Salt Gathering

after Fujiwara no Teika

Dusk falls in Matsuo, late.
As the charred salt, wrung
From simmered seaweed, burns –
So smolder the ashes of this heart,
As I wait for you, as I wait.


25 comments:

  1. This adaptation is of a 12th-century tanka from the Hyakunin Isshu anthology, by the revered poet Fujiwara no Teika.

    こぬ人を
    まつほの浦の
    夕なぎに
    焼くやもしほの
    身もこがれつつ

    Like the salt seaweed,
    Burning in the evening calm,
    On Matsuo's shore,
    All my being is aflame,
    Awaiting one who does not come.
    --

    I've chosen to show a classic translation to highlight the choices I've made in the adaptation.

    For example: Someone from that era would know the Japanese process for salt extraction. Without that knowledge, the first few lines would be difficult, without commentary, for modern readers. Suggesting that process, while not deviating from the original conception, was not an easy task.

    In my rendition, the time of day transforms from a simple commentary on setting, to a supporting objective correlative.

    Also, where the classic translation preserves the tanka syllabic structure, I opt to find a musicality lyricism in the verse. This frees the interpretation to underline emotion through rhyme and repetition, though not necessarily indicated by the original.

    Short link - http://bit.ly/s4salt

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  2. The original translations here, starting "Dusk falls in Matsuo, late," feels very choppy and awkward to my ear, especially the first three lines, so I like the "Like the salt seaweed" version better. Here is my version, cotranslated with Emiko Miyashita, published in our translation of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, *100 Poets: Passions of the Imperial Court* (Tokyo: PIE Books, 2008):

    I wait for my love in vain
    in the suffocating evening calm
    of Matsuho Bay
    where seaweed is burnt for salt—
    I too blaze with passion

    Obviously, there are many ways to translate. And probably the best translation of this waka (the genre was known as tanka only in the last hundred years) is an imagined amalgamation of all the best translations.

    Michael Dylan Welch

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  3. I'm not sure I agree with Micheal Dylan Welsh. Plain translations of words (if that is what they are) and translations of essence are not the same. Then there is the classic translation that you give in your comments, and then your version.....for me, your lines capture the beauty of the emotion and the hopefulness even through the ashes of the heart.....there is always a future..'As I wait for you, as I wait' carries so much more hope for the future than 'Awaiting one who does not come' or 'I wait for my love in vain', I do not find 'Dusk falls in Matsuo, late.' awkward, or the next 2 lines either. I like the first line. It's a straight in there scene setter. The next two lines are the next level down, and then we get to the last 2 lines which are the real message. The emotional delivery in juxtaposition (if thats the right word here) with the physical...the emotional translation of the scene setting. It is a good construction.

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  4. PMD, I don't recall saying that plain translations of words and translations of essence are the same. In fact, I know they can be significantly different, and I'm grateful for the difference -- a difference that the translator must take into account with his or her translations. The translator is always having to cut his or her losses, and make hard choices -- something is always lost.

    At any rate, the "Dusk falls in Matsuo, late" version is offered as being an "adaptation" of the original waka (or at least an adaptation of its translations). So that lets it off the hook for being as faithful as possible to the original, since it's not claiming to be a translation, as mine is. Even so, I find the syntax jarring -- to each his own. If the first three lines are not awkward for you, wonderful, but they have a haltingness (it even feels like inverted syntax) that does not echo the original. Okay, the poem isn't offered as a translation, but it's not the translator's job to write the poem (that is, to add extra angst, such as might be present in "As I wait for you, as I wait"), but to represent the level of emotion and other poetic techniques of the original poem as best as possible.

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  5. I enjoyed the verse, nicely done.

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  6. nice...i will say i know little of translation, but fins the longing and its relationship to the simmering seaweed very natural...i like...

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  7. Micheal Dylan Welsh. Yes, the job of a translator must indeed be very challenging, with many difficult choices to be made. Yes, I think I would agree that it is not the translator's job to write the poem ... but to represent the level of emotion and other poetic techniques.......... For me, Sam's adaptations uplift the poems, give them a vibrance that could possibly extend their audience and the interest of that audience having been caught, that audience might then go and search out the translations (or the originals) and explore some more. It would be an interesting debate (although, this is not an invitation), the freedom of the adaptor versus the constraints of the translator, and one which I am sure is well debated already.

