Thursday, January 13, 2005




December 2004

The following is the hitherto untranslated collection of 28 poems, Makuwauri shishū まくはうり詩集 (1921), the first published work by Japan’s first dada poet, Takahashi Shinkichi 高橋新吉 (1901-1987). Dada was an avant-garde movement that began in Zurich during the First World War and found its way to Japan shortly thereafter, where it was a major influence on the young Takahashi, who wrote dada poetry from 1921 until renouncing it in favor of Zen Buddhism in 1926. I have included with the translation an essay on dada’s birth and development in both Europe and Japan, some biographical information on Takahashi, a discussion of the poems of Makuwauri shishū, and some thoughts on my own philosophy of translation, in which I address the numerous problems—such as the handling of ambiguity and particularities of culture—facing any translator of poetry, but specifically the translator of Japanese poetry.


1 DADA IN EUROPE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
2 DADA OF TAKAHASHI AND JAPAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
3 THOUGHTS ON TRANSLATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
4 TRANSLATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
A Collection of Cucumis Melo Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
An Annotated Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Other Works Consulted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61
CROSS-REFERENCE OF POEMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63


* * * *

In order to determine whether the dada movement, which arose out of very specific circumstances in early 20th-century Europe, can be considered an authentic movement in Japan where the cultural, historical and literary tradition had been altogether different, one must first identify the factors that brought about European dada, and then determine whether they are are to be found in early 20th-century Japan as well.
In his book New Studies in Dada, Richard Sheppard writes of leading German dada artist Hans Arp that he “insists on the necessity of seeing his work and that of the other dadaists as a reaction to the madness and dehumanizing potential of technical progress which, in his view, had led to the bankruptcy of European culture and the murder of millions in the First World War” (Sheppard, 46). Seen in this light, dada is by no means limited to the European experience of the early 20th century; in fact, it can be argued that Japan’s mad rush toward modernity, which began with the Meiji restoration, was even more frenetic, uncompromising, and brutal than that of any other nation (although, of course, Japan would have to wait another two decades before it would see the kind of wholesale slaughter as seen in Europe during the First World War). The dada movement, therefore, should not be seen merely as something borrowed from Europe; rather, it was a genuine, native phenomenon that arose out of Japan’s own tradition and history for two specific reasons: first, dada was a natural reaction against the national aspiration to rival the Western powers in technology and military, and, second, the more subtle implications of the dada aesthetic struck a chord among artists and writers who saw in it some fundamental similarities to their own tradition, particularly with regard to Zen Buddhism. As a result, the dada of Japan developed into something quite different from the European movement which inspired it, much like Japanese Naturalism and, subsequently, the Japanese “I” novel grew out of European Naturalism (Keene, 591). Yet despite the fundamental differences, one must see Japanese dada in the context of the larger global phenomenon. David Macey, in The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory, defines European dada thus:

One of the classic avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century, and a forebear of Surrealism, Dada is also closely related to Futurism. Dada began its tumultuous existence at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916, when Hugo Ball, the Romanian poet Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) and others organized riotous performances designed to turn the ideals of art and culture into a programme for a variety show. . . Participants included [Hans] Arp, Marcel Duchamp, [Pablo] Picasso and André Breton.
Dada was an attempt to destroy meaning itself, and a nihilistic reaction to the futility and destruction of the First World War. The word ‘Dada,’ supposedly discovered after a dictionary was opened at random, was chosen as the group’s name precisely because it was meaningless, or had so many meanings as to challenge the concept of ‘meaning’ . . . Ball wrote: ‘Dada is “yes, yes” in Romanian, “rocking horse” in French. For Germans, it is a sign of foolish naïveté, joy in procreation and preoccupation with the baby carriage.’ (80)

By this definition, one would think dada to be chiefly a reactionary political or social movement, as it is often thought of today. But Tristan Tzara defined dada poetry in more aesthetic terms, stating that there are two kinds of poetry, “poetry as a means of expression and poetry as an activity of the mind,” and that dada was of the latter kind, which seeks to create art that conveys as authentically as possible the movements and layers of the subjective mind (Grossman, 20). This meant doing away with the artificial forms of prior literatures— including to a large extent formal syntax, narrative structure (especially the “I” narrative), fixed point of view, rationality, chronological progression of plot, and the idea of character. Dada artists even challenged the notion of significance in language, arguing that the there is no connective between the signified and the signifier, and they opposed what they considered to be the pretensions of mimetic literature, which, they believed, obfuscate the fact that, as the scholar of modern literature Peter Nicholls puts it, “there is no coherent world to be mirrored” (Nicholls, 228). Instead, there are only subjective associations, fragmented internal experiences, and “a confusion of words” that reveal little, if anything, of any ultimate or even corporeal reality. Such ideas can be traced back to 19th-century European philosophy, which indeed seemed to be moving away from rationalist theories of reality and mind, and toward a more subjective analysis that took into account both the subconscious— most famously articulated by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)— and the limitations of language as a means of rational discourse— a notion famously summed up in 1921 by German philospher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), who wrote “the limits of my language are the limits of the world” (Macey, 231). But dadaists seemed to be the first to genuinely understand the radical implications of such notions, and the first to apply them directly to art.

André Breton (1896-1966), French dada poet and novelist later turned Surrealist, famously made the distinction between dadaism and some of the other coeval artistic movements in Europe: “Cubism was a school of painting, futurism a political movement: DADA is a state of mind” (Nicholls, 224). Such notions about dada led Takahashi Shinkichi 高橋新吉 (1901-1987), the subject of this study and the author of the dada collection of poetry, Makuwauri shishū まくはうり詩集 (1921), to later assert that dada was merely an imitation of Zen, and that Tzara, Breton, and other founders of dada were, in fact, latent Zen Buddhists. Like Zen, dada was a way of seeing and interpreting the world in a way that denied the existence of the self or ego, doubted the possibility of knowledge, and, perhaps most strikingly similarly, relieved language of the burden of having to convey truth. As time went on, artists became more conscious of a connection between the two, and by mid-century, according to William Seitz in The Art of Assemblage, “It was the knowledge of dada, in part, which led certain modern artists, after 1945, toward Zen Buddhism” (Grossman, 169).

Therefore, with no ego through which to form the world, and rebelling against all forms of signification, the dada artists experimented in “pure-sound poetry,” or poetry that uses words devoid of all lexical significance, and instead implied meaning simply through association brought about by onomatopoeic noise (Nicholls, 225). As with artists such as Picasso, Tzara turned to the “primitive” cultures of Africa, writing several translations of African poetry, which he considered to be superior to the artificial styles of European poetry. For Tzara, poetry is best when it is “made in the mouth,” i.e., when its aural qualities are given primary importance. Tzara found in the African poems precisely what he and other dadaists had been seeking to create: poetry that undermined representation within language. Though Tzara would usually mix intelligible diction with nonsensical words, he would occasionally write or translate poems whose meanings were conveyed entirely through rhythm, as can be seen in his translation of this African poem: “dzin aha dzin aha bobobo tyao cahiiii hii hii” (Nicholls, 237). Takahashi would learn from such bruitist poetics, and use in bold and innovative ways giseigo 擬声語 (onomatopoeia) and gitaigo 擬態語 (mimetic words), which have always been ubiquitous in both colloquial and literary Japanese. When standard diction was used in dada poetry, it usually focused on Dionysian concerns of the id: desire, sex, food, sickness, death, and violence.

The result was, as intended, far from pretty. In fact, it was a blatant denial of art as a means of consolation. Nicholls writes, “Art is, as it were, hollowed out; deprived of its traditional power to redeem and legitimate the social order, its mask of ‘humanness’ falls away” (227). But this attack was not limited to social and political realities. Like Zen, dada was essentially a war against the “I,” for the “ultimate object of violence . . . is the ego, the self’s imaginary identity” (Nicholls, 230). This resulted in a poetry that was often incomprehensible, even when standard diction was employed, and that bore little obvious relation to the external world. French dada poet Pierre Reverdy asserted, “Reality does not motivate the work of art. One moves away from life in order to reach another reality” (Nicholls, 246). To achieve this conception of a new reality, Reverdy advocated the violent juxtaposition of phrases and images, a technique Nicholls described as the use of “fragmented phrases under high syntactical tension, produc[ing] a world tipped toward hallucination, a world of part-objects and half-glimpsed presences” (247). Takahashi would later effectively use such techniques, including that of “the startling image.”

This attraction to opposing elements can be seen as trivial and random, or it can be viewed as an intentional element found in all good poetry, only more jarringly apparent in dada. It is in the best dada poetry that there are connections, however subtle, between seemingly opposing elements; and it is such poetry that can, as the scholar of modern literatures Mary Ann Caws puts it, “remake the world as an analogical process . . . by the conduit of poetic vision” (Caws, 6). Caws continues, “Surrealist poetry or Dada poetry is not ‘art’ in the usual sense; it is rather the creation of a whole universe of relationships between seemingly opposed objects and ideas, even when the juxtaposition of those ideas includes the violent opposition of mood and vision within the creation itself” (30). What is interesting about this statement is that, what is considered innovative in the Western aesthetic tradition is the tradition in Japan. Japanese traditional poetry, not to mention Zen kōan, has at its core the notion of the “startling image” and the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate ideas, things or perspectives. Perhaps it was this realization that led Takahashi in 1924 to throw the dada novel he had been working on into the Korean Sea in a renunciatory gesture, and to begin his conversion to Zen— a move which recalls the famous Chinese painting of the sixth Zen patriarch, Huineng, tearing up a text.

