Accept Loss Forever: Ono No Komachi & Izumi Shikibu

by Mark Chmiel

I am glad to have read  The Ink Dark Moon, Jane Hirshfeld’s translations, with the aid of Mariko Aratani, of the Heian Court’s poets—Izumi Shikibu and Ono No Komachi. Several of Kerouac’s writing maxims came to mind as I was reading:  “The unspeakable visions of the individual,” “In tranced fixation dreaming of the object before you,” “No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge,” and “In Praise of Character in the Bleak  inhuman Loneliness.”

Here’s Hirshfield’s salute:  “Each woman confronted her experience with a directness and honesty unusual in any age. The result is that a thousand years later we can read poems that remain absolutely accurate and moving descriptions of our most common and central experiences: love and loss, their reflection on the loveliness and transience of the natural world, and the effort to better understand the nature of being. We turn to these poems not to discover the past, but in order to experience the present more deeply. In this way they satisfy the test of any great literature, for it is our own lives we find illuminated in them.”

Here are  five translations from each of them, so as to encourage you to check this book out of the library soon, or, better, buy a used copy!

Ono No Komachi

No way to see him
On this moonless night—
I lie awake longing, burning,
Breasts racing fire,
Heart in flames.

The autumn night
Is long only in name—
We’ve done no more
Than gaze at each other
And it’s already dawn.

My longing for you—
too strong to keep within bounds.
At least no one can blame me
When I go to you at night
Along the road of my dreams.

Though I go to him constantly
On the road of dreams,
Never resting my feet,
In the real world
It doesn’t equal a single glance.

How invisibly
It changes color
In this world,
The flower
Of the human heart.

Izumi Shikibu

In this world
Love has no color—
Yet how deeply
My body
Is stained by yours.

No different, really—
A summer moth’s
Visible burning
And this body,
Transformed by love.

The fleeting world
Of white dew,
Foxfires, dreams—
All last long,
Compared with love.

Undisturbed,
My garden fills
With summer growth—
How I wish for one
Who would push the deep grass aside.

Things I Want Decided
Which shouldn’t exist
In this world,
The one who forgets
Or the one
Who is forgotten?

ono-no-komachi-woodblock-print

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