Heart of Night

after Kotaro Takamura

Moon in July,
See it, there above the poplars, luminous as a fever.

The air trembles with the scent of cyclamen,
Gentle as the trembling
Of your lips as you cry.

These woods, this path, the grass, that distant village,
All cast with desolation, misted
In a sigh irresolute,
A breath visible in the cold.

Side by side we make our way,
Hands clasped, across this darkened landscape.
Around us, fiendish ghosts frail spirits imbibe.
The sound of the night’s last train
Reverberates on distant rails, mocking destiny
Like the shuddering of a soul.

Your cotton sash dabs your perspiration;
Stoic martyr, in silence you suffer all.

Oh heart, my heart
Arise my heart
Arise oh heart

What can it mean? To seek deliverance
From this torment, and yet, sweet torment,
To be unable to tear away.

Oh heart, my heart
Arise from your infirm bed,
Arise from your hallucinogenic dream.

But the eye offends, sees only
Bedlam, madness

Like this moon in July,
There above the poplars, luminous as a fever,
Like a lingering affliction.

Oh heart, my heart
Lain in the verdure of your glass house
As if by a scorpion etherized,
Beautiful, but as if asleep.

Oh heart, my heart
How to cry out?
Now that silence has dissembled into night.


  1. Since my introduction to Kotaro Takamura and the Chieko poems by the wonderful translations of Leanne Ogasawara, I have discovered the translations of Paul Archer and John G. Peters.

    These works convince me of the value of an attempt to interpret Takamura's work through the sensibilities of a writer who is first a poet.

    The Chieko poems are a milestone in modern Japanese poetry, and trace Takamura's life with Chieko Naganuma, an iconoclastic woman artist - their attraction, separation, marriage, his coming to terms with her illness and death, and the power of love.

    Short link - http://bit.ly/s4hartnite

  2. Utterly gorgeous, beautifully crafted.

  3. Very Keats-y, and feverish (both are good things).

  4. Samuel, another glorious poem.

    Yet I became confused in the middle. First there was - "your lips as you cry" then there is "in silence you suffer all" ? I stumbled.
    Please help me understand, how does this "you" change so quickly?

  5. I'm glad the rendition worked, thanks so much! Yes, the craft is a large part of this poem, and Keats is a good touchstone.

    The 'you' in the poem is the same person, the first reference is simply a simile, "the air trembles... gentle as the trembling of your lips as you cry", it doesn't necessarily describe the current actions of the person, only her state of mind.

    In fact, that is the key to the poem - many of the images are actually metaphors for the woman's state of mind, and not necessarily an actuality in the real world.

  6. Extract from Facebook discussion:

    Leanne Ogasawara:
    Sam, I love what you did with this one! I think this one was one of the hardest ones to make into a decent english version and I think you mastered all the challenging images (that work in Japanese but just are not so translatable into Engl...ish--like the glasshouse)... I also love the refrain, "Oh heart, my heart"...really really nice move!! Bravo. BTW, did you notice the papercut images I put with the translations on my site? Those all are Chieko's famous papercut art... Often in Japan the poems are published with her papercuts...

    Samuel Peralta:
    Leanne, thanks so much, your thoughts mean a lot, especially on this one - you appreciate the difficulty better than most! As well as that realization I wrote you about - that the poem reveals the poet's thoughts at the descent of his wife into mental illness, and that everything is a metaphor for this journey - another thing that helped anchor the work is the image of Chieko as 'sleeping beauty' - the wonderful woman now 'etherized' 'as if asleep', the image of the 'glass house'. It elevated, for me, the classic tale into a metaphor for the relationship between Kotaro and Chieko.

  7. The use of imagery in this poem to convey emotional states is absolutely brilliant and the wordplay is excellent.

  8. Another lovely Cheiko poem...

  9. What an ambitous and worthy project and a gorgeous, resonant lyrical poem, Sam. xxxj


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