For all of its flaws, “in the long run its omnipotence and its tyranny had made it intolerable,” writes Motherwell, quoting André Breton, 205. And despite its brevity (it began in Zurich in 1916 and disbanded in Paris in 1922), the European dada movement left a profound legacy on 20th-century art and thought, challenged the traditional assumptions of mind, language, perspective and reality, and opened up possibilities for new modes of art. Breton, disillusioned with what he called the “intellectual poverty of Dada” and “the vicious circle of its own making” (Nicholls, 242), moved on to Surrealism, which was an “alternating wave of the same spirit” (Caws, 7). Whether one was a practicing dadaist or not, its influence is traceable in American and European artists and thinkers as diverse as James Joyce (especially in Finnegan’s Wake), Henry Miller, e.e. cummings, Carl Jung, LeRoi Jones, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat poets, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and contemporary American poet John Ashbery (Grossman, 153-157).


* * * *

Dada found its way to Japan around 1920, and somehow managed to survive as a preeminent movement for half a decade, with only six central figures. The movement began with the publication of several informative, though not entirely flattering, articles about dada’s development in Europe, including those by the more sympathetic critics Tsuji Jun 辻潤 (1884-1944) and Katayama Koson 片山孤村 (1879-1933). In his article “A Study in Dadaism,” published in 1921, Koson delineated the three artistic principles required for practicing dada art, namely, “bruitism, simultaneity, and the use of new materials in painting” (Ko, 19). Another critic, Kawaji Ryūkō 川治流行, published favorable reviews of dada in the Waseda University literary review. There was also Moriguchi Tari 森口タリ, perhaps the most favorable critic of dada, who wrote for the Waseda University literary review several scholarly articles, including “The Poetry and Painting of Dadaism” (Ko, 21). But the most influential of the dada scholar-advocates was Tsuji Jun, who was at the time a well-established translator of foreign literature, including works by Max Stirner and Oscar Wilde. Tsuji provided Takahashi Shinkichi with moral support from the outset and wrote the postscript to Dadaisuto Shinkichi no shi ダダイスト新吉の詩 (1923) (Ko, 9). In 1922 he published two articles on dada, “Misunderstood Dada” and “Talk on Dada,” and, together with Takahashi, played a key role in dada’s permeation throughout Japan. Though it was Tsuji who in 1921 discovered Takahashi and soon after made possible his writing career, the friendship between the two did not endure after Takahashi abandoned dada for Zen; Tsuji instead moved toward nihilism and Stirnerean individualism (Ko, 80).

Nakahara Chūya 中原中也 (1907-1937), who would later become one of Japan’s most esteemed Symbolist poets, was only sixteen when he first read Takahashi’s Dadaisuto Shinkichi no shi, which so entranced the budding poet that for several years he read only that. After dada had more or less disbanded, Nakahara continued writing dada poems until he made the switch several years later to Symbolist poetry after reading French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Nakahara is still considered by many to be, at least in part, a dada poet (Ko, 106).

The sixth and most important figure in Japan’s dada movement was Takahashi Shinkichi, who was born on January 28, 1901, in a fishing village near the city of Matsuyama in Ehime prefecture, in northwestern Shikoku. Shinkichi’s mother died when he was eleven, and his father took a second wife in 1916. Shinkichi was largely self-educated (Stryk, 13), having attended only commercial school education from 1913 to 1918, the year he decided to secretly run away penniless to Tokyo. This first peregrination to the capital would later be recorded in his dada novel Dagabaji Jingiji monogatari ダガバジジンギヂ物語, and various impressions and images from his stay in Tokyo can be found in Makuwauri shishū as well (Hirai, 301-302).
After returning home and working various jobs in Ehime, in 1919 he made a second trip to Tokyo, where he soon contracted typhus and would have to spend most of his time recovering. The disease drove him to the brink of madness, and he would not fully recover until 1932 (Stryk, 17). Takahashi later half-jokingly recalled that it was largely due to this illness that he took such an interest in dada (Hirai, 301-302).

In 1920, his poem “Honoo o kakagu” 焔をかかぐ won a prize in the newspaper Yorozu chōhō 万朝報, the same paper that soon afterward introduced Takahashi to dada through several articles about Tristan Tzara and other European dadaists. Once back in Ehime, he worked at the local newspaper and began to publish various poems. In 1921, the year he became an apprentice monk at a Zen temple, he began a first edition of Makuwauri shishū まくはうり詩集, which he showed to the newly befriended Tsuji Jun, who would later edit the 1923 collection Dadaisuto Shinkichi no shi (Hirai, 301).

During the next year he made the acquaintance of futurist artist Hirai Kenkichi 平井謙吉and novelist, poet, and critic Satō Haruo 佐藤春夫 (1892-1964), who would write the introduction to the edited 1923 collection. 1924 would see his return to Tokyo and the publication of his first and only dada novel, simply titled Dada ダダ. It was after its publication that Takahashi’s writings and studies would take a turn away from dada and toward Buddhist literature, culminating in 1926 with him throwing overboard into the Korean Sea the manuscript for a second dada novel, and, perhaps more importantly, in 1928 with the invitation by a prominent Zen master of the Rinzai sect to study as a disciple at Shōgenji 勝源寺, “a temple well known for the severity of discipline” (Stryk, 14). In 1926, the year he disavowed dada, he published Gion matsuri 祗園祭り, the collection of poems that marked his final move away from dada (Hirai, 302). The next year, while serving jail time for disorderly conduct, Takahashi was handed a copy of his own 1923 Dadaisuto shinkichi no shi, which at that time he had still not seen in its final, published form. He was so disgusted by the collection, which he felt to be an over-edited betrayal of his “artless yet beautiful and spontaneous” Makuwauri shishū (Hirai, 34), that he immediately tore it up (Stryk, 13).

His transition from dada to Buddhism, however, may have been smoother than he portrays in his diaries, since both systems of thought hold as one of their fundamental assertions the notion that “the word is useless and poetry is to be abandoned” (Stryk, 19). In the end, dada, ironically, served not as Takahashi’s introduction to European culture and literature, but rather as an introduction to his own native tradition. Let us now look at what the importation of dada specifically meant to the world of Japanese poetry in the early part of the 20th century.

After centuries of writing in the strict metric patterns of classical poetry—chiefly that of the waka, made up of a fixed arrangement of thirty-one syllables in groups of five and seven—Japanese poets in the 1910s began to experiment with new ideas of meter, accent and rhythm, many of which had been imported from the French Symbolist poetry of the 19th century. The experimenting poets, however, soon realized that, since there were no accentuated syllables in Japanese, Western ideas of meter were not applicable, and they soon returned to their native syllabic system, upon which they would begin develop new forms (Keene, 256). Soon after publishing Tsuki ni hoeru 月に吠える (Howling at the Moon) in 1917, Hagiwara Sakutarō 萩原朔太郎 (1886-1942) was already being celebrated as the master of Japanese free verse, despite the fact that many of his poems were “in the classical language and in regular meter, each line consisting of seven plus five syllables” (Keene, 263). About this collection Hagiwara later wrote: “All the rhythms of the lyric poetry of our time were engendered here. In other words, because of this collection a new epoch was created” (Keene, 264).

Once a viable substitute for the old meter had been established, modernist poets, including Takahashi, were forced to create a new “musical” system to replace the old, so that their poetry could be distinguishable from prose. In the case of Takahashi, he seems to have heeded the advice of the French Symbolist Gustave Kahn, whom Keene quotes as writing in 1885: “Free verse, instead of being, as in old verse, lines of prose cut up into regular rimes, must be held together by the alliterations of vowels and related consonants” (272). The poetry of Takahashi is replete with such alliterations and sound play, which give the poems a musical quality otherwise lacking in free verse form, and which, along with rhythmic patterns reminiscent of traditional poetry, link his poetry with the waka of the past. An example of such alliteration is found in poem 3, where the a sound, often followed by an i sound, appears several times within the first five lines:

shōji o araiyoru to
akainu ga mizu nomi agakuroi shita
funedaiku no naigi san
imo arai jūjika no rantō
nagarete kita nappa

In poem 4, the phrase “musume o musubitsukeru na” suggests that the appealing repetition of sound is of primary importance, and that the less important aspect of meaning arises out of the sound. A similar pattern can be found in poem 6, where the i sound appears in rapid succession at the end of the poem:

kaguroi aki no hi no sansaku no kaeri
yonri bakari kisha ni notte
kuregata no momiji
itaitashii onna . . .

