that strokes the hair on the nape of my neck sinks deeper into my skin with every shower of rain, and now I find myself in a lined autumn kimono. A man I know from some past night of fireworks has quietly dyed out the crest on his haori and replaced it with a design combining his and mine, and pretends not to know me. My name no longer worth a pin/stripes, but in the end with baby making three/-fold stripes. Longing to share a futon as a family, I pray morning and night.

I believe that we are to understand this as the tale of a courtesan who has fallen in love with a man whose social position prevents him from openly acknowledging her at present, but who nevertheless makes gestures (the shared crest design, etc.) that give her hope that he will make an honest woman of her one day.

I haven't made any effort to reproduce the poetic effect (note the 5/7/5/7 structure) but I did make a rudimentary attempt to recreate the key puns at the end:

yagate ukina no/ tatejima ni/ sue wa medetō/ komochijima
My name no longer worth a pin/stripes, but in the end with baby making three/-fold stripes.

Tatejima literally means "vertical stripes", and here it's overlaid on ukina o no ta[tsu], "rumors start." Komochijima means "child-having stripes"; it's another vertical stripe design that pairs each thick stripe with a thin one (go here and search for "子持縞"). Here it's overlaid on komochi, i.e. the concept of literally having a child, starting a family. (Note also the use of sue!)

Other items of linguistic interest:

  • The source term for "design combining his and mine" is hiyoku 比翼, short for hiyoku mon 比翼紋 (where mon means "crest"). Hiyoku comes from hiyoku no tori, which corresponds nicely to "lovebirds." It's originally from a line in Bai Juyi 白居易's Song of Eternal Sorrow (長恨歌):

    在天願作比翼鳥 / 在地願為連理枝
    "If we are in the heavens we will be like birds flying with wingtips together/ If we are on earth we will be intertwined branches of a tree." (Chris Kern's translation)
  • The source term for "share a futon as a family" is kawa to iu ji ni nete 川といふ字に寐て. This is a well-known expression that I think first appeared in the Edo period. It literally refers to a family of three sleeping with the child between the two parents, like the character 川 (kawa, river), and metaphorically connotes contented family life proceeding as it should.



I normally don't do this, but the production values on this video are just too high: Lady Gaga's "Telephone," arranged for shakuhachi and koto. The shakuhachi player here is Ishikura Kōzan 石倉光山 (thus, "Team Kozan"); you can find more videos here (including a nice version of "Little Wing").

Totally unrelated: A Person Paper on Purity in Language, by "William Satire (alias Douglas R. Hofstader)." Linked recently on MetaFilter; I'd never seen it before, but I like it.



Shichiku taizen (糸竹大全, "String and bamboo omnibus") is a book of and about shamisen, (hitoyogiri) shakuhachi and koto music, published in 1699 (although parts appeared in print earlier). Presumably the goal was to cash in on the demand for tripartite books about music first tapped by the 1664 Shichiku shoshinshū (糸竹初心集, "String and bamboo beginner's anthology"); parts of the Taizen even explicitly claim to remedy perceived defects in the older work, such as the lack of lyrics ("すでに糸竹初心抄 [sic!] 洞蕭鐘曲などいふありて世に弄時行といへども手のみありて曲なし今此書は九十の手に亂曲小唄の唱歌あまたをそへて吹ようを付きのふやけふエチリチをならふ童蒙達に便りす").

I don't have much to say about the book itself today, but the first part, about the hitoyogiri and originally published as a standalone work in 1687, has an interesting title: Ikanobori 紙鳶. This means "kite", and don't let the straight-from-Chinese kanji spelling ("paper hawk") fool you: the etymology is "squid streamer."

But wait — Wasn't the Japanese word for "kite" actually tako, homophonous with and probably deriving from the word for "octopus"? Turns out that tako is the Edo word for "kite", and up until the great linguistic levelling of the Meiji period the Kansai area used ika[nobori]. The Nihon kokugo daijiten points out that in the deep north and far west, there's still another family of words in use, based on the root hata (perhaps related to hata meaning "loom"?).

