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John G. Peters

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(2013 - Translation)

"Deep Night Snow" by Takamura Kōtarō

[translated from Japanese]

The warm fire of the gas hearth
makes faint sounds.
The lamp of the closed-in study
shines softly on the two of us, slightly tired.
Clouds in the evening sky have turned to snow.
Looking out the window a while ago
everywhere was white.
We feel the weight of the snow that silently
falls and piles on the ground, the roof, our hearts.
Moreover, the world holds its breath and stares with a child's eyes
at the soft weight that encloses delight.
"Look, already so much!"
says a voice blurred in the distance.
Soon, the clop-clop of stamping geta.
Later, as the quiet night reaches eleven,
our conversation is exhausted.
The tea grows weary as well.
We hold hands,
listening to the deep heart of this voiceless world.
Watching the form of flowing time,
faces perspiring slightly, full of tranquility,
we easily empathize with all human sentiments.
Again, the sound of stamping: clop, clop,
then something like the rumble of a car -- --
When I say
"Ah, look at that snow"
the one answering suddenly enters a nursery tale,
faintly opens her mouth
and rejoices at the snow.
The snow also rejoices at the deep night,
unceasingly falls and piles.
Warm snow,
heavy snow presses thick and fast upon our bodies -- --

                                              February, 1913

Published in Sonora Review, 32 (fall/winter1996): 73.

About Takamura Kōtarō

Takamura Kōtarō is a crucial figure in modern Japanese literature. His reputation rests largely on his 1914 book Dōtei (Journey), which is probably the single most important book in the development of 20th-century Japanese poetry. Takamura was the first Japanese poet effectively to break with traditional poetic convention by employing free verse and colloquial language. Dōtei is about new beginnings, more particularly about nature's ability to direct one's life properly and about the need to live in harmony with nature and with one's own soul.

John G. Peters is a Professor of English at the University of North Texas and has studied Japanese (formally and informally) for 35 years. Most of his translation work has been devoted to Takamura Kōtarō's poetry, but he also has published translations of Miyazawa Kenji's poetry and Yosa Buson's poetry, as well as some poetry from the ancient collection Manyōshū. His most recent publication is a translation of Takamura's book The Chieko Poems (Los Angeles: Green Integer 2007). His translations have appeared in such literary magazines as Mid-American Review, Artful Dodge, Kaimana, The Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, New Orleans Review, Quarterly West, Tampa Review, Marlboro Review, Poetry New York, Hawai'i Pacific Review, Rhino, International Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Sonora Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Utne.

Photo by Deanna Peters

Translator's Statement

An NEA Fellowship is a wonderful opportunity for me to continue working on my translation of Takamura's poetry collection Dōtei (Journey). Given the originality and influence of this collection, I think it is important to make this collection available to English speakers. Takamura's use of free verse and universal themes make his poetry accessible to a wide range of readers, not just within his native Japan. Translation is an important opportunity to make literature in one culture available to those of another culture. Although the belief that something is always lost in translation is certainly true, without translation everything is lost to those unfamiliar with the literature in languages we don't know, and it is the translator's opportunity to try to bridge that gap.