attractive volume from Red Moon Press contains translations
by Hiroaki Sato of about 230 from the 700-odd poems in Taneda
Santôkas (18821940) major collection of
poems, Grass and Tree Cairn (Sômokutô). The
illustrations by Stephen Addiss are nicely done brush sketches
of everyday objects such as a bowl or a hat. On the verso
of the title page is a one-paragraph biography of Santôka.
Sato has also included a sixteen-page introduction. The
translations are divided into several sections following
the divisions in the original text. There are from one to
six poems per page. The original headnotes have been translated
with the poems, and the romanized Japanese is included for
order to understand the importance of this new translation
it is necessary to look at some of the other translations
and articles about Santôka that have appeared in the
West. The first serious piece of scholarship on Santôka
was a lengthy article by James Abrams that appeared in 1977
in the most important English-language journal on Japanese
literature, Monumenta Nipponica. The article places Santôka
in a long line of wandering poet-priests. Saigyô (11181190)
and Bashô (16441694) are the obvious predecessors.
While Abrams feels that Santôka certainly did
not possess the poetic genius of these two predecessors,
his work does have an acuteness of expression and
at times a striking freshness (270). Santôka
was the son of a wealthy landowner in Yamaguchi, at the
southern end of the main island. His mother committed suicide
when Santôka was only ten. The reason usually given
was Santôkas fathers profligate life style.
Santôka was a college dropout and alcoholic who lost
a business and a family to drink. He finally ended up being
taken to a Zen monastery after a failed attempt at suicide
in 1924. Zen for Santôka seems to have been as much
a means of rehabilitation as a path to enlightenment. At
least that is the appealing portrait that Abrams paints
of a literate and garrulous man, who considered
a good conversation and a bottle of sake to be the ultimate
source of pleasure.
article may have inspired the first book of translations
of Santôkas haiku, John Stevenss Mountain
Tasting: Zen Haiku by Santôka Taneda in 1980.
In this book the emphasis is as much on Zen Buddhism as
it is on haiku. On the first page of the introduction Stephens
states of Santôka that Whatever the literary
merit of his work, far more important are the special Zen
qualities of simplicity (wabi), solitude (sabi), and impermanence
(mujô) conveyed in a modern setting by his haiku
(9). Stevens places Santôka into the tradition of
Zen masters such as Ikkyû (13941481) and Hakuin
(16851768), rather than Saigyô or Bashô.
He also mentions the eccentric late Edo poet, Ryôkan
(17581831). He feels that Santôkas life
embodies the Zen spirit (9). This is very different
from Abramss portrait of Santôkas later
years as a cycle of attempts to lead a serious life,
followed by a drinking and spending spree, deep repentance,
and the start of another directionless, soul cleansing journey
third and also different portrait of Santôka emerges
from Cid Cormans Walking into the Wind (1990).
Corman places him back into the company of vagabond poets
but views Santôka as the last in the line. Santôka
for Corman becomes a figure of nostalgia for a traditional
Japan that is rapidly disappearing. Corman sadly describes
a modern Japan where Roads bearing the load of vehicular
trafficeverywhere in the landthey now do, scarcely
invite the wanderer on foot. The translations reflect
this sense of nostalgia by preserving terms such waraji
(straw sandals) and kasa (straw hat), both of which are
seldom seen in contemporary Japan.
supplies a footnote to explain the Japanese term.
also sees Santôkaand this might be more controversialas
the last in a line of haiku poets who devoted their lives
to their art. Corman sees haiku in 1990 as having lost
its point and become a toy for the leisured
and more polite element. Thus for him Santôka
represents not only the end of the line of priest-poets,
but also the end of serious haiku poetry in Japan.
portrait of Santôka presented by Hiroaki Sato draws
from the three previous works to create something that may
have benefited from the perspective of time. Sato places
Santôka into the literary schools that are so influential
in modern Japanese poetry. Zen Buddhism was an important
influence on Santôkas life, but in order to
understand Santôkas poetry it is also important
to see his place in the New Trend Haiku Movement (Shin-Keiko
Haiku Undo). Sato puts Santôkas poetry into
this context by devoting more than half of the introduction
to Santôkas teacher Ogiwara Seisensui (18841976).
In terms of literary history Seisensui is the more important
figure. In Donald Keenes history of Japanese literature
there is a section on the New Trend Haiku Movement with
Seisensuis poetry receiving the most attention. This
is followed by several pages each for his two major students,
Santôka and Ozaki Hôsai (18851926). A
check of Japanese literary histories show the same thing.