So the "center and periphery" model of language change would suggest that hata was the original word, later supplanted by tako, itself later replaced by ika (at least in the Kansai region — presumably the center shifted to Edo before the word was able to fully propagate, Maeda Isamu 前田勇's Edo-go no jiten (江戸語の辞典, "Dictionary of Edoese") has an entry for ikanobori, but calls it a loan (着用語) from the Kansai area (上方). Of course, the real story is probably more complicated than a simple wave-based model, but it seems that kites simply weren't mentioned in much writing between the Heian and Edo periods, and evidence is scarce. Makimura Shiyō 牧村史陽's Ōsaka kotoba jiten (大阪ことば事典, "Encyclopedia of Osakan dialect/words") has what looks like a pretty thorough if (understandably) Ōsaka-centric review of what historical evidence exists in its ikanobori entry.

But why is the flute section of the Shichiku taizen called "The Kite"? Because "more blowing means better results" — fuku ni agaru. This literally means "as [someone or something] blows, [someone or something [else]] rises," so it's a better pun in the original than my translation suggests.


The note of mutability

On the train this morning I was listening to Michel Corrette's Carillon des morts just as I stumbled across a passage in Yamakawa Ensho I (初代 山川園松)'s Sōkyoku yōshū (箏曲要集, "Essentials of koto music") about the musical interlude in "Yuki" after kokoro mo tōki/ yowa no kane ("so distant from my heart, the temple bell at midnight"; starts at about 6:49 in this video).

As any fule kno, the interlude was written as a more or less programmatic representation of a distant temple bell on a snowy night, and ended up being the go-to melody to convey the idea of snow (temple bell or no). Yamakawa points out that the third note is an ōshiki 黄鐘 or A, and refers to chapter 220 of the Tsurezuregusa in support of the claim that ōshiki has long been associated with temple bells. Here's Porter's translation of the relevant chapter:

On the Tone of Temple Bells

Section 220. To the musicians of the Tennō Temple I once said that though all else in the provinces might seem vulgar and stupid the opera at the Tennō Temple would not shame even the Capital itself; and they replied, 'The music at this temple when it is played correctly does indeed harmonize more beautifully in tone than any other. The reason is said to be that we still to-day preserve the pitch of the music written in the time of H.R.H. Prince (Shotoku). It is the bell that hangs in front of the Rokuji Hall, and its tone is the exact ōshiki note (approx. A natural). But, as it rises or falls (slightly) according to the temperature, it can only be accurately taken between the Nirvana Festival and the Festival of the Dead (i.e. between the fifteenth and twenty-second days of the second month). It is a highly valued possession; for having once got this exact tone all other notes will harmonize.'

All bells should sound the ōshiki note. It is the note of mutability; for it is that which is given out by (the bell at) the Temple of Mutability in the Gion Monastery (in India). The bell of the Saion Temple should have sounded the ōshiki note; but though it was re-cast again and again it was still out of tune, and therefore it had to be procured from abroad. The Hōkongō Temple bell also sounds ōshiki.

Okay — but getting back to Yuki, the interlude in question only stays on the A for a couple of notes before moving up into a C-A# alternating thing that makes a much stronger impression (because it lasts longer and is repeated more times). So is it only the A that represents the bell, and the C-A# is falling snow? And if so, is this something that we have to be told verbally (like "the opening of Beethoven's Fifth is fate knocking on the door", and yes I know it isn't really), or is it something we should be able to figure out ourselves (like "the opening of the second string quartet in Haydn's Op. 76 is the same as the chimes of Big Ben, which Haydn surely heard while visiting London")? This is knowledge I do not yet have.

I do know that in Henry Burnett's Voice-Leading Considerations In Edo-Period Jiuta-Tegotomono: A New Analytical Approach we learn as an aside that "Left-hand pizzicatos on one note in the shamisen represent snow". So perhaps the repeated note has to be snow, and the one before it, that rings undisturbed for a while (and is preceded by a leading tone handled similarly), is the bell by process of elimination?

Anyone know a good book about this stuff?



This was originally a comment on one of Larry's posts, but I think it got lost in a spam filter somewhere.

Larry, of David R. McCraw's Du Fu's Laments from the South, sez:

The preface claims that one reason Du Fu doesn't get the respect he deserves as one of the world's great poets is that he hasn't been effectively translated, and correctly admits that this book will not change that -- these renderings aim for compressed and end up crabbed, with recondite vocabulary and rebarbative punctuation. (Some frequently used words, like "alcedine," are in no dictionary at my disposal — my best guess there is "kingfisherlike.")

