The Case Particle “NI” に used in Haiku Explained… BY THE BUNPŌ BUSHI!

Here’s a haiku by the 20th century poet Takahama Kyoshi 高浜虚子 (1874-1959):

 

天の川のもとに天智天皇と臣虚子と

あまのがわのもとに  てんじてんのうと  おみきょしと

Beneath the Milky Way–Tenji tennō and his retainer Kyoshi

 

Image result for 高浜虚子

Why do you hate 17 syllables so much?

When I started to translate this poem, the first thing that I noticed was that there is NO VERB! I read it a second time, and yup, sho nuff, there’s no action word. Instead it’s basically a prepositional phrase and a couple of names linked by conjunction-like-particles.

The haiku can be broken into three phrases:

  1. under the Ama no gawa 天の川のもとに
  2. Tenji tennō and 天智天皇と
  3. retainer Kyoshi and 臣虚子と

Even those just starting out learning Japanese will recognize the particle ni . Three common ways that ni is used are to indicate 1) the place of an action, 2) the time of an action, and 3) destination or direction of an actionMoto もと can mean “beneath,” “base of,” “bottom,” etc. So in the case of Takahama’s poem, the particle ni indicates the place of the action (“action” in the existential sense).

Moto ni もとに is found dozens of times in the Kokinshū 古今集. The expression is not in the poems themselves, however, but in the descriptive prose introducing many of the poems. A few examples are:

#57 beneath the cherry blossom petals (sakura no hana moto ni さくらの花もとに)

#119 beneath the wisteria petals (fuji no hana no moto ni ふぢの花のもとに)

#305 beneath the tree with autumn leaves falling (momiji no chiru ki no moto ni もみぢのちる木のもとに)

The lack of a verb brings a sense of stillness to Takahama’s haiku. This may be useful to keep in mind when writing haiku en inglés.

 

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One application of the Imperfective Verb Form… by the BUNPŌ BUSHI!

In the last post I wrote about the Attributive Verb Form (rentaikei 連体形). This post is about the Imperfective Verb Form (mizenkei 未然形) and it’s application to forming the Passive Voice. 

I can’t believe how many “kitten and snail” images there are on the internet! Truly a universal haiku… Bravo Saimaro!

This post’s example poem comes from an Edo period (1600-1868) haiku poet, Shiinomoto Saimaro 椎本才麿 (1656-1738). Also, the haiku features a kitten, so I’m hoping this post gets a lot of hits~!

Saimaro is a contemporary of the famous Matsuo Bashō 松尾芭蕉 (1644–1694), but which one have YOU heard of before? I’m guessing not Saimaro.

Here’s Saimaro’s poem:

猫の子に 嗅がれてゐるや 蝸牛
neko no ko ni / kagarete-iru ya / katatsumuri

My translation:

Aww… it’s getting
sniffed by a kitty cat!
A land snail

I could only get to 14 syllables with this translation. It’s hard to get it to 17 syllables without taking too many liberties with the interpretation. I stretched the ya や into “aww,” which I count as two syllables; was able to turn kitten (2 syllables) into “kitty cat” (3); and snail (1) into “land snail” (2).

Passive Voice:

Imperfective verbs on their own indicate that the action has “not yet been realized,” as the kanji for “imperfective,” or mizen 未然, suggests. However, the root of the verb in Imperfective Form also gets us to the passive voice.

The main verb in this haiku is kagu 嗅ぐ (to sniff/ smell/ get a whiff of something). In order to make this a passive situation you must put kagu into the Imperfective Form, then attach the Passive Voice suffix -ru ~る. This will give us “the snail is being sniffed by the kitten” rather than, “the kitten is sniffing the snail.”

To do this, first kagu needs to be changed to the Imperfect Form by inflecting the ~u sound to an ~a sound, making it kaga 嗅が.  Now, the Passive Voice suffix –ru can be joined to it making the Passive Voice kagaru.

