Wednesday, November 28, 2007

“Sent to Her Elder Daughter from the Capital,” by Lady Otome of Sakanoe


version #1

More than the gems
Locked away and treasured
In his comb-box
By the God of the Sea,
I prize you, my daughter.
But we are of this world
And such is its way!
Summoned by your man,
Obedient, you journeyed
To the far-off land of Koshi.
Since we parted,
Like a spreading vine,
Your eyebrows, pencil-arched,
Like waves about to break,
Have flitted before my eyes,
bobbling like tiny boats.
Such is my yearning for you
That this body, time-riddled,
May well-not bear the strain.

Had I only known
My longing would be so great,
Like a clear mirror
I’d have looked on you—
Not missing a day,
Not even an hour.

translated by Geoffrey Bownas & Anthony Thwaite

version #2

I cherished you, my darling,
As the Sea God the pearls
He treasures in his comb-box.
But you, led by your lord husband—
Such is the way of the world—
And torn from me like a vine,
Left for distant Koshi;
Since then, your lovely eyebrows
Curving like the far-off waves,
Ever linger in my eyes,
My heart unsteady as a rocking boat;
Under such a longing
I, now weak with age,
Come near to breaking.

If I had foreknown such longing,
I would have lived with you,
Gazing on you every hour of the day
As in a shining mirror.

translated by Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai

Here’s another poem that I had already collected for my own. In fact, my daughters and I memorized it one summer. But I had a different translation — which I prefer (which is why I reproduce it first). I like how the first version focuses on the gems, the treasure rather than on the mother “I.” I think “like waves about to break” is a more see-able image than “curving like the far-off waves.” And I like the simple, emphatic language of the last stanza in my version. The rhythm is more song-like throughout the first version, I think. But I do wonder if “my heart unsteady as a rocking boat” in the second version isn’t a better translation.

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