Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982), American poet, literary critic and essayist, was also an interesting translator of classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. I review one of his many collections of Chinese poetry here:
and the precursor, 100 Poems from the Japanese (1955),
to the collection under review now. 100 More Poems from the Japanese appeared in 1976, so one could hardly accuse Rexroth of vulgar haste in taking advantage of the relative success of the earlier volume. Perhaps there weren't even any marketing considerations at play in his decision at all. (I vaguely remember a time when such considerations were not paramount, though it may have been a dream...)
Again, most of the poems are taken from the two most important collections of ancient Japanese poetry, the Manyoshu (compiled in 759 CE) and the Kokinshu (in 905) supplemented by poems from the Hyakunin Isshu (mid-13th century), and the collection ends with a sample of haiku written much later. So, more of the same. But when "the same" is wonderful, then I will willingly partake. Of the many gems in this fine volume, here are only a few, chosen this time to exemplify the amorous side of classical Japanese poetry. Remember, these poets are setting a scene for the reader to expand upon, to fill out with their own experience and imagination. Enjoy!
Anonymous from the Manyoshu ; a young woman joyfully prepares for the return of her lover:
Her bracelets tinkle
Her anklets clink
She sways at her clattering loom
She hurries to have a new
Obi ready when he comes.
From the Empress Eifuku (1271-1342) we have a very non-empress-like poem:
We dressed each other
Hurrying to say farewell
In the depth of night.
Our drowsy thighs touched and we
Were caught in bed by the dawn.
I wonder what the Emperor thought of this?
Exceptionally, Rexroth also translates 16 poems of the much more recent poet Yosano Akiko (1878-1942), because she wrote in the classical style. Rexroth's summary of her life and the poems he selected strongly arouse my interest in her. Here are two of her poems.
Come at last to this point
I look back on my passion
And realize that I
Have been like a blind man
Who is unafraid of the dark.
Not speaking of the way,
Not thinking of what comes after,
Not questioning name or fame,
Here, loving love,
You and I look at each other.
To illustrate that the ancient Japanese were as uninhibited in certain matters as the modern Japanese, here is an anonymous poem from the Manyoshu (recall while reading that this book has been at the center of Japanese culture for 13 centuries; but I'm guessing that this is not one of the poems memorized in school - I may be wrong)
I do not care if
Our love making is exposed
As the rainbow over
The Yasaka dam at Ikaho
If only I can suck and suck you.