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  8. Ah, how irresistible to weigh in on this debate.

    Samuel is a poet who is not only "translating" but I believe, hears and senses what the poet meant. Hence: this exquisite piece, that in the manner of great "renditions" or variations or derivations, approximates Japanese lyricism with English/Western lyricism...

    Dusk falls in Matsuo, late.
    As the charred salt, wrung
    From simmered seaweed, burns –
    So smolder the ashes of this heart,
    As I wait for you, as I wait.

    vs

    I wait for my love in vain
    in the suffocating evening calm
    of Matsuho Bay
    where seaweed is burnt for salt—
    I too blaze with passion

    there is absolutely no comparison between the power and beauty of "as the charred salt wrung from simmered seaweed burns, so smolder the ashes of this heart" and I'm with Sam on the power of the objective correlative of dusk falling.

    and the other, nearly Victorian syntax in the second piece. Your words on translation, Michael: "...but to represent the level of emotion and other poetic techniques of the original poem as best as possible. With all due respect, Michael...xj

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  9. As a poem, your lines are enough in themselves, without any explanation. As a translation and reworking of another author in a foreign language and of a vastly separated century, it rings very true and close. I would regard this as a success in all ways.

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  10. If my version is "nearly Victorian," that might be because it sought to represent the flavour and meaning of the original poem, which is, after all, many centuries old. Waka poetry in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu used elevated diction. I don't see my version as Victorian, but seeking the simplified formality of ancient court Japan.

    Is there power and beauty and good writing in the adaptation? Absolutely, but I would say that it adds the adapter's sizzle, not the sizzle of the original. It's fine on its own terms, but overwrought in comparison with the original. That doesn't matter if it's an adaptation, but does matter if offered as a translation.

    I've done many adaptations of Japanese poems myself (as distinct from translations), so I'm very sympathetic to the idea of riffing off points of inspiration. I'm (mostly) fine with the poem as an adaptation. But there's a difference when it comes to translation, and I would say this one goes too far. But heck, poets have been going "too far" for ages -- and bravo for it. I've done it too. If adaptations help to create a new audience for the original poem, wonderful, but I would hope readers don't confuse the two.

    P.S. My last name is Welch (not Welsh).

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  11. I have great respect for both Sam's and MDW's work in general. And, in this instance, I don't care about the rights and wrongs of the debate — I came here and encountered a beautiful, moving poem, which for me has no jerkiness or awkwardness but much emotion and music. I love it for its own sake! (And, as his adaptation of a translation, I think Sam is surely free to do as he likes with it - particularly when he does it so well.)

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  12. there's much weight in these few words sam...from simmered seaweed..love how this feels on the tongue when spoken..could repeat it forever..

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  13. Michael Dylan Welch....I miss-spelt your name ... My apologies :-)

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  14. I hold the art of the translator in reverence.

    It was a group of translators - Anthony Kerrigan, W.S. Merwin, Alastair Reid, Nathaniel Tarn - who introduced me to Pablo Neruda.

    Neruda's poetry and the poetry of T.S. Eliot - himself edited by the remarkable Ezra Pound, an admirer of the Japanese poetic ethic - engendered in me an encompassing love for poetry and poetic craftsmanship that had previously been a casual love.

    Years later, I read other translations of Neruda's work - and was at times disappointed.

    I realized that, had I not first chanced upon the remarkable skills of Kerrigan, Merwin, Reid, and Tarn, a love of Neruda might have been lost to me.

    Coming from the Philippines, I have more than a passing capability in Spanish - so I could understand very clearly how some of those translations stumble - and how some translations sing.

    But Neruda, first and foremost, is a poet. Had he been born in Germany, he would have been a German poet, a Rilke. Had he been born in Japan, perhaps another Teika.