The first line in poem 15 also seems to have been chosen for the euphonic effect produced by the repetition of “m” and “o” sounds—“misoya no musume mo”—which are again found in lines 8 and 9 with “moro-moro no onna wa / moro-moro no otoko ni.” Again in poem 17, “subject” and “meaning” are determined by the sound of the first three lines:

tōfu ya ga kita
to o shimeta
to-fu mo nama-age mo

The alliteration in the first two lines of poem 19 is so effective as a sort of bruitism that the reader might forget that the words bear any meaning at all:

komo o kabuseta
kemuri ka hoke ka shiran

Rhythmically, too, the poem has the feel of the traditional waka meter, with the first line having exactly seven syllables, and the second line having up to but not including the word “shiran” seven syllables. The poem continues:

sasabune ni
hana o susuru oto
akakama de mizu o sukuu to
sokozumi ga . . .

By this point the lines are alternating roughly between five and seven syllables, with the exception of line four, which can be considered a ji-amari 字余り, having eight syllables. The pattern continues, though irregularly, all the way to the end of the poem, which concludes with the five-syllable line, “ō sumibi.” Throughout the 28-poem collection, such rhythmic and alliterative devices are used to provide the poems with some of the musical qualities of earlier Japanese poetries, without having to abide by the rules of the past.
Another example is found in poem 20, which seems to be driven by the long ō sound that conspicuously appears seven times in the first nine lines. In poem 21, the sentence’s syntactical construction, which somehow oddly resembles that of a Whitman poem, particularly “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” is an effective use of parallelism—here a catalog of renyōkei 連用形, or adverbial, clauses—which gives most lines of the poem a final “te” syllable:

kiri momu ureshisa
te o awashite
chikara o komete
yubi o sorashite
koyori o sashite . . .

Finally, in the first three lines of poem 23 we see both highly condensed alliteration and rhythmic experimentation:

haru to aki to mirai o nikumu
rakuhaku gaka
K no haha ga . . .

Although Japanese is for the most part a language without stress, it almost seems as if the first line can be divided into four sets of triplets or dactyls. The dactylic tetrameter is then immediately terminated by the next two lines’ nearly throchaic trimeter. The aural effect of the poem’s alliteration is made all the more powerful through the rapid succession of cacophonous a, ra, ga, ka, ha and ku sounds.
Though the poems in Makuwauri shishū are written mostly in free verse, the traditional rhythmic pattern of the alternating five and seven syllables is so ingrained in his style that, whether intentional or not, many lines can be divided as such. Often there will be one line consisting of both a five-syllable and a seven-syllable phrase, or simply two seven-syllable phrases, as is seen toward the end of poem 4:

akai gohan no // yume o mite.
tōsan no mago ga
aoi osake no // shōben shita. . . .
yume to shōben to // mazaranakatta.

Such examples are numerous, demonstrating that the habits of traditional poetry die hard even among the most progressive of poets.


* * * *

Agreeing with Vladimir Nabokov that “free translation” is a term which “smacks of knavery and tyranny” (Schulte, 127), I have tried to be as faithful as possible to the linguistic features of Takahashi’s original work. Since, in poetry, form and content are inextricably linked, realizing this goal requires stretching the bounds of the English language so that it may convey more accurately the nature of the original. Therefore, I have tried to do what Schleiermacher, in his “On the Different Methods of Translating,” advocates, i.e., to move the reader toward the writer, and the target language toward the source language, thereby making the qualities of the Japanese language, diction, grammar and idiom apparent to reader (Schulte, 36-54). Dryden’s claim to “make Virgil speak such English as he would himself have spoken, if he had been born in England and in this present age” (Schulte, 26) might be the ideal method of translation if it were not for the fact that it is language that makes thought possible; in other words, without some sort of system of signification, there would be no mental activity. Schleiermacher also points out that one’s native language both allows and prohibits what one can say or think (Schulte, 36-38) and it is therefore unrealistic to try to imagine what, in my case, the 20th-century Japanese poet Takahashi Shinkichi might say or think in contemporary American English. But the translator, knowing well only his contemporary native tongue, must have a starting point, and, unless he is a philologist or polyglot of genius, Dryden’s advice seems to be the most appropriate. In translating Takahashi, who writes for the most part in colloquial Japanese, often using his native Ehime dialect, I have employed the vernacular American diction, trying to limit diversion from this only to instances where Takahashi diverts from everyday modern Japanese. Moreover, in trying to produce in translation what Walter Benjamin called an “echo of the original” (Schulte, 77), I have attempted to construct English sentences, or fragments, which structurally resemble those of the Japanese.

Since I am advocating moving the target language toward the original, I do not find it necessary to leave in what translator Howerd Hibbett calls “particularities of culture,” unless they are words that have already made their way into the Oxford English Dictionary, as is the case with the words “soba” and “miso.” For all other particularities, the foreignness should already be sufficiently conveyed through other means, without having to dangle exotic new terms in front of the reader.

The poems in Takahashi’s Makuwauri shishū can be categorized into two styles. The first is a fairly straightforward and prosaic style that, though it may be full of subject-less sentences and non-sequiturs, is syntactically clear. Nineteen of the twenty-eight poems included in the collection fall into this category. The remaining nine poems are made up either entirely of fragments, or of fragments interspersed with some unifying syntactical devices. Semantic or structural ambiguity is possible in both types of poems, but is more prevalent in those that are more fragmented. Let us examine some specific examples from both types, and the problems of rendering such ambiguities into English.

Determining whether a verb is in the rentaikei 連体形 (attributive form) or in the shūshikei 終止形 (terminating form) is perhaps the most recurring problem in translating Japanese poetry, and Takahashi is no exception. When intentional, the poet’s technique of utilizing this syntactical ambiguity can be very effective in packing several possible meanings into a small space. The difficulty lies in deciding in which instances are the multiple meanings intended, and in which are the sentences to be read as having a full stop at the end of the line. Poem 24 provides an example with the two lines: “kisha mo densha mo nai / shinzō mahi.” Since Takahashi uses punctuation so sparingly, it is hard to tell whether he intended there to be a full stop after nai, a form that can be either attributive or terminating. “Shinzō mahi,” or “cardiac arrest,” is therefore either a startling image that splits the previous sentence from the following one, or a noun modified by the previous line, translated roughly: “A cardiac arrest at which time there was neither a steam train nor an electric train [to haul the sufferer away to the hospital].”

It is not only a lack of punctuation that often makes the meaning ambiguous; there is also a reluctance on the part of the poet to use particles, such as wa, ni, and o. In the fairly fragmented poem 3, the sentence begins as if it will be grammatically cohesive, but soon breaks up into a string of nouns:

shōji o araiyoru to
akainu ga mizu nomi akakuroi shita
funedaiku no naigi san
imo arai jūjika no rantō
nagarete kita nappa

itai bōfū
ki ni suru sōrō teiden
furuete ita
gatagata itado
neta ga tsuete tatami no hazama
aodake ga haederu . . .

After this rather long digression of nouns and relative clauses, the poem returns to full grammatical sentences; interestingly, in these eleven lines some particles are left out for the reader to fill in. The image of the dog begins as a general description of a scene; but the camera suddenly zooms in to a particular image within the larger scene, namely, his red tongue. The focus shifts then again to the wife washing the sliding door in the river, zooming in first on a physical detail—her washing the potatoes, and “the scuffle over the crucifix”—and then on to psychological particulars—“the premature ejaculations about which [the poem’s narrator] worried.” The relationship between such images is thus open to numerous interpretations.

Another example of the omitted particle is found in the following lines of Poem 7:

hyaku mon hassen no miso o
isshakushi zutsu irete
niko no daikon o
mangetsu no yoru
chiisana rinka no yasaien kara . . .

If the ni particle had been given after yoru, grammatically the sentence would have made perfect sense. However, Takahashi instead intentially omits the particle, thereby interrupting the description of this kitchen scene with a sudden pan to the night and its full moon. Since “under the night’s full-moon,” “at night, with its full-moon,” or something similar, is implied but not made explicit, the translator is faced with the choice of making explicit in English what is implied in Japanese, or trying to render the English as ambiguous as the original. The problem is that Japanese is much more conducive to indirection and subtlety, whether it be due to the absence of a particle, a preposition, or even the subject of the sentence; by contrast, English seems to be wordier and more direct. It is a daunting task to construct sentences in English where the relationships between parts of speech are not clear, i.e., where it is not clear that a certain verb belongs to a certain subject, another to the predicate, and so on. Writing subject-less sentences is even more difficult, though I have made an attempt in poem 7, which in the original is entirely without any agent. The result is no doubt awkward; still, it is an attempt, though perhaps extreme, to bring the reader as far as possible toward the Japanese. Since it is entirely unclear whether the poem is narrated in the first, second, or third person, I thought it would be presumptuous to make that determination myself, and I therefore translated the poem without a subject. In other cases, my choice of the word “I” to represent the narrator was often an arbitrary one, since in the original it is not always clear whether the speaker is referring to himself or someone else. Even when the “I” is explicit, the narrator and the poet should not be treated as one, and there is much evidence in the poem to demonstrate this, particularly in all the references to various illnesses which Takahashi himself never contracted.

