Here is the final draft of your translation. I have fixed all the awkward spots. I hope this pleases you well. And for the blind:
(For a brief introduction to the author and essay, click here.)
Sakuma’s servant girl, her gold-leafed coiffure all a-frizzle
Word has it she was straddling an elephant just the day before last.
I’m not sure how ethnographers handle the popular folktale of Otake the Dainichi Buddha, but it seems she is usually associated with the story of some temple saint, or with some maxim about not wasting rice grains in the kitchen sink. But whatever the socio-historic reasons may have been for preserving this peculiar Buddha story, the novel idea of transforming some lowly Sakuma housemaid into the Dainichi Nyorai never would have occurred to anyone had the Noh play Eguchi or the popular tales of Saigyō (1118-1190) and Courtesan Eguchi not preceded it. This legend of Eguchi no Kimi, the 12th-century courtesan who was transformed into the Fugen Boddhisatva upon mounting the white elephant, was like a dream long lost through the ages— lost, that is, until the Edoites figured out how to decipher and expand it by superimposing it onto their own contemporary reality. This talent for adaptation (or “creative misprision,” if you will) came to them so naturally that they never knew it to be the working of an inherent wisdom that was simultaneously the secret art of living. “To hell with future generation should they take from us only our residual conceits!” they must have snickered; but the fact remains that the genius of these poets was to be lost entirely on the lumpish critics of later generations. Sadly, the literary world would never regard the Otake legend as anything more than senryū doggerel, and many a critic would make show of his “discernment” by denigrating the legend. We shouldn't, of course, take such judgments too seriously.
The phrase “gold-leafed” clearly refers to the Dainichi Buddha’s coiffure. Yet is can also mean “undisputed,” “certified,” or “the real deal.” Now add to this “all a-frizzle,” and the phrase likely alludes to the popular belief that curly-haired women are exceptionally perverse. It might be well to recall here the following lines from the Noh play Eguchi.
And Eguchi, renowned for her amorous ways,
Her house where countless secret deeds,
All buried now like fossil wood. In this dwelling . . .
In the secret cant of Edo, a woman incapable of refusing a male suitor was called “loquat-leaf tea,” likening her to the readily available decoction prescribed by physicians of the day. Otake was certainly one such decoction. Yet this maid to the Sakuma house was not the only “Otake” in Edo; in fact, nearly every kitchen in the city had its own little “Otake,” each of whom found it hard at times not to provide a little “salvation” for the “ailing” men of the city. What I'm getting at is that Otake is a parody (mitate) of Courtesan Eguchi. And just as you're about to despair at the depths to which poor, fickle, and frail woman has sunk, Otake is transformed before your eyes into Courtesan Eguchi, heroine of the Noh play, and her kitchen is now Eguchi’s “transient dwelling.”
Told that you had renounced the world,
I thought you mustn’t dwell on this transient dwelling.
That dwelling which “one begrudges, but in truth / begrudges not.” Just then Eguchi mutates again, this time into the Bodhisattva seated astride the white elephant, though no sooner does she announce:
Having come this far, now I shall return . . .
Whereupon the distant figure resumes its original form, only to be approached immediately by a young man— perhaps one of Otake's regulars seeking another dose of “salvation.” We might even say that this wandering rake has something about him of that old itinerant monk Saigyō.
It would be pointless to read some sort of ideology into this story of Otake traced over the face of Courtesan Eguchi. Nor would it be useful to stress simply that the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination is at work in the story. You see, the Edoites were much more adept at “secularizing” (zokka) ideology than they were at excogitating it. For them, the notion that there could be non-correlating symbols was unthinkable, and it is perhaps for this that they have since been pejoratively labeled “ideologyless.” In the case of the Otake legend, this “secularizing” device works twofold: on the one hand, it converts Eguchi (historical actuality) into Otake (symbol for the quotidian), while on the other it functions as a transformation tableau that depicts Otake when eyes are opened and the Dainichi Buddha when eyes are closed. That is to say, Otake is the Dainichi Buddha in “disguised form” (yatsushi). The Otake legend, too, taken as a whole, is precisely a contemporary retelling of the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination. Appropriated onto Edo daily life, the recycled story takes root, having been substantiated long ago by the story of the historical Eguchi. The busy scholar will at once scrawl down “the true story of Otake,” while the greedy mountebank pawns Otake's artifacts in some interim shed; but this notion of yatsushi loses its meaning the moment it is removed from the negotiations described above. At the same time, the notion of yatsushi acquires its vitality the moment it is rendered inseparable from its practice. Put into literary jargon, this method might be called “haikai-ification.”