This set me off on a trail that ended at "Cedules from a Berkeley Workshop in Asiatic Philology", in which author Peter A. Boodberg argues (in cedule 14, "On Chromatographic Effects in Chinese Poetry"):

The rich spectrum of Chinese chromatonymy, multilined and multibanded, has not received the attention it deserves. Most chromatonyms are not too well defined in our dictionaries, and translation equivalents are chosen haphazardly according to context, with little consideration paid to semantic nuances. Among the many Chinese color-terms crying for simple and effective rendering is the adjective TS'UI <ts'jwəd (C124, 'feathers', as semantic, +tsu<ts'jwət as phonetic) /A/, 'vivid green-blue-purple-black', originally descriptive of the glossy iridescent plumage of the kingfisher, TS'UI being the second hemiphthegm of the dissyllabic name of the Asiatic kingfisher (Halcyon), FEI-TS'UI /B/. 'Kingfisher-green' (-blue, -black, -brown) is an awkward polysyllabic way to translate TS'UI which may describe women's penciled eyebrows as well as foliage. With due regard to the fact that kingfishers in Chinese literature were probably both Halcyoninae and Alcedininae, is there any reason why we should not use the term ALCEDINE (from L. alcedo, 'kingfisher') to designate exactly what TS'UI connotated to the Chinese? ALCEDINE is a handsomely tailored word, sonorous and precise, yet broad enough to be safely applicable as a color-epithet to a variety of things.

I... I think this is where the word "alcedine" was invented. I don't have OED access, but a quick glance through the Google Books suggests that in English the word isn't used outside the fields of (a) ornithology, and (b) Chinese classics. You can see how this situation would arise, too: there's a concept in classical Chinese that's important enough to appear quite regularly, but difficult to translate into English. Someone invents a word for it. The next generation of Chinese scholars encounter the word as part of their studies, figure out from the context/source text what it means, and latch onto it as the ideal translation for TS'UI, never realizing that it is actually artificial Chinese-classics-in-English jargon that no-one else knows (except ornithologists, among whom appreciation of the sublime chromatography of Chinese poetry rises dramatically).

The thing is, even as someone who is (by my estimates) about 1000% more interested in Latin than the average reader of classical Chinese poetry in translation, I did not know the Latin word for "kingfisher." Alcedine is completely impenetrable to me, preferable to a straight borrowing of ts'ui only because it's less obviously alien. The fact that it is no longer 1955 no doubt has something to do with this shocking disconnect from the roots of Western Civ, but I took heart from this passage in Eugene Chan Eoyang's Borrowed plumage: Polemical essays on translation, commenting on another of Boodberg's proposals ("WANG 王 ... may best be metonymized as BASILEARCH"):

I have quoted this dense exegesis at some length, not only because of what it says but also because of how Boodberg says it. It represents a variation of the "vehicular matching" that we encountered in Sternberg's scheme. We may note in passing that aside from the Greek in the exegesis, there are a number of infrequently encountered English words whose meaning can be fairly well adduced from the context but are disconcerting nonetheless: "coadunation," "affines," "protograph," "anthelion," "paragram." [...] One might not unreasonably ask why an exegesis of words requires its own exegesis.

As for the reliance on Greek, it's true that Boodberg came from a generation in which the educated were more likely to know Greek than not, but even so, why should it be reasonable to require of a reader who doesn't know Chinese that he know another foreign language — especially a language as hoary as ancient Greek — in order to understand the true meaning of Chinese?

[...] And what about the principle of familiarity: should the reader of a translation not be as familiar with a term in translation as the reader of the original with its counterpart in the original?

Boodberg takes the notion of "vehicular matching" even further than Sternberg develops it. He is addressing an audience at least as polylingual as he is; but he is more polylingual than the normal speaker of the English language — if the locutions which he uses in his own prose are any indication. Indeed, in his era, Boodberg expected his students to be post-Babelian; only the most gifted attempted the study of the difficult non-Western languages — Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese — and only after mastering the most formidable Western languages — Latin and Greek. The study of Chinese was therefore the enterprise of la crème de la crème, which by definition would be a very small elite. The consequences of this approach, natural as it was for Boodberg and for sinologists of his generation, makes no sense today, when the study of Chinese is no longer restricted to the classical philologist.

I love the way Prof. Eoyang's criticism of ostentatious polyglottery is seasoned with just a little French. Listen, we may not know Ancient Greek, but we're not barbarians here. (Nobody say it.)


cedule (plural cedules): 1. (obsolete) A scroll; a writing; a schedule.