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Old 02-19-2009, 12:14 AM   #14
Josh Reyer
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Location: Aichi-ken, Nagoya-shi
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 644
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 11

A little more poetry info that I neglected to put in my post before the edit window closed.

The doka are what's known as tanka, short thirty-one syllable poems that follow a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. As a result, when doing translations, English translators will often create "lines" like this:
松竹梅 (Sho-chi-ku-ba-i, 5)
錬り清めゆく(ne-ri-ki-yo-me-yu-ku, 7)
気の仕組 (ki-no-shi-ku-mi, 5)
いつここ/ いずこに生るや (i-tsu-ko-ko- / i-zu-ko-ni-na-ru-ya, 7 either way)
身変るの水火 (mi-ka-wa-ru-no-i-ki, 7)

Which is then rendered in English as Stevens does here:
Pine, Bamboo, Plum—
they refine and purify, and
form the basis of ki.
From where do they arise?
In the transformation of fire and water.

However, it must be understood that this is purely an English convention. In Japanese, poems are typically written in one line. Sometimes, they are written in two - the first seventeen, an indentation, and then the last fourteen. In general, the first seventeen will represent a clause or a thought, and the next fourteen will represent a separate clause or thought. For example, this poem by Yosano Akiko:

Mune no shimizu afurete tsui ni nigori keri kimi mo tsumi no ko ware mo tsumi no ko
The pure water of the breast overflows and is at last muddied;
You are a sinful child, and I'm a sinful child, too.

(This poem squeezes six syllables in the first element, rather than five, but this is acceptable.)

IMO, breaking the doka up into 5 lines, as is typically done, can unintentionally lead one to interpret them in a non-idiomatic way. For example, Stevens translation above scans them as Subject (Pine, Bamboo, Plum) + Verb (Refine and Purify) + and Object (the basis of ki). That feels very comfortable in English, but it's not at all natural in Japanese, where word order is free, and objects in particular are marked with particles, particles which are absent in this poem.

Josh Reyer

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne,
Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
- Chaucer
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