Lost in thought: poems of Lady Izumi

This morning, for no particular reason, I thought I’d try my hand at some translations of tanka by the Japanese court poet Izumi Shikibu (fl. ca. 1000 CE). I included versions of the first two tanka in earlier posts, back in January and February of 2004.

UPDATE (Feb. 22): I’ve revised the first of these in response to the astute critique and observations of reader Hari Prasad (no web address) in the comments [subsequently lost]

If the one I wait for came now,
what would I do?
Gazing at my garden,
I’m loathe to see anything spoil
its trackless snow.


We hold the flowers
in our thoughts
after we pass,
entrusting ourselves completely
to the oblivious horses.


If I could see you one more time,
even if only by lightning flash
in a night-time storm –
visible, invisible –
it would ease my longing.

(Mourning a deceased lover.)


Once we’re beyond this world,
there’s nothing to cling to –
so thinking, I imagine
you here once again, your reply,
that give-&-take.


Which of us
would she miss the most?
She would miss her children
as I am missing mine,
my own dead daughter.


To be here to find
your name freshly written,
instead of moldering beside you
under the moss –
it’s hard to bear.

(After receiving a piece of mail addressed to her dead daughter.)


Lost in thought,
watching a firefly rise
out of the marsh
as if from my own body,
as if it were me.

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