It is precisely this haikai-ification that runs through the successive artistic techniques of the Edo plebeians. Laborers of the spirit, they possessed a rare talent for producing art that would defy all subsequent systems of criticism. When the modern critic tries to confine the whole of Edo art to some newfangled theory, she demurely evades his grasp. For it is the Edoites— and not, as most scholars assume, their descendants— who deserve the label of “modern.” Whether expert historiographer or dabbling dilettante, one is bound to lose his way inside their labyrinth. Their shadows, you see, skirt away too quickly for the rummaging scholar to apprehend, and their minds are all too lofty for the half-drunk dilettantes of later ages. To get a sense of the mysterious temper of their writings, we must discard all presuppositions which have lead us astray; indeed, we must reassess the supposed resourcefulness of those very presuppositions. So let's put aside for now questions of psychoanalysis and ideology, and focus instead on these specific techniques that have proved so capable of deception.
Although the second-rate art of senryū shares much with haikai, these elements are so mixed in with the smut that they are unsalvageable. Conventional wisdom has led us to believe that the only haikai movement that possessed any real transcendental power was the Bashō orthodoxy and its extension (always a euphemism for decline), and that the haikai of Edo— and particularly “mad verse” (kyōka)— should be thrown out along with senryū. But this, of course, is to throw the baby out with the bath water. Haikai’s peculiar transformation can't be traced by simply following the fifty-three stations of the Tōkaidō highway from Bashō's Edo to Buson's Kyoto. Rather, it was the Edo plebeian who would spark the transformation, and propel it into a literary movement through the formal innovations of Tenmei kyōka.
However we define it, the kyōka of the Tenmei period was qualitatively different from that of any other era. Those who hold that the history of kyōka began in the Kansai region in early Tokugawa and later relocated to Edo tend to explain their position by starting with the family lineage of each poet, whereupon they then count up all of the Manyōshū comic poems and Kokinshū haikai poems, providing exegeses of terms like ushin and mushin and of poems by Kakinomoto Hitomaro and the later Kurinomoto poets, and, finally, after much fretting over the relationship of the Tenmei poets to these ancestors, conclude by pulling out of their ass something from, say, Gyōgetsubō. But even supposing such theories enhance our understanding of the meaning or genealogy of a given kyōka, they still tell us nothing about the particular nature of the Tenmei literary movement, which in fact made an aesthetic break with the existing coteries in both Edo and Kansai.
Honkadori, or “allusive variation,” is a procedure common to kyōka, yet for some reason very few honkadori poems are distinguished. This Yamate no Shirohito poem from Wild Poems of Ten Thousand Generations (1783) is no exception.
“Oak-leave Rice Cakes”
On Narazaka slope: Kashiwa rice cake in hand
I savor it, stroking it back and forth.
This sort of allusion was by no means a discovery of the Tenmei era. In fact, in the same collection there is this poem by Yūchōrō, written much earlier:
Oh, world filled with deceit: Though it’s the Kannazuki month,
The god of poverty won’t let me alone.