Finally, there is the problem of articles. Since they cannot be disposed of entirely in English, the translator must decide whether to use definite or indefinite articles. The choice is determined case by case, depending partly on consideration of euphony and partly on consideration of context. However, I cannot think of any categorical rule that can be extracted from my usage.
The following translation is intended for the reader interested in poetry.


* * * *

A Collection of Cucumis Melo Poems

Makuwauri shishū まくはうり詩集

Shall we begrease the glee?
Might get slippery
Might as well be dead

the girl with the sallow face
blue-yellow girl
the girl

unknown man

All those wanting to eat the oden stew
made from putrefied sun, encephalon
welcome to the darkful dada-hermitage
bulging out of your skulls like rice cakes.

downstairs is red felt carpet

a collapsible dining table
rice crackers

the Metropolis

yukai o aburakkoku shite mimashō ka
tsubekkoku naru yo
shinjimai nare na
kao no aokimusume
aokina musume
shiranai otoko

furan shita taiyō to nōzui no
oden ga tabetai hito wa
omaesantachi no zugaikotzu o
senbei no gotoku hohobarinagara ankoku no
dada-iori made irasshai.
shita ga himōsen

Owing to the sun falling
Only on my right cheek and my left cheek’s freezing
I’m sick of walking
Despite wearing these new tight-fitting drawers
I slip into the embankment choked with steaming manure
Without dissolving into tears.
Passing under the arm toward the heart’s vicinity
The dim flickering autumn winds
Deride both the red dragonflies
And me
Thrashing us with culms of bamboo
No time to brush them aside
Seeing the river surveyor
Throw down his snipe
Seems a terrific atrocity
To the schooolgirl heading home behind me.
Pressing my brow against the telephone pole
To bear it up
I hunkered down, into a ball.

migi no hoho bakashi hi ga atatte
hidari no hoho ga samui no de
watashi wa aruku no ga iya ni natta
atarashii patchi o haite kita no ni
bafun de musekaeru dote e zunde
samezame to nake mo shinai.
waki no shita kara futokoro e
kagerou aki no kaze ga
akatonbo to
watashi o ijimeru no da
takegire de shiwaitate
shiwakeru no de nashi
kasen no sokuryōgishi ga
suigara o hotta no o miru to
ushiro kara kaeriyoru jogakusei ni
itai zankoku ka mo shirenai.
watashi wa denshinbashira o sasaeru you ni shite
hitai o oshitsukete
karada o chijikomarashite shimatta.


When scrubbing the sliding screen
the red cur drinking water, auburn tongue
the boatman’s wife
scrubbing tubers the scuffle over the crucifix
and the greens that flowed toward her

terrific windstorms
the dreaded premature ejaculations and blackouts
rain-shutter ricketing
the wooden joist collapsed between the mats
out sprouts green bamboo
should our shanty be whisked away
so long as we hold on all’s okay
a rope tied round its withered reeds
the sliding door’s eclipsed my head

but if you’re going to buy paper
buy potatoes instead
these fingertips that picked up the scrub brush
now felt cold
riding the sliding screen toward the light grey bank out beyond
body quivering
I stopped these cogitations.

shōji o araiyoru to
akainu ga mizu nomi akakuroi shita
funedaiku no naigi san
imo arai jūjika no rantō
nagarete kita nappa

itai bōfū
ki ni suru sōrō teiden
furuete ita
gatagata itado
neta ga tsuete tatami no hazama
aodake ga haederu
yabureya ga fukitobasarete mo
tsukamattereba daijōbu da

hanarete atama no ue e okkabusatta.
kareashi ni nawa o shibaritsuketeita
gomidarake no shōji.

kami kau nara
imo kai nare
tawashi o tsumanda yubi no saki ga
tsumetaku kanzerareta.
senboku iro no mukōgishi e shōji ni notte
dōburi shita no de
sōzō suru no o yameta.


went to buy koniak
dead drunk flames rise from the red split wood
tongue the sky’s base, an empty coffin.
a middle schoolboy came carrying octopus legs
boiled them in the earthen pot
eat the koniak, middle schoolboy
now that it’s moist

he said that inside the mattress
his stomach is cold and hurts

in the midday autumn the sky is towering
bringing hog’s-meat he came again
to where in the eye half-closed with sleep
toothpowder had been scattered.
“Shall I give up the ghost?”
“now here me this, middle schoolboy
descending the embankment:
marry neither the housemaster’s daughter
nor the temple girl yet feast
leave no taste on the testamentary
which even without sugar is saccharine”

konnyaku kai ni itta.
berobero akai warigi no hi ga
kūki no soko made nameagatta.
chūgakusei ga tako no ashi o sagete kita
tokama ni nukumete
chūgakusei yo
konnyaku o kue
pitapita ni natte iru

futon no naka de itta
hara ga samui to itai

mahiru no aki wa sora ga takai
neboke-manako ni hamigakiko ga
chirakasareta toko e
butaniku o sagete mata kita
“ore wā shinjiyō ka”
“chūgakusei yo
dote o orite mannaka no ie no shu to
tera no musume o musubitsukeru na
shikashi kue
sugar nashi demo amai
kakioki ni wa aji o tsukenan na”



Mother’s child
dreamt of crimson rice

Father’s granddaughter
pissed a green-blue liquor

the son and granddaughter went their separate ways
their dreamage and urine never mingling.

kāsan no ko ga
akai gohan no yume o mita.
tōsan no mago ga
aoi osake no shōben shita.

musuko to magomusume to betsubetsu ni natte
yume to shōben to mazaranakatta


This one bound for U station?
Come face to face with me she
When through the window I see through the woman’s flank
—Station U.
My, what a hale old lady.
“The thread’s stuck to the apron,
Which I take out and smooth.”
She strokes her knees, restless
And sees the thread unraveling
At the apron’s stitched end
And picks at it, tosses it aside.
Oblivious to all around
O unsmiling old lady.

Roaming home on a pitch-black day in fall
Riding for well-nigh four and a half miles the steam train
At the end of the day the red autumn leaves:
O wretched woman
Never seeing such things.

U-yuki deshō kore——
sashimukai ni kakete kita kanojo
mado kara yokoppara o nozoku to
kenkō sō na bāsan datta.
maedare o dashite shimedasu
ito ga kuttsuite iru yo——
kanojo wa urouro hiza o sasurimawasu
maedare no hashi ni kukete atta
toki no koshi ni ki ga tsuku
sore o mushitte suteru.
kanojo wa omotte mo kure mo shinai yōsu de
warai mo shinai bāsan.

kaguroi aki no hi no sansaku no kaeri
yonri bakari kisha ni notte
kuregata no momiji
itaitashii onna
sonna mono wa minai.


On occasion with an abundance of rice
Other occasions with abundance of yam
Each daybreak cooked the rice porridge.
Drawing from the Tone-gawa
A bucketful of water
Adding miso a hundred momme for eight sen
A ladle at a time
Whittled away at tossed in
Two radishes the night full-mooned
From the little vegetable garden of the adjoining house.
First thing in the morning
Knocked down with a pole and ate
The mellowed persimmons
Extending a hand
Wresting off
Rinding a mandarin from who knows where
Atop the wall below the fence
The garden’s entrance below the eaves
Where fall leaves pile up withering still, and rotting
Particularly toothsome—
Even the leavings
The paper handkerchief
A pocket-handkerchief
Slipped into the sleeve
Heading for the empty hovel
Soundlessly shiftily as always
Toenails preceeding
And into the futon under the light cord’s dangling
Fall to sleep.

aru toki wa kome o ōku shi
aru toki wa imo o ōku shi
maiasa ojiya o taita.
tonegawa no mizu o baketsu de ippai dake
kunde kite
hyaku mon hassen no miso o
isshakushi zutsu irete
niko no daikon o
mangetsu no yoru
chiisana rinka no yasaien kara
ireta koto mo aru.
kaki ga urete
neoki ni imo de tataki-otoshite
sore bakari kutte ita
ha ga niwaguchi no nokishita
ochi-tsumori kare-kusaritsutsu aru
doko ka no mikan o
hei no ue ka kaki no ma kara te o nobashite
kawa o hagu to
kaburitsuku hijō ni oishii.
tabekasu mo
hanagami mo
hankechi mo
sode no naka e irete
dare mo inai jibun no abaraya e
itsu mo usankusaku oto no shinai yō ni
dentō no himo no taresagatta shita no
futon ni haitte neru.