If it were at the end of the sentence, then this would be all you need to do. But, as you can see, it appears as kagarete-iru in the haiku, not as kagaru. The reason for this is that it is in the Passive Voice and Present Continuous Tense, which can be a topic for a later post. For now, just identify the fact that the Imperfective Form (mizenkei 未然形) is needed to make a verb passive.

Translator’s notes:

I was surprised to find that the kanji for the name of the snail (katatsumuri 蝸牛) is also read as kagyū and is the name of a part of the inner ear, the Cochlea. If you Google-image it or click here, you can see that the part of the ear looks snail-y.

Also, I wrote “land snail” because there are thousands of species of snails, hundreds just in Japan alone. So many things in Japanese culture are connected to the sea, so this very well could be a sea snail (think: the cat is by the sea or on a dock), however, katatsumuri specifically indicates a land snail not a sea snail.

The Seasonal Word (kigo 季語) is snail!

The Attributive Form of Verbs explained… by the BUNPŌ BUSHI!

Verbs are the essence of language. This is true for all languages. In languages like English, a noun (or “the subject”) proceeds the verb in a sentence. Because of this people mistakenly assign greater weight to nouns/the subject of sentences. For example, when people begin learning languages, they often make a list of items (that is, “nouns”) and then try to learn them in the target language before tackling verbs.
Image result for 鷺

Today’s topic is the attributive form (rentaikei 連体形) of verbs in classical Japanese. There are six inflected forms in classical Japanese, but to me, the attributive form is very easy to spot, and easy to translate!

The inspiration for today’s grammar point comes from a haiku by Fukagawa Shōichiro 深川正一郎 (1902-87):

(I put the attributive form in BOLD)

Tatsu sagi ni
arawarete ori
gogatsu fuji

立つ鷺
あらわれており
五月富士

This haiku was really a challenge to translate into 17 syllables, but here it is:

A grey heron in
flight appears–Mt. Fuji in
the 5th lunar month

This haiku starts with the verb tatsu 立つ. The verb appears in the dictionary as “tatsu” so it’s already in the attributive form! (The common, or “dictionary form,” of the verb is the rentaikei/ attributive form.) As if this wasn’t easy enough to identify, it is immediately followed by a noun, sagi 鷺 (heron). The attributive form acts as a type of adjective or descriptor, basically like a verb participle, just like in English. Think of examples like “the sleeping cat” or “the rolling clouds.” In these examples, the verbs (sleeping & rolling) appear before the nouns. The attributive form is just like these examples!

The attributive form is pretty flexible when translating into English. You could just as easily say “the cat that was sleeping” or “the clouds that were rolling [in]” and the image in the reader’s mind wouldn’t change. This flexibility is convenient when the number of syllables is important, such as in haiku:

the sleeping cat = 4 syllables
the cat that was sleeping = 6 syllables

 

Translation notes:

  1. tatsu 立つ has a few meanings, not only “to stand,” as it is used in modern day Japanese.
  2. Figuring out which type of  sagi 鷺 the author is talking about is a real mystery. Does the author not know? Did they intentionally not write it? Sagi can refer to both herons and egrets. There are many species of both in Japan. Another type of heron is the night heron (mizo goi ミゾゴイ) but it’s dark colored. A grey heron has a white chest that I think would have stood out more and caught the poet’s attention. That’s why I went with “grey heron.” Just “heron” would have made me a syllable short!
  3. I haven’t researched it, but I’d bet $100 this haiku is an allusion to Saigyō‘s 西行 poem about the snipe. In it he also use the verb tatsu 立つ to describe it not standing  but rather lifting off. Therefore I think that you could also say, too, that this haiku delivers a sense of yūgen 幽玄 (mystery). Saigyō’s poem is a fall poem though and this one is clearly summer one~

 

“No” 「の」 Explained… by the Bunpō Bushi

I selected the grammar point “no for today’s post after reading a haiku by Ueda Hizashi 上田日差子 (1961-). Actually it isn’t strictly a classical grammar construct, but is one found often in haiku.