A honkadori poem is precisely that which haikai-ifies an earlier canonical poem, and this procedure was in use long before the Tenmei era. In fact, there were personal collections of kyōka being put out even before this. But where does one look to find a kyōka collection that is itself an “allusive variation”— that is, a haikai-ification— of not just a few last lines but of a whole classical anthology? That corresponds both tonally and stylistically to an entire ancient anthology, and that is not simply the result of a little juggling around? In fact, there isn't any, or at least not before the appearance of Ōta Nanpo's Wild Poems in the Tenmei era. To what canonical anthology is it, then, that Wild Poems both tonally and stylistically corresponds? I should probably cite some exemplary works by Nanpo, Kankō and Kisshū to show how they parallel the concerned canonical anthology; but I haven’t the space here for that. Thus, I am compelled to abridge my testimony and hasten to my conclusion, namely, that the anthology to which Wild Poems corresponds is none other than the Kokinshū. And Wild Poems is its haikai-ification. Tenmei kyōka can thus be seen as the first movement in the entire history of Japanese poetry that, at its core, sought to resuscitate the very spirit of the Kokinshū.
Incidentally, are we to view Tenmei kyōka as having developed from the kyōka of forerunners Ishida Mitoku and Nakarai Bokuyō, or of Nagata Teiryū and Yukikaze of the Kamigata coterie? In fact, neither is the case. Between the Genroku (1688-1704) and Kyōhō (1716-1736) eras there was a significant gap in the history of Edo kyōka, which seems inexplicable at first— that is, until you realize just what was so haikai-ish about Tenmei kyōka. It is widely known that prior to Tenmei a rare event occurred that would forever alter the history of haikai, namely, Bashō’s discovery of comic linked verse (haikai no renga) during the Genroku era. (Note: There is no need to mention here Bashō’s dainty little one-liners called hokku). Only by drawing on the Dōjō school’s technique of haikai-izing renga was Bashō able to make this remarkable artistic breakthrough. It now seems inevitable that the haikai movement, blessed with this rare event, would make even further advancements in the Tenmei era. Once Genroku haikai had been designated as the “elegant orthodoxy,” Tenmei kyōka was left to become the “vulgar heterodoxy.” Yet the order by which the haikai movement proceeded from Bashō to Nanpo was by no means a decline; rather, it was a process of secularization. The real decline was to occur instead among Bashō’s followers. If we are to be fair in our use of the term, then the “secularization” of Edo haikai must be seen not merely as a shift in vogue from the hokku of Kikaku to that of Bashō, but rather as a fundamental change in temperament that occurred between Bashō’s “The Monkey's Straw Raincoat” (1691) and Nanpo's Wild Poems (1783). It is in this shift that we see the logic of haikai.
Just as Tenmei kyōka differed temperamentally from earlier kyōka, the Tenmei poets' attitude toward authorial persona couldn’t have differed more from that of their predecessors. Each kyōka poet had his own sobriquet, and this is true not only of the Tenmei poets. However, in the Tenmei era we see a complete transformation in the function of these sobriquets. Previously, a kyōka poet’s alias was no different from the alias of your typical literati haikai poet, in the sense that within each name existed a particular author, that is, his renowned persona. The poets of Tenmei, however, were absent from their sobriquets. In other words, they were anonymous personas, writing yomibito shirazu, or anonymous, poems. The haikai linked verse of Bashō made us forget about authorial presence the moment of the poem's completion. The compilers of Wild Poems, then, took this one step further by erecting a world from this renunciation of authorial name. When it’s a sobriquet who’s playing tricks on you, you can only vainly clutch at a shadow, since the author himself is nowhere to be found. To drive this point across, maybe I should write a series of biographies that address the consummate complexities of the lives of these Tenmei poets. For example, Nanpo was to Tenmei kyōka as Bashō’s was to Genroku haikai, and as compiler of Wild Poems he was to that work as Tsurayuki was to the Kokinshū . . . But it goes beyond that: the self-actualizing phenomenon we call “Nanpo” seems itself a sort of haikai-fication of the Bashō-Tsurayuki phenomenon.