I’ll piddle on it since I heard when you piddle on an earthworm its eyes fail. Under the stone’s shadow beneath a cosmos hooded in the straw mat of a cloudy day calmly guarding her chastity while never seeming to do anything the earthworm, out of work . . . jō jō I piddle: twisting and turning on a belly slightly chafed and pale she capers about like a virgin, shamefaced: I finish up: she stretches out and is still: I lean in wanting to finger her. Thinking she had stiffened up and died I begin trifling with her: she breaks feebly into a crawl: sniffing about in pursut of tail one prurient black vermin flies about evasively like one pining for a lover, romping through brambles seeking the root of some nameless grass, the fault lies with the fickle: I stood up stretching my back.

mimizu ni shōben o hirikakeru to
me ga tsubureru to iu koto o kiita koto ga aru.
sore de wa hirikakete miyō.
kumori hi no
mushiro o kabuserareta
kosumosu no ishikoro no kage
odayaka ni
dokushin o mamori
sono kuse nani mo shinai rashii
mushokusha no mimizu

shōben o shikakeru
sukoshi bakkari surimukarete
shiroku natta yō na hara o
mimizu wa shojo no yō ni hajirai-odoru
shite yameru to
nagaku nari ugokanaku naru
kagamikonde yubi de ijiritaku naru.
jitto shite shinda no ka to omotte
ijikuriyoru to yowayowashiku haidasu
kagimawasu yō ni shite
namamekashii kuroi mushi ga ippiki
shiri ni tsuite
kogareshitau mono no yō ni ibara ya
na mo shiranai zassō no ne o
hai-oi tobikuguru
sekinin wa uwakimono ni aru.
watashi wa tatte koshi o noshita.


I squatted over the privy.
In a crevice a breeze is resting.
I spat.
From its haunch issued a yellow sap.
Not a stir.
Tuckered out, clinging on flat.
Again I spat sputa.
It budged, with great labor.
Falling in with a plop.
Why is this?
Beset by illness, eh?
I waxed pensive.
In sunlight a sunless face exposed.
He seems a breeze full of grief
Having lost his wife
And beset by hyper-acidity
I don’t feel like boiling the rice. the morning

benjo e kagamu
sukiana abu ga tomatte iru
tsubaki o hakikakeru
kiiroi shiru o shiri no hō kara dasu
pun tomo hyun tomo iwanai
hetabari tsuiteiru.
peppe to tsuba o hakikakeru
karōjite miugoki shita.
potori shita e ochita.
naze darō
byōki nan darō ka
hichi-hichi to shita ki ni naru
hi atari no warui kao o shite deru
tada nyōbō o ushinatta bakari de
kanashinde ita abu kamo shirenai.
sankatashō ni nayande iru watashi
meshi o taku ki ni mo narananda asa


How good it is you didn’t put that much water in now that the rice is so soft how good you didn’t put any more in I thought indeed there are good things in this ephemeral world

licking the spatula.

mizu o andaki de
irenande yokatta.
konna ni yawarakai
meshi ni natta no ni
ano ue irenande
yo no naka ni wa yoi koto ga
yappashi aru no da

shamoji o neburinagara omou



It’s always afterward the slaughterer feels the weariness
For every filly two hundred million spermatozoa
Was the nursling
Tightly held between rich swollen dugs
Not asphyxiated when his mother, full of sin,
Waxed aroused watching the figures of copulating horses,
Watching their very horseness?
It is written: “The vagina’s mucous membrane
Is presumably an alkaline,
Though it may soon turn acidic.”
I remember what they had said.
Still they do not hear
Agreeable weariness
Two withered legs
Innumerable men
For what reason do you not call to one another, spermatozoon?
Deep are the sins of women
Sakyamuni’d been in error.
Is it not that each month
But one egg is secreted
I think
One must think
Were there no gradation to the sin
We would have planned in advance no penitence
For the murder or masturbation
Accompanied by that same weariness.

satsurikusha wa itsu mo ato de wa hirō o oboeru
nioku no seichū to ippiki no koma
eiji ga dakishimerarete
uruoi-bukai chibusa
chissoku shitakke
uma no kōbi no guai ga
amari ni uma rashii no o mite
kōfun shita
hahaoya no tsumi darō ka
chitsu no nenmaku wa arukari-sei rashii keredo
sugu sansei ni henka suru rashii
nado to kaite aru.
hitobito yo—
ōku no hitobito no itta no o omoidasu
seichū yo—
da ga mada kikanai
kokoroyoi hirō
naeta ryōashi
ōku no otoko wa
naze seichū yo to yobikakenai no ka
onna wa tsumi-bukashi
oshaka wa machigaete ita.
tamago wa tsuki ni hitotsu shika bunpitsu sarenai rashii
to omowareru to iu de wa nai ka
tsumi ni shinsen ga nakereba
arakajime kōkai shinai yotei de nasareru
jii to satsujin to wa
onaji hirō o tomonau mono da to
omowanakereba naranai to
watashi wa omou.


sick with the runs:
thin vermin
in the night-soil pot
vermin vermin vermin
mushily gushing vermin
deep inside the bowels
it’s owing to this I’ve got the runs
do not bite the white uncooked radish.

geri shite
hosoi mushi
kusotsubo no naka
jitabata shite iru.
mushi mushi mushi
gucha waku mushi
onaka no naka
dakara geri shita no ka
shiroi nama daikon kanjiru na.


Nothing can be done about her lips being thick
on the street all is closed
the face of the earth frozen over
the sound of clogs echoing out endlessly—
clip-clop the glass door at the barbershop
the white curtains cold pummels the face
the earthen floor at the greengrocery electricity is leaking onto
onions were faintly quivering.
but at my back
a figure wrapped in a manteau
clearly visible with a sideways crawl
a faint shadow
flowed from my feet
and noticed agasted me.
a spider
crouched into a ball
on the empty elbow of an empty chair.
for being so cold-blooded so overfed
her ichthyosic arms coiled
and so are her thighs the woman
by now had sunk into slumber
still the
two shadows are
leaning absently against the electric pole
still, lighting a smoke
my hand trembles
in effort to seize her exhalation
might she have been
an apparition
the young boy
holding in his piss
not knowing
the stars and moon
are already relieved
turns his head upward under the lantern hung from the eaves
under the latten umbrella-light
its interminably apologetic face
wrapping the scene
in a sympathetic hue
but surely there is no reason
for a woman to be in each arm
for how many hours had it been,
my walking alone?
the two shadows
follow apace unsevered
turning back turning back I
see the furtive
and tardy arrival the standing at attention
of the strangeness of things I try to disrobe,
throwing the manteau over the bridge.

kuchibiru no atsui no wa shikata ga nai deshō
tōri mina shimatte iru.
kōte tsuku jimen
geta no oto karakoro doko made mo hibi-
ite yuku tokoya no garasudo
shiroi maku tsumetai hohouchi
dentō no moreru yaoya no doma
tamanegi ga bidō shite ita.
manto o kabuta zō
haigo ni
hakkiri yokobai ni
usui kage
watashi no ashimoto kara nagarete ita
ki ga tsuite kikkyō shita.
karappo no
isu no hiji-atari ni kumo ga
samugari no himan shiteru wari ni
samehada no ryōude mo ryōmomo mo
yojinatte onna
ima shigata neitta ka mo shirenai
futatsu no kage ga
sore na no ni
pokan to shite denchū ni yorikakaru
watashi wa tabako no hi o sutta keredo
fureru te wa
onna no haku iki o tsukamō to suru
bōrei de wa nai ka
shōben o koraeteru shōji wa
hoshi to tsuki to ga
gaman shite
hotto shite iru no o shiranai.
atama no ue o aoida
buriki no kasa no nokibi ga
sumanai kao de
soko ni ki no dokusō na iro o
tsutsunde iru
shikashi mochiron ryōwaki ni
onna ga iru hazu ga nai.
nanjikan watashi wa
hitori de aruite ita no ka
fushigi ni
futatsu no kage ga
hanarezu ni tsuite kuru
furikaeri furikaeri
ashioto o shinobasetari
tachitomattari osōte kuru
mono no ke o nugō to shite
hashi no ue kara
watashi wa manto o hori-suteta.


Slipping in a portable body warmer
not noticing my underbelly moist with perspiration
and is there no woman here to untie my sash?
when alone
wanting a drink of water
I lick the mouth of a porcelain dog
a single drop
the charred newt’s a love philter
or shall I drink instead of the inkstone’s ink?
Waking up
is tough troubling Stirring
the smutty water
deep inside the bucket
if still swallowable
it may come to boil
Stomach grown wobbly
emptying the ash
sucking down the cigarette its foul taste
ugh oaugh
for a drink of wine:
nose mashed to a thousand bits
even a leprous woman’ll do

kairo o ireru to
asebamu shitabara
shiran ma ni
shitaobi no tokeru onna wa nai ka
hitori de ni
mizu ga nomitakute
setomono no inu no kuchi o nameru to
itteki shika nai
imori no kuroyake wa horegusuri
suzuri no bokujū o nonde miyō ka
okiru no ga
taihen taigi na no da yo
baketsu no mizu yusutte
soko no hō ni
mada nomereba
oyu ga waku ka mo shiren
heta-heta ni natta onaka
hai o tori-kaete
tabako o nomu mazui
ā ā
budōzake ga nomitai
doro-doro no
hana no chigireta
onna naritsupo demo kamawanai


