Michael R. Burch

1958
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Ono no Komachi translations

Ono no Komachi translations

These are my modern English translations of the ancient Japanese poems of Ono no Komachi…

Submit to you, is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Watching wan moonlight flooding tree limbs,
my heart also brims,
overflowing with autumn.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

If fields of autumn flowers
can shed their blossoms, shameless,
why can't I also frolic here ...
as fearless and as blameless?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sad,
the end that awaits me ...
to think that before autumn yields
I'll be a pale mist
shrouding these rice fields.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now bitterly I watch fall winds
battering the rice stalks,
suspecting I'll never again
find anything to harvest.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This abandoned mountain shack ...
how many nights
has autumn sheltered there?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Am I to spend the night alone
atop this summit,
cold and lost?
Won't you at least lend me
your robes of moss?
—Ono no Komachi (GSS XVII:1195), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Am I to spend the night alone
atop this ice-crag,
cold and lost?
Won't you at least lend me
your robes of moss?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Two things wilt without warning,
bleeding away their colors:
a flower and a man's heart.
—Ono no Komachi (KKS XV:797), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Alas, the beauty of the flowers came to naught
as I watched the rain, lost in melancholy thought ...
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

So cruelly severed,
a root-cut reed ...
if the river offered,
why not be freed?
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Wretched water-weed that I am,
severed from all roots:
if rapids should entice me,
why not welcome their lethal shoots?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

In this dismal world
the living decrease
as the dead increase...
oh, how much longer
must I bear this body of grief?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I think of you ceaselessly, with love...
and so... come to me at night,
for in the flight
of dreams, no one can disapprove!
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Since my body
was neglected by the one
who had promised faithfully to come,
I now lie here questioning its existence.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sleepless with loneliness,
I find myself longing for the handsome moon.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Once-colorful flowers faded,
while in my drab cell
life's impulse also abated
as the long dismal rains fell.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
and consolation.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

That which men call "love" ...
is it not merely the chain
preventing our escape
from this world of pain?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Did you appear
only because I was lost in thoughts of love
when I nodded off, day-dreaming of you?
(If I had known that you
couldn't possibly be true,
I'd have never awakened!)
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Watching the long, dismal rains
inundating the earth,
my heart too is washed out, bleeds off
with the colors of the late spring flowers.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Though I visit him
continually in my dreams,
the sum of all such ethereal trysts
is still less than one actual, solid glimpse.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I feel desire so intensely
in the lily-seed darkness
that tonight I'll turn my robe inside-out
before donning it.
—Ono no Komachi (KKS XII:554), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This vain life!
My looks and talents faded
like these cherry blossoms inundated
by endless rains
that I now survey, alone.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Autumn nights are "long"
only in verse and song:
for we had just begun
to gaze into each other's eyes
when dawn immolated the skies!
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

On nights such as these
when no moon lights your way to me,
I lie awake, my passion blazing,
my breast an inferno wildly raging,
while my heart chars within me.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Since there's obviously nothing to catch
in this barren bay,
how can he fail to understand:
the fisherman who persists in coming and going
until his legs collapse in the sand?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

What do I know of villages
where fisherfolk dwell?
Why do you keep demanding
that I show you the seashore,
lead you to some pearly shell?
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Yielding to a love
that recognizes no boundaries,
I will approach him by night ...
for the world cannot despise
a wandering dreamer.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now that I approach
life's inevitable winter
your ardor has faded
like blossoms wilted
by late autumn rains.
―Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

"It's over!"
Your words drizzle like dismal rains,
bringing tears,
as I wilt with my years.
—Ono no Komachi (KKS XV:782), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I pursue you ceaselessly in my dreams ...
yet we've never met; we're not even acquainted!
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like flowers wilted by drenching rains,
my beauty has faded in the onslaught of my forlorn years.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Fiery coals searing my body
hurt me far less than the sorrow of parting.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Love is man's most unbreakable bond.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This moonless night,
with no way to meet him,
I grow restless with longing:
my breast’s an inferno,
my heart chars within me.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

How brilliantly
tears rain upon my sleeve
in bright gemlets,
for my despair cannot be withstood,
like a surging flood!
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This flower's color
has drained away,
while in idle thoughts
my life drained away
as the long rains fall.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Fatal reality!
You must do what you must, I suppose.
But even hidden in my dreams
from all prying eyes,
to watch you still pains me so!
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In eye-opening daylight
much stands revealed,
but when I see myself
reflected in hostile eyes
even dreams become nightmares.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I would meet him tonight
but the moon shows no path;
my desire for him,
smoldering in my breast,
burns my heart to ash!
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Sotoba Komachi is a modern Noh play by Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). Mishima's play is based on an ancient work by Kan'ami Kiyotsugu (1333-1384). The first kanji means "stupa" (the dome of a shrine) while the second kanji means "belle" or "beautiful woman." So the title may be interpreted as something like "Beauty's Shrine" or "Shrine to Beauty." Kan'ami was the first playwright to incorporate the Kusemai song and dance style and Dengaku dances into plays. He founded a sarugaku theater group in the Kansai region of Honshu; the troupe later moved to Yamato and formed the Yuzaki theater company, which would become the school of Noh theater.

Excerpts from SOTOBA KOMACHI
by KWANAMI
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Priest of the Koyasan:

We who have built our homes on shallow slopes
now seek solitude in the heart's deep recesses.

Second Priest:

This single thought possessed me:
How I might bring a single seed to flower,
the wisdom of Buddha, the locus of our salvation,
until in despair I donned this dark cassock.

Ono no Komachi:

Lately so severed,
like a root-cut reed,
if the river offered,
why not be freed?

I would gladly go,
but here no wave stirs ...
I was once full of pride
now fled with the years,

gone with dark tresses
and with lustrous locks;
I was lithe as a willow
in my springtime frocks;

I once sang like a nightingale
sipping dew;
I was wild as the rose
when the skies shone blue ...
in those days before fall
when the long shadows grew.

But now I’ve grown loathsome
even to whores;
even urchins abhor me;
men treat me with scorn ...

Now I am nothing
but a poor, withered bough,
and yet there are wildflowers
in my heart, even now.

Only my body lingers, for my heart left this world long ago!

Priests (together):

O, piteous, piteous!
Is this the once-fabled flower-bright Komachi,
Komachi the Beautiful,
whose dark brows bridged eyes like young moons;
her face whitest alabaster forever;
whose many damask robes filled cedar-scented closets?



Ono no Komachi wrote tanka (also known as waka), the most traditional form of Japanese lyric poetry. She is an excellent representative of the Classical, or Heian, period (circa 794-1185 AD) of Japanese literature, and she is one of the best-known poets of the Kokinshu (circa 905), the first in a series of anthologies of Japanese poetry compiled by imperial order. She is also one of the Rokkasen — the six best waka poets of the early Heian period, during which poetry was considered the highest art. Renowned for her unusual beauty, Komachi has become a synonym for feminine beauty in Japan. She is also included among the thirty-six Poetry Immortals. It is believed that she was born sometime between 820-830 and that she wrote most of her poems around the middle of the ninth century. She is best known today for her pensive, melancholic and erotic poems. Keywords/Tags: Ono no Komachi waka tanka translation Japanese love women womanhood feminist feminism

Keywords/Tags: Ono no Komachi, Sotoba Komachi, Yukio Mishima, Kan'ami Kiyotsugu, Kan'ami, Kwanami, Noh play, Japan, Japanese, beauty, beautiful, river, heartbreak, heartbroken, poetess, geisha, courtesan, song, dance, girl
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