Your average Meiji reader knew only how to extract one or two famous first lines from some remote haikai sequence of Bashō— a rather penurious way of reading which we seem to have imported from those Westerners who were never much interested in anything beyond the author and his profession. It's as if they needed proof of a Creator to be certain that the world exists. Viewed through such methodological spectacles, the “mad literature” of Tenmei is rendered into a blurry, indistinguishable void. You see, Tenmei kyōka was not a profession, it was a movement; and its poets were not personalities, but rather incognitos. And the fact that subsequent generations have consistently failed to grasp this shows just how successful these “mad poets” were in deceiving us. I can see them now rolling about in their graves, gloating at the predicament they’ve kept us in.
A brief anecdote. In early Bunka, Nanpo’s successor as haikai judge, Shikatsube Magao, sought to increase his salary by insisting that kyōka, which he saw as originating in the haikai poems of the Kokinshū, should be consolidated into the more mainstream (and profitable) haikai. Perhaps this is what led to the subsequent crash in kyōka stock. It is testament to the fine temper of Tenmei kyōka that the moment its poets exposed their feeble selves from their sobriquets and fixed the parameters of their art, their free and luminous world vanished in a poof, leaving behind only sordid people and second-rate goods. We might come to a better understanding of haikai if we include in our survey the heretical Tenmei kyōka, rather than limiting ourselves to the orthodox strand of Bashō.
While the Tenmei poets heartily imbibed from the old low-brow Edo and Kyoto zappai verse, they also ingested a certain ingredient from pre-Genroku haikai that Bashō had discounted, namely, humor (kokkei), with which the word haikai was originally synonymous. Yet it was not only the lyrical humor of experimental works like Wild Poems that resonated so deeply with the Edoites. In fact, looking over these poems, I see that many of them are downright sad. It was never set in stone that these anonymous poets— at times boisterous, at times melancholy, always at a distance from their creation— should always be a bundle of laughs. As I've already mentioned, their world was anchored in the spirit of the distant Kokinshū through the use of haikai techniques. The Kokinshū in particular was chosen because conditions on the ground necessitated its appropriation; that is, nothing permeated their classically schooled sensibilities and echoed through their hearts like this anthology. It was the bedrock upon which Wild Poems could be built, even before taking into account the social realities of Tenmei Edo.
There is another source related to the Edoites’ education which bears mentioning, and that is the Selection of Tang Poems. What is important, however, is not the Edoites' understanding of the poems per se, but rather their intimate acquaintance with the collection as a whole, and the gesinnungsunterricht— or aesthetic sentiments— which were cultivated through the repeated recitation in Japanese of these poems. These two features together produced kyōshi, or “mad poems in the Chinese style,” which would merge the two schools of Nanpo and Dōmyaku into a single sect. For practical purposes, let us group Tenmei kyōshi together with Tenmei kyōka, as it would make little sense to try and trace kyōshi to its source by citing obscure exchanges such as that between the Confucianist and the I-Ching scholar in A Treatise of Ten Rules. If you're just looking for any poem that involves “aesthetic madness” (fūkyō), then you may as well also throw in the autumn poems from Collection of Yamato and Han Cantillations (ca. 1013) and Minamoto no Shitagō’s (911-983) “Primroses.” However, as with Tenmei kyōka, one needn’t trace the family lineage in order to get a sense of Tenmei kyōshi's spirit, which bears only a chance resemblance to the kyōshi composed between Bunsei and Meiji. Hence I see no need for further expatiation.
The “colloquial explanations” (genkai) of the Selection of Tang Poems are suffused with the spirit of Tenmei kyōshi— in fact, they themselves are a kind of haikai-ification of the original Chinese poems. For example, here's one by Nanpo, titled “On Parting with Courtesan Kasen of the Gomeirō House.”
At night he is led by sleeve to my bedchamber
In the morning I see him as far as the gate.
Answer, should my apprentice geisha inquire:
“I was clear in my love missive: ‘Here's a piece of my heart, but don't come back.’”
From a glance it is evident that this is a parody of Wang Changling’s (698-795) “Parting with Xingjian At Hibiscus Inn,” a solemn exile poem from the Tang dynasty:
In the cold night’s rain you accompanied me along the river into Wu.
At dawn, I saw you off as far as the lonely mountains of Chu.