It’s cherry blossom season in Japan, and in Akita the cherry blossoms should be blooming any day now (I’ve seen a few here and there that already have). The word sakura (as in, cherry blossom) appears in Ueda’s poem, but I do not think that this is necessarily a seasonal poem. It does however have a strong Buddhist theme in it.

仮の世にいろあらばこの桜貝

kari no yo ni iro araba kono sakura-gai

 

Which I translated as follows:

If there is color

in this fleeting existence

it’s this pink tellin

Image result for 桜貝

In a quick scan of my inbox, I’ve found the following examples of no の:

  • 来月テニスコート予約 Next month’s tennis court reservations
  • 前期授業  first semester classes
  • 下記期日  the following dates
  • 総合学務課佐々木  Mr. Sasaki from the General Administration Office
  • 会議開催  holding of the meeting (as in: the next holding of the meeting will be…)

In modern Japanese “no” is usually used to connect two nouns and indicates their realtionship. So in these examples it is connecting

  • next month の tennis court reservation
  • first semester  の classes
  • written below  の dates
  • General Administration Office の Sasaki
  • meeting の holding

There is sometimes flexibility with how these are translated into English. For example I could write “tennis court reservations for next month,” “General Administration Office’s Mr. Sasaki.” The order in which the words are translated does not have to necessarily match the order with which they appear in the original text.

In Ueda’s haiku, she wrote kari no yo.  “Kari” meaning temporary, provisional, interim and “yo” meaning world, which I wrote as “fleeting existence.” I have also seen it translated as “transient world.” Both ways capture the Buddhist message that the world (life) in which we find ourselves is not permanent.

“Yori” Explained …by the Bunpō Bushi!

Spring time is a gentle time of year. New flowers, newborn wild life, and other things around us remind us  of this fact. Spring time is also the season for cherry blossom viewing–originally a Japanese tradition that is now celebrated all over the world! Here’s a spring-esque haiku by Kagami Shikō 各務支考 (1665-1731) in which I’ll examine his use of the particle yori より:

歌書よりも軍書にかなし芳野山

kasho yori mo gunsho ni kanashi Yoshino yama

My translation:

Not reading poems,

but reading war tales is sad.

Yoshino mountain

The poet, supposedly 2nd from the right.

There isn’t a seasonal word (kigo 季語) in this haiku, but Yoshino is famous for it’s cherry blossoms, so there is a definite connection to spring.

Yori より has three main uses, it 1) indicates the place of origin, 2) indicates a comparison, and 3) denotes the means or method of something–basically the same as in modern Japanese. In this haiku it is clear that two things are being compared: [volumes of] poetry (kasho 歌書) and [volumes of] war tales (軍書). Many people are already aware of Japan’s rich poetry tradition, but not as many know that “war tales” was a popular literary genre, too, from the 13th century and on. So while poems were often sad, or emotional (think love poems and the like) it’s war tales that are more sad.

In this grammar construction the particle yori follows the lesser of the two things being compared. Here’s a similar usage of the particle in a waka poem from the Kokinshū:

色よりもかこそあはれとおもほゆれたが袖ふれしやどの梅ぞも

iro yori mo ka koso aware to omōyure ta ga sode fureshi yado no ume zo

Poem #33, by Anonymous

I will not translate the whole poem here, just the top part of the waka:

色よりもかこそあはれと

iro yori mo ka koso aware to

The flower’s scent, not

its fragrance, is more poignant

In this waka, color (iro 色) and scent (ka 香) are being compared as being more or less poignant or of causing a sense of pathos (aware). Note: I wrote the flower’s scent and the flower’s fragrance, but I’m not all too convinced that the author is referring to flowers, but is probably writing about people! As in a person’s scent (perfume, cologne, etc.) conjures deep emotions as opposed to the color of their fine clothes, etc.

What do you think? Are war tales sadder than poems?

Does a person’s fragrance stir your emotion more than their appearance?