The girl at the miso shop too
two or three mats stacked up
has she come down with a cold had she
not been sleeping:
then I considered causes:
Or was it the piping candy-peddler who
a tawdry flag
unfurled overhead
marching along thumping a drum
lured her in:
for the multifold women
being adored by multifold men
is tough
comes with great pains and is triflous too:
They don’t think love to be an affront.
I am not so sure
putting miso inside the boiling rice
mixing it in such a manner
must be stopped:
see how the froth bubbles up, butsu-butsu,
how its color’s mildly bilious.
But peering in
with downcast eyes into the sweltering steam
my own face appears
mumbling ruddy
vanishing at the point of reflection.
Some time has passed
Since I stopped loving
A certain girl with small feet:
Still I never grow board
Gazing at my own face
Through this rude reflection
At whatever angle
Used to be a man
Who despised the scent of a lady’s feet
But now real-
Ize that rather than wondering whether this had been love
My thoughts bend nostalgically again
Toward the smell of this soup
Which is something I cannot talk about.

misoya no musume mo
daifuton o ni san kasanete
kaze o hiitan ka nete ita
ja nai ka
sono gen’in o kangaetara
arui wa kudaranai hata o
atama ni sashite
taiko o tataite aruku
ameuri ni hikkakawaru koto ka mo shiren
moro-moro no onna wa
moro-moro no otoko ni
koiserarete wa nayamu
muzukashiku oroka ni mo
koiserareru koto ga
budoku da to wa omowanai.
onnatachi yo
watashi wa kō shite
miso o niekakatta kome no naka e
irete kakimazeru koto o yamesō
to wa omowanai
butsu-butsu to awa ga tatsu
sukoshi bakari iyana iro o shite iru keredo
utsumuite yuge ni
hoterashite sashinozoku to
watashi no kao ga mieru
butsu butsu butsu
shunkan ni eijite wa kieru awa da
aru ashi no chiisai onna o
koi shiyamete kara
sude ni yohodo ni naru.
shikashi kō yatte, ikudōri ni mo
utsuru dake ni
watashi wa jibun no kao o nagameru no ni
aki wa shinai
mae kara watashi wa
onna no ashi no nioi ga kirai na otoko datta
koi shiteiru ka dō ka
ima kangaeru yori mo kono miso no nioi ga
natsukashiku mo hanasenai mo-
no da to kizuite iru no da.


The zabuton the soba shop
Proprietress fastened to her bottom:
When it gets colder
I’ll append another layer.
When I’m cold my hips hurt—
Am I too then syphilitic?
See how the corners of my eyes smart and burn,
How my back’s become so crooked?
Saying this stooping over the hibachi I
Gautama too
Was probably cat-backed from an early age
A long pipe
Borrowed from the proprietor a single puff

sobaya no okamisan ga
shiri ni shibaritsuketa zabuton
mō sukoshi samuku naru to
mō ichimai no tsukerun de sa.—
—koshi ga hieru to itakute ne
boku mo baidoku na no ka
me no fuchi ga hiri-hiri tadarete
senaka ga konna ni magatteru darō—

hibachi ni kagamikonde itta watashi
shason mo wakai toki kara
nekoze datta yō ni omoete kita
naga-serifu o
teishu ni karite ippuku


tofu and what not has come
she shut the door
I just thought she wouldn’t be buying
tofu or nama-age
as I bang the bottom of the clay charcoal stove
the lamp is to turn on
and I’ll
keep reading from
“then again, there are for women the five impediments . . .”
but no light comes
needless to say
not being straight
the switch I flicked on
the light from long ago
was already on
it’s just that
as long as I had to boil the water I
guess I thought I wouldn’t be eating.

tōfu ya ga kita
to o shimeta
to-fu mo nama-age mo
kau mai to omotta ni suginai
shichirin no shiri o tataiteru ma ni
dentō ga tsuku darō
—mata nyonin no mi ni wa nao goshō ari—
no tsuzuki o yomu
shikashi nakanaka tsukanai
hoka de wa nai ga
massugu ni natte inakatta
suwichi o watashi wa hinetta ni
suru to dentō ga tokku kara
kite iru
soko de
oyu ga wakanakya
meshi o tabenai ni suginai to
omotta ni suginai


Is it to fate that I’m resigned
sucking down this cigarette sprawled on all fours
I struck the match indiffer-
ently lowering it
to the vermin’s back coated in arms.
Strange vermin,
crawled here last night to the bedside
scarpered away
as I scowled at him,
only to reappear this morning
under the desk
does he keep vigil over my sleeping breath
he freezes
before the flame lowered to him
he thinks me something to worry about
his six legs deformed
having survived
the first two or three matches
this neverbeforeseen ver-
min motionless as ever
the sound of boiling grease
the faint sighing of a fly
again I strike the match
and his foreleg joints his groin resilient
redden blacken
and like cinder disappear.
He collapses supine
fleecily and
without sound.
Indeed it’s to fate that he’s resigned.
How movingly does he
inconvenience my hand and like a venerable
man meet his death.
There are not so many vermin like this in my life.
Softly I place
him in my palm
and consider swallowing him:
like an embryo miscarried
somewhere in seclusion,
I ought
to drown myself
in the rapids of the Tone-gawa

kakugo wa kimete ita no ka
harabai ni tabako o nonde ita
watashi wa nanno kinashi ni su-
tta macchi o
sono monmon no aru senaka e
motte itta.
henna mushi ga
sakuya mo makuramoto e hatte kita
no de niramu to
sugu nige-useta no ni
ima asa ni natte futatabi
tsukue no shita ni arawarete iru
watashi no neiki demo ukagatte ita no ka
matchi no hi o ue kara ateru to
jitto shite iru
nanika shinpaigoto demo aru no ka mo shiren
ni sanbon mo matchi o sutte
aburu to
henna ashi ga roppon aru
ima made mita koto mo na-
i mushi da ga
izen to shite ugokidasanai
jū— jū—
kasuka ni hae no tameiki no yō na
abura no atsuku naru oto ga suru yō ni
omotte nao mo matchi o suru to
sore demo ganbatte iru
zenshi no mata no tsukene ga
akaku natte kuroku natte
keshizumi no yō ni kieta.
soshite fuwa-fuwa to
oto mo shinai ni
aomuke ni taoreta.
kakugo wa kimete ita no kamo shiren
konna ni made ijirashiku
watashi no te o wazurawashite rippana ningen
no yō ni ōjō o togeru mushi wa
watashi no shōgai ni mo kazu ōku wa aru mai.
tenohira ni nosete
nonde miyō ka
ryūsan suru taiji no yō ni
watashi wa dare ni mo shirasanaide
tonegawa no nagare ni
mi o shizumete mitai
ki ni mo natta


Not sure if it’s
smoke or steam
cloaked in the straw rush mat
on the toy boat of bamboo leaves
the sound of a sniveling nose
when with a red kettle scooping water
up float the goods stuffed at bottom
however hard
you stomp on
on sandy grounds
the orange rind
with rubber boots
out gushes a polish
huh, wintry beast
white hare
seeming to revel in the cold
how ugly are the wither-
ing rotting leaves
as if in a forest of stringent onions
and frost-flour
here from my side
even the bubbling icebergs of gruel
ready in a wink
the boat maker’s brat
threw out the steamed
potato skins
how alarming
how charming this single rabbit
Lord Rabbit
for you
the tips of your boots so dreadfully
the firepan
ugh great coal fire.

komo o kabuseta
kemuri ka hoke ka shiran
sasabune ni
hana o susuru oto
akakama de mizu o sukuu to
sokozumi ga uku
mikan no kawa
gomu kutsu ni
sunaji ni
fumitsukerarete mo
nanbo demo
migaki-shiru ga deru
ō sameta.
chikushō samui to yorokonde iya-
garu shirousagi
karetsu ha ga
koto ni minikui ja nai ka
shimo-oshiroi o tsukete
tsun to shita tamanegi no naka o
kochira de wa
okayu no awa no hyōzan ga
matataku ma ni dekiagaru
fune daiku no gaki ga
mushikashi-tate no
imo no kawa o hotta
kawaii ippiki shika inai
omae ni totte wa
monosugoi kutsusaki
dainashi ni nariyotta
ō sumibi


“Sure the cockscomb
is acting like a knave—
I know it can be a bit knavish—
but I bet you didn’t know
the balsamine
had been swindling us,”
the green-bottle fly whispered
knavishly to the cat.
To the very corner
of the garden of that very farm house
autumn came
and when the mother-in-law, a cosmos,
in a fit of conniption
gives to the pregnant chrysanthemum
the stink eye
and with a penchant for such pedantry
the soft down of desire
clings to
a sky a China-pink.

keitō wa akutōburu
no da to itte
akutōburu dake dakedo
hōsenka ga
sagi o shite iru no o
kimi wa shiranai darō
ginbae ga neko ni akutōbutte
sasayaita koto ga atta.
onaji hyakushōya no
niwa sumi ni mo aki ga kite
shūtome no kosumosu wa
hisuteri- ga okoru to
mimochi no kiku o
itai me ni awasu
nado to shōjikibutte
jōnetsu no nikoge ga
sekichiku-iro no kūki to


The delight in driving into it a gimlet,
With emphasis,
With fingers bent slightly back,
With hands clasped together,
Twisting into string the stationary,
Bundling it into a single sheaf, and sealing it,
I shall hang it,
The letter my woman sent,
Out for later,
Before the eaves the rain can’t reach,
Hanging it out to dry,
That before long,
Once fully dry,
I can cut it like fine long hair,
And roast it in the fire,
And when the New Year comes,
Put it in the ozōni,
And eat it.

kiri momu ureshisa
te o awashite
chikara o komete
yubi o sorashite
koyori o sashite
onna no yokoshita tegami o
issoku ni shite tojite
watashi wa
amadare no kakaranai nokisaki e
tsurushite okō
yoku kawaitara
kami no ke no yō ni hosonagaku kitte
hi ni abutte
oshōgatsu ga kitara
ozōni no naka e irete


was not in.
his wife gave me a mandarin.
it was about to snow.
a man
the young woman hybridous in tow
cried into the streets,
let us heed the will of the Lord.
returning home along the river
I stopped by the outhouse
where—through a loose board?—
blew from below
a biting breeze.