    Where Neruda was born shaped his poetry, definitely - but his essence was poetry. Poetry that transcends language. Poetry that I believe I keenly understand and practice, especially after an apprenticeship that has lasted decades.

    My renditions of classic Japanese works are adaptations, not translations, based on that understanding. I have a lot of support from collaborators, scholars, friends - I've acknowledged Leanne Ogasawara and others in my Chieko adaptations - who are my Virgil through cultural and linguistic nuances.

    However, any 'misinterpretations' from the original are my own - and they are intentional - based on my assumption that the writer of those lines was, first and foremost, a poet.

    Although my renditions are not tied to the strictures required of translators, they have their own self-imposed strictures, and those are the strictures that govern my own original poetry.

    Where I deviate from the original, it is because I make a conscious choice to enhance the reader's experience of what I perceive as the essential emotionality or philosophy of the poem.

    If it requires a Western metaphor or nuance in order to convey that - an extra dose of 'angst', for example - despite the Eastern origins of the poem, then so be it. It is, after all, a Western idiom that I must work in.

    There's no way that I could add value to a true translation of Teika, or Takamura, or any other Japanese poet, because I do not have the linguistic background to do so.

    And yet, Ezra Pound helped enrich many readers with his renditions of the poetry of Li Bai (Li Po) - some would say in spite of his deviations from the original poems. How many present-day readers of poetry have searched out more of Li Po, because of Ezra Pound's 'The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter'?

    I welcome wonderful translations such as those by Welch, or Ogasawara, or Waley, or Peters... because they have enriched my life and my appreciation of poetry beyond my immediate cultural circle.

    If my adaptations can bring even one person to a similar appreciation - then I will have succeeded.

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  15. Leanne Ogasawara, who introduced me to the poems of Kotaro Takamura, is a professional Japanese translator, and (in her spare time) an essayist with an amazing exploratory style.

    She's written a piece that touches on 'Salt Gathering' - and includes her own translation of Fujiwara no Teika's poem (itself partly a homage to an earlier poem by Kasa no Kanmura) - in her online journal, Tang Dynasty Times.

    'Three Poets and a Painter'
    http://www.tangdynastytimes.com/2011/11/three-poets-and-a-painter.html

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  16. I find this discussion of translation very interesting, and am particularly curious about how the different translations play with the contrast of calm vs burning that I'm drawn to in the direct translation.

    The "Dusk falls in Matsuo, late" one has little of calm, and aligns the darkness of dusk (which could be calm) with the darkness of char and seaweed. The "I wait for my love in vain" one uses "calm" but undoes it by labelling it suffocating.

    I found on GoogleBooks "Visual Genesis of National Identity", by Ewa Machotka, which speaks about the poem on p.129, giving the longer poem that Teika is referencing, and showing the extent to which he himself changed things up. Here's the site fyi, if this messy-looking link should work:

    http://books.google.ca/books?id=2VZDzGQlPd8C&pg=PA129&lpg=PA129&dq=fujiwara+no+teika+salt+seaweed&source=bl&ots=1QvXmOSKV6&sig=eg9XFGu1z-Vg3mNcn5z7a-Bwhf8&hl=en&ei=iVHHTsjNIcH30gGJ0NUa&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CFgQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=fujiwara%20no%20teika%20salt%20seaweed&f=false

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  17. Sorry! I wasn't very clear in what I just said about the "Dusk falls in Matsuo" one! By "little of calm" what I mean is that the dark things all have a smoldering quality, not so much of a stillness, to which the repetition of "as I wait" adds, as it feels as though the narrator is pacing. I don't mean that I prefer one version or the other on this account, so much as that I'm intrigued by it. (I do like the charred salt image very much!)

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  18. This says so much in so few lines. Sad and poignant.

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  19. Gorgeous! Simply delicious. A sweet sentiment expressed with so few words.

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  20. Yes very nice. I like the idea of salt burning. I wonder what kind of smell it gives off? Thank you for your visit and comment at my site. I look forward to your surrealist word painting.

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  21. Have been perusing your blog & find the discussion of translation/adaptation fascinating..You are not only a poet but a scholar..

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