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Book of the Week – The Seasons of Time (Tanka Poetry of Ancient Japan) edited by Virginia Olsen Baron & illustrated by Yasuhide Kobashi

From the Introduction, “Most of the poems in this anthology were first collected for the Manyóshū (Collection of a Myriad Leaves) compiled in or about the year 759, and for the Kokinshū collection compiled in about 905. Some of the poems date back to the fourth or fifth century, while others were written as late as the twelfth century. What is amazing is that this ancient Japanese poetry is as modern as e. e. cummings, as succinct as Emily Dickinson, as close to us as Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost. And all of this in spite of the imperfections necessitated by translation, not only from another language very different in origin from our own but from an ancient form of that language. It is like reading Beowulf today except that, astonishingly, the Japanese poets who flourished at the same time in another tradition seem much less remote to us.”

According to Kirkus Reviews, “the translations come from diverse anthologies acknowledged at the front (but not identified poem by poem). Full-page drawings in black and white and variously textured grays compose and communicate the heightened perceptions of the poems. For the indefinable audience attracted by Richard Lewis’ more comprehensive Moment of Wonder, stop-time verses in a spacious contemporary setting.”

Now it is spring –
And across the moors the haze
Stretches heavily –
And within these rays at sunset,
A warbler fills the radiant mist with song.
– YAKAMOCHI

On the sea of heaven the waves of cloud arise,
And the moon’s ship is seen sailing
To hide in a forest of stars.
– HITOMARO

As evening falls,
From along the moors the autumn wind
Blows chill into the heart,
And the quails raise their plaintive cry
In the deep grass of secluded Fukakusa.
– SHUNZEI

I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.
– NARIHIRA

You can read the entire book in the THF Digital Library and please share your favorite poem from the book with us.

Do you have a chapbook published in 2018 or earlier that you would like featured as a Book of the Week? Contact us for details. Haiku featured in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by the THF Digital Librarian Kenneth Pearson and are used with permission.

This Post Has 4 Comments

    1. Thank you so much for the comment, Dan! I definitely have some big shoes to fill. Hope you are doing well!

  1. OMGosh, these are beautiful.
    A warbler fills the radiant mist with song.
    moon’s ship is seen sailing. Wow!
    the quails raise their plaintive cry.
    yesterday
    I did not know that it would be today.

    These are contemplative and yet are apposite to their respective haiku.
    warblers echo a descant at morning’s first blush. (a line from my haibun)
    Now, I look back at my own work for improvement.

    1. Hello! Thank you for your comment and insights!

      This collection was/is a joy to read and resonated deeply with me. I’m glad you enjoyed some of the selections, as well!

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