I bit through the sleeve-grass
into the orange’s pulp.
let us heed the will of God.
my teeth are set on edge.

Z wa fuzai deshita
saikun ga
mikan o kuremashita.
yuki ga furisō deshita.
konketsuji rashii
musume o tsureta otoko ga
—kami no ishi o miyo—
tōri de sakende imashita
kawaya e hairu to
ita ga hazureta no ka
tsumetai kaze ga
shita kara fukimashita
tamotogusa to issho ni
mikan no kawa o kande mimashita
—kami no ishi o mimashō
ha ga ukimashita


The degraded painter Mister Z
Despises the spring fall and future
And over the last twenty years
His mother has worn out her bat-
“What is sandwiched between its shaft,
You see, is a pearl.
No matter what a thing is,
There is nothing that doesn’t resemble a meal.”

“Surely we’re not to eat the vainglorious hog;
But will we, mother, be able to wipe our sweat
Though the rags are yet to dry?
Should we naught the spring and fall,
What’ll be left to draw
With these benumbed hands?
I am not a sharp
Perceiving dog.
I can’t make out
The future’s fragrance.”

haru to aki to mirai o nikumu
rakuhaku gaka
K no haha ga
nijūnen mochifurushita
kono e no toko ni hasamete aru no ga
shinjū nan desu yo—
donna mono demo
tabemono ni mienai koto wa arimasen

demo kyoeishin no tsuyoi buta wa
sore o kuwanai deshō
nuno ga kawakanai no ni
ase ga fukemashō ka
haru to aki o naku shite mo
kajikanda te de
nani ga kakemashō
eibin na
inu de nai watashi ni
mirai no nioi o
kagu koto wa dekimasen


Dandelions were blooming.
The rickshawman trotted over.
Carrying away somebody’s lover.
Steam trains absent and so are the electric trains.
A cardiac arrest.
This one-street town
With not
That much dust.
Kneeling dejected,
He’s dead already isn’t he.
Poor bastard.
Hauled in
To the first confectionary shop.
Poor mister
Shot himself in the stomach.
Having lost the bet
And soon were heard
Rumors of my return.
Can the rickshaw tread reposefully along?
Is what I say unreasonable?
Can death be avoided if we’d just stay calm?
Dandelions fond of
Yellowish tubercle bacillus.
Will my lungs ever improve

tanpopo ga saite ita
kurumaya ga hashitte itta
dareka no koijin o nosete
kisha mo densha mo nai
shinzō mahi
hokori ga
gyōsan mo tatanai
issuji machi
gakuri sune o tsuite
shinde shimattan ja nai ka
kawaisō ni
tottsuki no dagashiya ni
katsugi konda
shujin ga
teppōbara shitan da
bakuchi ni makete
ma mo naku
watashi no kaetta uwasa ga tatta
kurumaya ga
ochitsuite hashireru darō ka
watashi no iu no wa muri darō ka
ochitsuite ireba shinanai no ka
kekkakukin o suku tanpopo
watashi no hai ga ieru darō ka


once dead
becoming the fool
rather than being the fool
smacks of the niggardly

shinde kara
baka yori mo
nao baka ni naru no ka
rinshoku kusai


The deranged woman around forty
fasting deaf coy corpulent
was conversing with cows grown thick under the teahouse
eaves. Mother, who’d passed away

kurutta yonjū bakari no onna
danjiki tsunbo hazukashigari himan
chadō no noki ni shigeide aru ushi to hanashite
ita. inaku natta haha


The socialist to the prosecutor
said in a low voice
You feel quite nice when you board the plane
but the dog still got away.

now settle down and tell me
is it really something
like the rarefied air
this love

an indulgence.
the gamut of things
seen as one in a cerulean hue
to whom among us hast thou given such eyes

there is but one tongue
gnawing off that tongue
not gnawing off that tongue are the two things humans can do.
tell me eremite

is there a suicide
ending not in death
would Sakyamuni or Christ revived
be only meeker than the dead

is the oft-said word gramercy
any different than things of conscience
again I was thinking would this have been the loincloth
of a indigene? and you

aren’t you worried about your family
sure they’re something to worry about
for they too are sometimes my possessions

and is it not a paltry thing
your ego
a kind of vestment
you ought to remove

rage against it with resolve
for courage will be needed to course in an instant
all of forever
and then shall ease the throbbing in the head.

shakai shugisha ga kensatsu ni
hikōki ni noru to guai ga yoi yo—
hikui koe de ittan da ga
inu ga nigete shimatta.

ochitsuite itte kudasai
hontō ni kihaku na
kūki no yō na mono na no desu ka
sono ai to iu no wa

zeitaku da
arayuru mono ga hitotsu ni
sorairo ni mieru nante
sonna me o dareka ni yatta kai kamisama

shita wa hitotsu shika nai
shita o kamikiru koto to kamikirana-
i koto to ningen no suru koto wa futatsu shika nai.
kinyoku shugisha yo

shinda koto ni naranai jisatsu ga
arō ka
shaka ya kirisuto ga ikikaette mo
shinda ningen yori wa yowai jarō

arigatai iu kotoba to ryōshin toka
iu mono to wa chigaun desu ka
watashi wa mata dojin no koshimaki no koto ka
to omotte imashita.

kimi wa kazoku no koto o shinpai shinai no ka
sore wa shinpai suru sa
tokidoki wa
boku no shoyūmono dakara

sukoshi chisai ja nai ka
kimi no jiga wa
sonna chokki mitaina mono wa

omoikiri abaretamae
eigō o isshunkan ni hashiru yūki ga
sō suru to atama no itai no ga ieru.

Takahashi Shinkichi: An Annotated Bibliography

The following sources are essential to anyone doing a serious and thorough study of the 20th-century poet Takahashi Shinkichi. Although the main purpose of this bibliography is to direct readers to further Takahashi scholarship (including anthologies that present Takahashi’s poems with some biographic or critical supplementary material), I have also included in the second part a short list of his original works, the most important being the complete anthology 高橋新吉全集, in order to help guide the researcher to other materials. In short, the first list is comprehensive; the second is selective. (Note: all Japanese sources were published in Tokyo unless otherwise indicated.)

I. Works about Takahashi and Anthologies in which works of Takahashi appear

Bownas, Geoffrey, and Anthony Thwaite, eds. and trans. The Penguin Book of Japanese
Verse. Baltimore: Penguin, 1964. A basic introduction to Japanese poetry, surveying
works from pre-modern up to mid-20th century. The book is useful as an introduction to
the subject, but not beyond that. It would be more useful if it had footnotes or more
detailed bibliographic information.

Ellis, Toshiko. “The Japanese Avant-Garde of the 1920s: The Poetic Struggle with the
Dilemma of the Modern.” Poetics Today 20:4 (2000), 723-741. An essay on Takahashi
and other experimental poets of the 1920s, focusing on Takahashi’s early dada works.

Funaki Masuo 船木満洲夫 and Takahashi Shinkichi 高橋新吉. Yoshida Issui ron 吉田一穂論.
Hōbunkan Shuppan, 1992. Criticism of modern poetry. Includes one article in English
(pp. 86-106), Woman in the Tide, by Takahashi Shinkichi.

Hirai Ken 平居謙. Takahashi Shinkichi kenkyū 高橋新吉研究. Shichōsha, 1993. Invaluable
source to the student of Takahashi. Unfortunately, this book is located in only five
libraries worldwide, all of which are in Japan. It can, however, be ordered from various
Japanese bookstores on the Internet for approximately ¥3400. Includes excellent
biographical and contextual information as well as thorough analyses of Takahashi’s
complete body of work.

Kaneda Hiroshi 金田弘. Takahashi Shinkichi gookunen no tabi 高橋新吉五億年の旅.
Shunjūsha, 1998. A study of Takahashi’s poetics and relationship with Zen.
Includes bibliographical references.

Ko, Won. Buddhist Elements in Dada: A Comparison of Tristan Tzara, Takahashi Shinkichi,
and Their Fellow Poets. New York: New York University Press. A comparative study
of dada artists Takahashi Shinkichi and Tristan Tzara. Essential in understanding
Takahashi’s earlier works within the context of European dada. Unfortunately, it is the
only study in English of Takahashi’s early dada poems.

