Bamboo: two poems by Hagiwara Sakutaro


A bamboo-hauling expedition with my friend L. on Saturday prompted me to dig up a couple of Japanese poems by Hagiwara Sakutarô that I translated 20 years ago when I was in college. I couldn’t find the translations I did back then, so I worked from my old notes in the margins of my copy of Tsuki ni hoeru, “Howling at the Moon” (1917), Hagiwara’s first and best-known collection of poems. He’s considered Japan’s first truly modern poet, in part because of the obsessive, neorotic tone on display here. These poems, both entitled “Take” (Bamboo), are the second and third poems in the collection and echo imagery also found in the lead poem, so they were presumably meant to showcase a brand new way of looking at a traditionally poetic thing. While modernism in the West had little over a century of Romantic traditions about nature to contend with, in Japanese poetry, an immense and intricate set of correspondences between natural phenomena and expected emotional reactions made innovation daunting, to say the least.


Bamboo (1)

Out of the ground a straight thing grows,
out of the ground a blue-green pointed thing grows,
piercing the frozen winter,
glimmering green in the morning’s empty road
bringing tears to the eyes,
tears falling even now
from above shoulders swollen with regret,
hazy, the bamboo roots spreading, spreading,
as out of the ground a blue-green blade comes up.


bamboo beetle


Bamboo (2)

In the shining earth the bamboo grows,
the blue-green bamboo grows,
underground the roots of bamboo grow,
roots that gradually taper off
with fine hairs sprouting from their tips,
hazy fine hairs faintly growing,
faintly trembling.

In the adversarial earth the bamboo grows,
aboveground the sharp bamboo grows,
perfectly straight bamboo grows,
with its rigid joints going rin, rin,
at the base of the blue sky bamboo grows,
bamboo, bamboo, bamboo grows.

10 Replies to “Bamboo: two poems by Hagiwara Sakutaro”

  1. I like the bamboo-laden “Bug” — a bit of a reversal there.

    As I understand it, bamboo in America is quite a nasty invasive — not only does is spread by underground runners, but if you try to pull it out, it’s liable to splinter into nasty shards. (As opposed to cutting the stalks at the base, which lets you harvest it without really trying to kill the plant.)

  2. That’s true, but there’s also a native species called cane that once formed vast canebrakes, an ecosystem now as endangered as native tallgrass prairie. Many areas now dominated by the invasive phragmites were probably once canebrakes (or so my friend L. speculates).

    The bamboo species in these photos is a non-native, and threatens some electric lines in the village of Lemont, PA – whence all the trimmings.

  3. “As I understand it, bamboo in America is quite a nasty invasive — not only does is spread by underground runners…”

    There are lots of non-invasive types of bamboo in the genera Bambusa, Fargesia, and others.

  4. Very interesting about cane, and canebrakes. I hadn’t known in the past they were so abundant in Missouri, that they were possessed of their own communities of fauna, that the Bachman’s warbler has perished from their lack, that the Swainson’s barely survives them. The past is so hidden from view, but there are signs of it. I’ve come across flourishing brakes growing in abandoned pastures along the St. Francis river on government land bought from farmers not that long ago. I wonder if the land hadn’t been purchased because of its propensity to grow cane. The thickets are, well, thick. Intimidatingly so. To make my way to the river I was forced to go below ground level in a blindly essing gully. Alone, I grew fearful.

    From a boat on the river I’ve seen otters issue from the fringe of a brake and disappear back into it. Walking on the land-side of a canebrake where a rocky hillside and impassible cane pinch possible routes into a thin neck, I happened on earthen circle with shrubs roughly polled by the gnawing of a coyote left for days in a foot trap. For sure they’re their own kind of wilderness, a wasteland really, and, for the moment, I’ve lost my nerve to revisit them on my own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.