Answer, should my friends in Luoyang inquire of me:
“A piece of my heart frozen over as ice in a crystal vase.”
One might call this “hon-shi-dori,” that is, an allusive variation on a Chinese poem rather than on a native waka. Yet Nanpo’s allusion is more involved than it first seems. The original Chinese describes the sorrows of parting, while the parody describes a playboy’s tryst in the pleasure quarters; yet by suddenly inverting the original meaning, Nanpo has the made two poems into curious refractions of one another. Delighted by this charming connotative shift, Edo readers must have been moved to chills as they laughed outwardly at Nanpo’s version while crying inwardly at Wang Changling’s. Removed from these negotiations, however, the art of appreciating Tenmei kyōshi was bound to go into decline. Had Nanpo believed that only those with the steel nerve of a samurai could dabble in comic poetry, he would have gained toughness at the expense of spirit. But when it is his furtive shadow stealing upon the reader that moves them to chills, then this is no longer merely a rhetorical flourish. Indeed, many kyōshi poets possess great skill, some surpassing even Nanpo. The sublime quality of Kanwatei Onitake’s (1760-1818) selected poems, for example, has received much acclaim. And the eleventh chapter of Chūshingura: The Storehouse of Loyal Retainers surely reveals the austere face of Confucianism. Yet both examples still pale by comparison to Dōmyaku Sensei's (1750-1801) The Housemaid’s Ballad, and one must guard against praising them too highly. By evaluating Edo poetry capriciously and in isolation, we remove ourselves from that original urgency which characterized the Tenmei Edoites’ method of reading. The genius of Tenmei kyōshi was articulated through innovation. Thus it would be foolish to jump headlong into a debate about kyōshi craftsmanship, which, unlike the native art of kyōka, is derivative of China.
Here is another bit of evidence that shows the extent of Selection of Tang Poems’ popularity among the Edo public. In Santō Kyōden’s sharebon titled Shigeshige Chiwa (1799), there is an episode in which a certain demi-connoisseur, having ventured into a brothel for the evening, waits in vain for his lover to attend him in the surrogate room. At the head of his pillow rests a small folding screen, on which are scribbled a few verses in calligraphy. The twenty, squarely-drawn Chinese characters read:
The grass in the Ever-Faithful Palace
Like her sorrow has grown thick with the years,
Burying the elegant bootprints of her former lover,
Who no longer mounts the jeweled steps to her bedchamber.
Pulsating with pride, the philistine stutters to himself these lines at random, unable to comprehend the more difficult characters. Here’s how he reads, for example, the third and last lines of the quatrain:
. . . bootprints buried in the . . . blah, blah, blah . . .
Mounting . . . jeweled steps . . . trying not to rouse the servant.
His (mis)reading of the poem shows the influence of the “colloquial explanations” I mentioned earlier. This passage was clearly intended to provoke laughter in its readers, who were presumed to possess the requisite knowledge needed to laugh. In other words, the sharebon readers of the day must have known that these twenty, squarely-drawn Chinese characters were from Cui Guofu’s “The Grass in the Ever-Faithful Palace.” Moreover, having learned at a young age this legend of Emperor Cheng of Han and Consort Ban, these readers must have been struck with admiration at Kyōden’s novel idea of superimposing upon his spurned philistine the rejected widow of the ancient Han Court, and at the skill with which he appropriated the two into the epigraph. We can be sure that a writer as love-shrewd as Kyōden never would have made his readers blush at these twenty squarely-drawn Chinese characters had he not been absolutely certain that they would be in on the joke.
Here I've rambled on about sharebon novelettes and the pleasure quarters. But to be honest, I’ve been quietly mulling over something else, wishing to move from sharebon toward “books of sentiments” (ninjōbon). This “something else” relates to the idea of the pleasure quarters, that ultimate invention of Edo writers. It is precisely by following this thread— which took us from the legend of Otake to the special-made notion of the pleasure quarters— that we can begin to see how the Edoites’ way of thinking developed. But more on this some other day.