Kōno, Ichirō, and Rikutarō Fukuda, eds. and trans. An Anthology of Modern JapanesePoetry.
Kenkyūsha, 1957. Though it includes several poems from each of the100 modern poets
included, the work is quite out of date—its translations are often loose approximations,
the introduction is condescending (“There is no denying the fact that as a poetic language
Japanese is less appropriate than the Indo-European languages”), and the most important
20th-century poets are given the same amount of space as less significant poets. Included
are a handful of poems by Takahashi.

Kurokawa Naihei 黒川内平. Gendai sakka no shinri shindan to atarashii sakkaron:
sakka to mensetsushite Rorushahha-hō niyoru shinri shindansho happyō 現代
作家の心理診断と新しい作家論: 作家と面接してロールツャッハ法によ
る心理診断書発表. Shibundō, 1962. Psychological diagnoses of contemporary
Japanese writers, including Takahashi.

Nakano Shigeharu 中野重治, Ono Tōsaburō 小野十三郎, Takahashi Shinkichi 高橋新
吉, Yamanoguchi Baku 山之口獏. Nakano Shigeharu, Ono Tōsaburō, Takahashi
Shinkichi, Yamanokuchi Baku shū 中野重治, 小野十三郎, 高橋新吉, 山之口
獏集. Chūō Kōronsha, 1969. A compilation of four poets’ modern Japanese
verse. Includes biographical references.

Ninomiya, Takamichi, and D. J. Enright, trans. The Poetry of Living Japan: AnAnthology. New
York: Grove Press, 1957. Another early anthology of modern Japanese poetry in which
several poems of Takahashi appear. Has problems similar to those found in Kōno and
Fukuda’s anthology.

Ōhashi Kichinosuke 大橋吉之輔. Anderusun to sannin no Nihonjin: Shōwa shonen no
Amerika bungaku アンデルスンと三人の日本人: 昭和初年のアメリカ文学.
Kenkyūsha, 1984. A study of Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) and his influence
on Takahashi Shinkichi and two other 20th-century Japanese writers.

Shiffert, Edith Marcombe, and Yūki Sawa, trans. and comps. Anthology of Modern Japanese
Poetry. Rutland, VT and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1972. Divided into three sections,
“Free Verse,” “Tanka,” and “Haiku,” this book ambitiously tries to cover the broader
span of 20th-century Japanese poetry, featuring works from 49 poets. Unfortunately, only
about 3 to 5 poems are allotted to each poet, making this book more of an introduction to
the general subject than to each poet. Translations are enjoyable and true to their
originals. Also includes brief information about authors and a short bibliography.

Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1983. A useful study of 8 preeminent 20th-century poets and their art.
The last 61 pages specifically address Takahashi, making the book one of the few English
materials that critically examine his work.

Uzaki Hiroshi 鵜崎拓. Takahashi Shinkichi ron 高橋新吉論. Kawade Shobō Shinsha,
1987. One of the rare, critically thorough studies of Takahashi’s theory and
practice of poetry. Available for ¥4500.

II. Selected Works by Takahashi Shinkichi, in original and in translation

Stryk, Lucien, and Takashi Ikemoto, eds. and trans. Afterimages: Zen Poems of Shinkichi
Takahashi. Garden City, N. Y.: Anchor Books, 1972. Stryk’s first publication of
Takahashi poems. Triumph of the Sparrow is this work’s continuation. Includes a
foreword by the author, and an introduction from each of the translators.

______. The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry. London: Allen Lane, Penguin Books Ltd. 1988.
Covers a wide range of material, from ancient to modern, from both the Chinese and
Japanese traditions of Zen. Includes a good introduction about the Zen aesthetic, which
emphasizes suggestion over depiction.

______. Triumph of the Sparrow: Zen Poems of Shinkichi Takahashi. Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1986. An expanded reprinting of Stryk’s first
collection of Takahashi Shinkichi translations, Afterimages: Zen Poems of
Shinkichi Takahashi. This renamed edition includes 55 new translations and an
interview with Takahashi Shinkichi taken just before his death.

______. Zen: Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes, Interviews, Selected and Translated
by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto. Garden City: Doubleday, 1965.
Includes Stryk’s translations of Takahashi poems, many of which are
approximations and are severely edited. Helpful, since few other English
translations of Takahashi’s poetry have been done.

Stryk, Lucien, and Takahashi Shinkichi. Zen Poems: LP Sound Recording: Poetry.
Excerpts read by the author and translator. LP. New York: Folkway Records,
1980. Very little, if any, information about this record exists, but it can be ordered.

Takahashi Shinkichi 高橋新吉. Zen to bungaku 禅と文学. Hōbunkan, 1970. A
collection of engaging but by no means scholarly essays written by Takahashi
over the years on a variety of subjects. Despite the title, many of the
impressionistic essays are about things entirely unrelated to Zen. Also includes
auto-biographical writings.

______. Takahashi Shinkichi zenshū 高橋新吉全集. 4 vols. Seidosha, 1982. This “complete
works” of Takahashi includes his poetry, criticism, fiction, and other miscellaneous
writings, and is found in five libraries worldwide. The collections Makuwauri shishū and
Dadaisuto Shinkichi no shi are included in the first volume, which has complete works of
Takahashi poetry. Available for ¥60,000.

______. Zen ni asobu 禅にあそぶ. Rippū Shobō, 1977. (Unable to examine. Available for

______. Teihon: Takahashi Shinkichi zenshishū 定本 高橋新吉全詩集. Rippu shobō, 1972.
Includes in full Takahashi’s 1923 collection Dadaisuto Shinkichi no shi, as well as an
afterword by Takahashi written in 1972, and a critical analysis of his poetry.

Other Works Consulted

Anderson, Wallace L., and Norman C. Stageberg, eds. Introductory Readings on
Language. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962.

Apollinaire, Guillaume. Alcools: Translated by Donald Revell. Hanover, N.H.:
Wesleyan University Press, 1995.

Apollinaire, Guillaume. The Poet Assassinated: Translated by Matthew Josephson.
Cambridge: Exact Change, 2000.

Balakian, Anna. André Breton: Magus of Surrealism. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1971.

Breton, André, et al. The Automatic Message, The Magnetic Fields, The Immaculate
Conception: Anti-classics of Surrealism. London: Atlas Press, 1997.

Breton, André. Nadja. New York: Grove Press, 1960.

Breton, André. Selected Poems: Translated by Kenneth White. London: Jonathan Cape,

Caws, Mary Ann. The Poetry of Dada and Surrealism: Aragon, Breton, Tzara, Eluard
& Desnos. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970.

Eluard, Paul. Selected Writings: With English Translations by Lloyd Alexander.
Norfolk: New Directions, 1951.

Grossman, Manuel L. Dada: Paradox, Mystification, and Ambiguity in European
Literature. New York: Pegasus, 1971.

Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary. Tokyo: Daitō shuppansha, 1979.

Keene, Donald. A History of Japanese Literature: Dawn to the West. Volume 4:
Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, Poetry, Drama, Criticism, With a New
Preface By the Author. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Macey, David. The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory. New York: Penguin Books,

Makino, Yasuko, and Masaei Saito. A Student Guide to Japanese Sources in the
Humanities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1994.

Morohashi, Tetsuji 諸橋哲二. Daikanwa jiten 大漢和辞典. 13 volumes. Taishūkan
shoten, 1966-1968.

Motherwell, Robert, and Jack D. Flam, eds. The Dada Painters and Poets: The
Documents of Twentieth Century Art. Boston: Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., 1981.

Nakamura Hajime 中村元, ed. Shinbukkyō jiten 新仏教辞典. Tokyo: Seishin shobō,

Oxford English Dictionary [electronic resource]. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Sato, Hiroaki, and Burton Watson, eds. and trans. From the Country of Eight Islands:
An Anthology of Japanese Poetry. New York: Anchor Press, 1981.

Schulte, Rainer, and John Biguenet, eds. Theories of Translation: An Anthology of
Essays from Dryden to Derrida. Chigago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Sheppard, Richard, ed. New Studies in Dada: Essays and Documents. Driffield, UK:
Hutton Press, 1981.

Watanabe, Toshirō, Edmund R. Skrzypczak and Paul Snowden, editors in chief.
Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary. Tokyo: Kenkyūsha, 2003.

Young, Alan. Dada and After: Extremist Modernism and English Literature. New
Jersey: Humanities Press 1981.


Anonymous said...


here are the poems from Dadaisuto Shinkichi no shi which are in need of translation:

1. 断言はダダイスト
2. しんDA廉吉
3. 写声蓄音機
4. オシ
5. 「性」ダヽ詩三ツ
6. 衂血
8. サクランボ
9. Dは
10. 一九一一年集
11. 創作 ダダイストの睡眠

Anonymous said...


here are the poems from Dadaisuto Shinkichi no shi which are in need of translation:

1. 断言はダダイスト
2. しんDA廉吉
3. 写声蓄音機
4. オシ
5. 「性」ダヽ詩三ツ
6. 衂血
8. サクランボ
9. Dは
10. 一九一一年集
11. 創作 ダダイストの睡眠

Anonymous said...

add to the above list: