Well, I was all set to post a translation of an autumn poem; then I did a search on a hunch and–naturally–I’d already posted it a few years ago. Darn. Guess I’ll just have to hunt high and low for some other Japanese poem about autumn.
Okay, I’ve put up a bunch of poems by Saigyō, but I don’t think I’ve gotten around to this one. When I was in grad school and we got to this one, Donald Keene (whose Shinkokin-shu seminar I was fortunate enough to be able to take) broke into a broad, frank grin: “It’s rare and moving to see Saigyō write a poem with such warmth and humor.”
oyamada no/iho chikaku naku/shika no ne ni/odorokasarete/odorokasu kana
Just outside my hut
nestled in a mountain field
the cry of a deer
has jolted me right awake
I think I’ll jolt him right back
The Priest Saigyō
“See how he likes it!” the sleepy Saigyō seems to say. The notes from my edition say that his plan is likely to use a clapper or noisemaker, rather than to lean out the door and tell the deer to shut up already so decent folk can get some sleep. Deer make disconsolate noises that are considered fundamental to the lonely, aching beauty of autumn.
Added on 25 October: I think I’m a moron, but (unusually) it’s not entirely certain. I took 小山田 as a place name and had in some shadowy, inaccessible synapse a memory of having been instructed to render it thus twelve years ago; however, the edition I use almost invariably gives a note for each place referred to that tells where it would be in contemporary Japan, and there’s nothing like that here. Also, 山田 can just mean “mountain paddy,” anyway. So I’m playing Ministry of Truth (真実省? But at this point it probably would have merged with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in the 2001 restructuring, so maybe…okay, focus, Sean) and changing it above.