Hisamatsu Senichis authoritative Nihon bungakushi
(History of Japanese Literature) devotes about
half a page to Seisensui. Hôsai gets a paragraph.
Santôka is only mentioned with several other names
as a contributor to Seisensuis magazine, Sôun
(Layers of Cloud).
New Trend Haiku Movement is of interest to English readers
because of its rejection of traditional structural elements,
syllable count, and the use of season words. Sato translates
a number of Seisensuis poems in the introduction.
Most of them are rendered in one line as is usually the
case with Japanese:
the evening sky streaks a narrow road (xiv)
moon bright I go home (xv)
first poem is sixteen syllables in the original Japanese.
The second poem is a scant eleven syllables. Some early
poems were done in two lines under the influence of Western
couplets. One poem uses a comma:
sparrows, their voices say the snows
arrived in the distant mountains (xv)
translations of Santôkas poems are also all
on one line. The translations are excellent. This is not
easy material to render into English. The syntax and usage
can be ambiguous or cryptic. In Satos words the poems
can be paraphrased but it may not be possible
to translate them in a form as compressed as the original
(xix). He gives as an example one of Santôkas
best known poems from Grass and Tree Cairn:
sugata no shigurete yukuka
back in winter shower you go I see
goes on to explain the problems involved in rendering the
poem into English. These are centered around the relation
between the winter shower (shigure), the verb at the end
(to go), and the final ka which indicates a question. Sato
gives two previous translations, one by R.H. Blyth (Blyth,
back view as I go,
Wetted with the winter rain?
other translation is by Stevens from Mountain Tasting:
Walking away soaking wet?
finds fault with both of the translations because they fail
to give the impression that Santôka is describing
himself as seen by a third party. If this is a problem
for the translations of Blyth and Stevens, it can also be
seen as a problem for Satos translation. It seems
possible to read the I see at the end of the
line in Satos translation in several different ways.
This poem was also translated by Corman and Abrams. Cormans
translation is perhaps the most remarkable because of the
way he often plays with the English language. The poem is
the first in his collection of Santôkas verse:
the figure of
going where with no punctuation in Cormans
translation is a nice touch. The question marks in the Stevens
and Blyth translations contribute little to the meaning.
Satos discussion in the introduction suffers because
he does not mention the context of the poem in Santôkas
collection or the headnote. In the body of his translation
he includes both. This is what most clearly separates Satos
translation from any of his predecessors. The headnote gives
the poems a time and place: In 1931 I made efforts
to settle down in Kumamoto but couldnt no matter how
I tried. Once again I could only travel from journey to
journey (13). The poem is introduced with the phrase:
Grass and Tree Cairn this poem is in a group of poems
that have a winter journey as the subject. We have a bare
winter branch, Santôka begging in the mountains, a
leaking hat, a frosty night, cold and snow, the poem in
question, then hail falling into his metal begging bowl.
Here are a few of the poems as translated by Sato but without
headnotes or the romanized Japanese:
out its branches a winter tree
more houses to beg at above the mountain clouds
I stop begging and am looking at the mountain
my hat has started to leak I see
frosty nights bed must be somewhere
translation has nearly all of the poems in this sequence
from Santôka's anthology, and the poems are presented
in their proper order. Because Satos translation gives
the poems in the context that Santôka intended, they
create a portrait of the artist in the way that we must
assume Santôka wanted to be seen. Since the very beginning
of Japanese verse, collections of short poems have often
had a flow and a narrative element. This could take the
form of tracing the progress of a love affair, a journey,
or the changes in the seasons. The basic principles of creating
anthologies and personal poetry collections date back to
the Heian period (7941195). If the poet is carefully
choosing and arranging the poems, it can be important to
translate excerpts rather than picking and choosing poems.
picture of Santôka as an eccentric and drunken poet
seems accurate but he does rearrange the poems by subject.
The result is the translator placing the emphasis rather
than the poet. Both Stevens and Corman have translated and
arranged the poems to reflect their own ideas about the
poet. While their approaches may be valid, Sato presents
Santôka the way the poet wanted to be seen.
I do have one small quibble with Satos book. While
it is understandable that cuts have to be made in such a
large (more than 700 poems) collection, in some cases they
are made from within a sequence of poems. For example, in
the winter sequence mentioned above one poem is missing.
This is the poem just before the famous poem about the drenched
figure seen from the rear. Perhaps it was left out because
of its strangeness.