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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
fall 2007| 70 |buddhadharma on a busy street in the town of Morioka in northern Japan, a bronze statue commemorates the life of the poet and fabulist Miyazawa Kenji (1896– 1933). Dressed in a plain Western suit and seated on a rock, the poet leans forward, as if listening to a friend. Both his clothes and his bearing bespeak a gentle humility and a quiet receptivity. Nearby, his cello rests against a stone. Not many poets have had statues erected in their honor, but in the Japanese imagination Miyazawa Kenji occupies a place comparable to that of Hans Christian Andersen in Denmark or Robert Frost in North America. He is at once a beloved poet, a cultural hero, and an icon of ecological awareness. The son of a wealthy pawnbroker, Miyazawa rejected his father’s mercenary values, becoming a devout Buddhist in the Nichiren sect and a teacher at the Hanuki County Agricultural School. Trained as an agronomist, he endeavored to alleviate the chronic crop failures of the Iwate Prefecture, teaching crop rotation and soil improvement to impoverished local farmers. Concurrently, he also pursued a literary vocation, producing moral fables, fairy tales, chil- dren’s stories, and a large corpus of lyric poetry, much of it modernist in character and experimental in form. During his lifetime, he published only one collection of poems (Spring and Asura, 1924), but his work has since become canonical in Japanese literary culture. Generations of Japanese schoolchildren have memorized “November 3rd,” Miyazawa’s best-known poem, which portrays a sturdy man who lives in a reed-thatched hut, subsists on brown rice and miso soup, and devotes his life to the welfare of others. “Someone like that,” the poet declares, “is what I want to be.” The present volume offers a selection of Miyazawa’s poems in English translation. Included here are brief impressionistic sketches, anecdotal narratives, “thing-po- ems” reminiscent of Rilke, satiric mono- logues, and meditative poems running to several pages. Cast in free verse and employing a blend of colloquial and sci- entific diction, these open-hearted, highly observant poems present a world of bright particulars, rendered with technical preci- sion: a “cliff of diallagite,” “dark clouds the color of bismuth,” a “black polyhe- dral umbrella.” In tones ranging from the reverent to the comedic to the caus- tic, they also depict a variety of human figures, including a greedy farmer who works himself and his wife to exhaustion, a village elder whose hardships are etched on his face, and a fatuous entrepreneur who dreams of turning an extinct volcano into a hellish theme park. From time to time, the human world assumes the foreground, as in “The Morning of the Last Farewell,” Miyazawa’s piercing, grief-stricken elegy for his sister. But even when his subject is a human situ- ation, the poet’s abiding allegiance lies with the natural world, which he views by turns as a field of dynamic energy, an object of empathic attention, and a wellspring of spirtual sustenance. Miyazawa is hardly the first lyric poet to see the natural world as a field of energy, but in many of his poems, as in those of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a sense of movement is the dominant fea- ture. In Miyazawa’s vision, cacti “burn,” the sun “shimmers blue,” a bird “sev- ers the blue sky,” and “mountains flow faintly like smoke.” And even when the mood is more serene, the world is always in motion: ben howArd is A poet And professor emeritus of enG- lish At Alfred university in Alfred, new york. his lAt- est collection of poetry is Dark Pool, published by sAlmon poetry. MiyazaWa Kenji: SeLectionS edited and translated by hiroaki Sato university of california Press, 2007 256 pages; $50 (hardcover); $19.95 (paperback) The Blue mounTAin poeT ©Rinpoo Reviewed by Ben howard