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Japanese Death Poems 辞世 Part 2 – Translated and analysed

Japanese Reading Difficulty

9/12 Could be read by 5th grade level student in Japan

Themes

Poetry, Death, Mortality, nature.

Text Type

Poem, Haiku

About Japanese Death Poems

Here is our second installment on Japanese death poems, this time we’re looking at a poem by Onitsura. These poems are messages from people writing on, or close to, their death beds.
I first came across these through a book Japanese death poems by Yoel Hoffman. I thought I’d try my own hand at some translations.

Death Poem byHiroshi Kuroshiki

鬼貫

Oni-tsura

Died 2nd August 1738, aged 78

Today’s poem is by a Onitsura. Another great name. Oni, means demon. It can also be used as a shorthand term for great power, something like “super”. Tsura, also read as Kan, is a unit of measurement. In it’s Kun-reading it can be tsuranuku, meaning to pierce or penetrate. So was the name meant as “

夢返せ

からすのさます

霧の月

 

Yume kaese

 

Karasu no samasu

 

Kiri no tsuki

 

Give me back my dream

 

Misted moon

 

That wakes with the crow

 

Explanation of the poem

Here is the second in our series looking at Japanese Death Poems. Today, we’re looking at a poem by Onitsura. Onitsura died in 1738 at the age of 78.

Like all of the poets we are looking at, Onitsura has a great name. Oni means Demon. It can also mean “super”, in its supernatural sense. Tsura can mean piercing through, it was also a unit of measurement.

So I’m not sure exactly what that the sense of this is meant to be. Perhaps it is of a “piercing demon”. Or maybe Onitsura was meant to be somebody was “piercing the demon” or

“has a demonic power that’s piercing”. Or perhaps someone that has a measure of supernatural power. I’m not sure. Somebody might be able to comment on that and shed some light.

Onitsura’s deaths poem goes:

 

夢返せ

からすのさます

霧の月

Yume kaese

Karasu no samasu

Kiri no tsuki

I’ve translated that as:

Give me back my dream

Misted moon

That wakes with the crow

In the the Hoffman translation he says:

Give my dream back,

Raven! The moon you woke me to

Is misted over.

Language Analysis

夢返せ

夢 Yume means dream and 返せ is the imperative form of to “return something” or  “give back”.

So this line is a demand “Give me my dream back!”

I think that’s a feeling that probably most people can identify with, that feeling of being asleep and then being rudely awakened. Indeed, we have the term “rudely awakened” in English talking about wanting to get back to some dream that you’ve been in. I think in this poem the “夢 Yume” has a has the dual meaning of the writer literally having been asleep at a moment close to death but also the idea that all of life is some kind of dream state, that you’re living out a story. I think of the line from the Edgar Allan Poe poem “all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. This is a persistent idea through art, that the world is somehow a dream, in and of itself. 

The next line is 

からすのさます

さます is to awaken. It is the transitive version of the intransitive to wake 覚める. So here someone is being woken up. We have a からす crow, or a raven, or a black black bird and the poem ends with 霧の月.  I’m not a hundred percent clear whether the poet is being awoken by the cawing of the raven, or the cawing of the raven and the misty covered moon. Perhaps it is meant to be a combination of being awoken by that whole scene of a cawing raven and a mysterious moon and saying, “I just want to go back to sleep and get back to my dream, and maybe I want more time in my life to achieve the things that I wanted to achieve”. Apparently Onitsura did have some hardships as a poet, apparently, he was never given the standing or the title of a “Grand Master” poet. There is also some indication that he may have lived his poetic life somewhat in the shadow of the more famous Basho, who was 17 years his senior. Maybe he’s referring to the fact that he didn’t quite get to finish what he had started in his life.

An English Parallel

Now, to find a bit of a parallel in English, I’ve turned to the world of lyrics. As someone that’s very into songs and songwriting, I was thinking about how Bill Callahan often seems to talk about dream-like states. He has an amazing song called Eid Ma Clack Shaw, which is kind of a bit of gibberish verse. 

 

 

The words go: 

“I dreamed it was a dream that you were gone

I woke up feeling so ripped by reality

Love is the king of the beasts

And when it gets hungry it must kill to eat

Love is the king of the beasts

A lion walking down city streets

I fell back asleep some time later on

And I dreamed the perfect song

It held all the answers, like hands laid on

I woke halfway and scribbled it down

And in the morning what I wrote I read

It was hard to read at first but here’s what it said

Eid ma clack shaw

Zupoven del ba

Mertepy ven seinur

Cofally ragdah”

So, I think once again most people can identify with that idea of having a dream and feeling like you’ve had a major breakthrough, or you’ve had some kind of a revelation, that you figured something out and then you go to recall it, and it’s just on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t. It’s unattainable. Anyway, there’s just a little parallel for you. We will continue to look at more of these Japanese Death Poems.

Japanese poetry books

Range Life 和訳・歌詞解説

ペイヴメントのRange Lifeは90年代の二つのオルタナティヴバンドの20年間に渡る諍いのきっかけになった曲です。 歌詞の中に「スマッシングパンプキンズ」が出てきますが、スマッシングパンプキンズのビリー・コーガンはこの曲を聞いてとても怒りました。 ビリー・コーガンは1994年のロラパルーザに出演の際、もしペイヴメントが出るならスマッシングパンプキンズは出ないと主張し、ペイヴメントが出演出来なくなったということがありました。 問題になった歌詞を後ほど紹介します。 Range Life 和訳 After the glow, the scene, the stage 白熱、シーン、舞台の後 The sad talk becomes slow 悲しい話は遅くなる But there’s one

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洋楽 和訳
peterjosephhead@gmail.com

Losing my religion和訳・解説

“Losing my religion”を直訳すれば「宗教・信仰心を失いかけている」ですので、 当然この歌を聞けば「宗教についての歌だろう」と思いがちですね。 でも実際は違うようです。 本人曰く、宗教・信仰とは関係ないそうです。 Losing my religion和訳 Oh life is bigger 生きることは偉大だ It’s bigger than you 君より偉大だ And you are not me 君は僕じゃない

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Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).

ピータージョセフヘッドです。3年間京都市立芸大の大学院として、一年間ワーキングホリデーとして日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。

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