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          Late summer


The pumpkin tendrils creep

Along the station platform.

A ladybird peeps

From a chink in the half-closed flowers.


A stopping train comes in.

No one gets on, or off.


On the millet stalk

Growing by the railing

The young ticket-man

Rests his clippers.


The beauty of the world’s many cultures in found in their diversity. With this in mind, our poem this a translation—from Japanese into English. The poet is Yūji Kinoshita (1914 –1965), who specialised in pastoral writing, focussing on humanity’s interactions with the natural world and its various processes. Though working as a pharmacist for most of his life, Kinoshita wrote hundreds poems, perhaps characterised by a kind of persistent, tranquil melancholy, and spotlighting the seemingly commonplace lives of the people he observed and the serene beauty of the landscape in which he lived.

Japanese, in its grammar and its sound, is especially good for creating ambiguity, for fashioning verse that intimates and hints, and revels in the indefinite. Naturally, much of this is lost in the translation into English, but we can still see how the poem paints a suggestive picture of mankind’s interconnectedness with nature through unexpected juxtaposition (essentially placing things side-by-side) and line-breaks: ‘The pumpkin tendrils creep | Along the station platform.’ Japanese verse will often deal in images like this: composites that hinge on the on two quietly surprising ideas. In this case, the pumpkin tendrils become entangled (both physically and conceptually) with the train-station, a manmade interference that cuts through the landscape in ghostly fashion. This happens, too, with the ‘millet stalk | Growing by the railing’. It is a snapshot of a world in a state of precarious balance.

We can learn much about our different cultures through reading each others’ poetry—and even more by translating it. This poem, for example, does not explicitly state any kind of argument or judgement (compare it one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and you’ll see what I mean); instead, it is content to suggest by arrangement, and then stand back and let the poem breathe. It is only in the final stanza that an actual human presence appearance—an important, perhaps, discerned more clearly in this cultural exchange: we are not, always, at the centre of things.     

Yuji Kinoshita_edited.jpg
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