I would like to write about something special about Saito Fumi – “the queen of modern tanka in Japan,” as she is called by Susumi Takiguchi, the poet and editor. This year, on April 26, it is 8 years since she passed away. The number 8 has a particular significance. It is the figure of the infinite, and I think that the chrysanthemum with 16 petals, the Emperor’s emblem, can make a link between the sky and earth.
Unsaid though is a white letter. It is like the names said just in the mind.
In 1997 when Saito Fumi was invited for second time at the Imperial Place, at Utakai Hajime, she was nearly 90 years old. From the episode of February 26, 1926, had passed 70 years. Her father’s name, because he had been imprisoned and exiled, was a white letter. Nobody can translate it. When the Emperor said about her father, that he was “a strange man,” she smiled like “an old lady.” In presence of the Emperor, Saito Fumi read this tanka:
in the field
with an abundant figure
limbs embrace the wind
month and days as well *
“It’s not easy to translate her poetry,” says Jane Reichhold. It is also hard to understand these tanka. I have read several times the small explanatory fragment between the two translators about one tanka included in the online version (www.ahapoetry/white letter poems.html) of this anthology that contains poems from the first of Fumi’s collection – Fish Song (1932 -1940) – to her last book Autumn Blue Sky (1985 -1993).
fish no longer live
in this flowing stream
because of the loneliness
we set afloat the red
of crimson maple leaves **
Hatsue Kawamura gives for the first line of tanka as in this translation, and Jane Reichhold suggested “fish cannot stay.” The other lines of poem were translated the same. “Because of loneliness” is the middle of the poem; I think that it can belong to the first part of poem, but also to the second part of it. The “loneliness” can be the subject for the two parts of poem. It is the loneliness makes the fish to want to be caught.
The poet Michio Nakahara (1951 – ), in the anthology Message from Butterfly (translated into English by James Kirkup and Makoto Tamaki) has this haiku:
One beast, because of
solitude, so easily
caught in a snare
The solitude is hard to endure by a beast, fish, and people. Perhaps, also those fish allowed themselves to be caught, for to escape from the loneliness .This thing means their death, but they preferred the death to the loneliness. This is another example of white letters.
The red maple leaves set in the river are an offering for forgiveness made by the ones who caught the fish. They cannot change the course of the running water, nor the course of the live and death. Another loneliness, another white letter.
Life and death – the great subjects of Saito Fumi’s poetry. Her life was full of tragic events. She turned the black of her life into the white of her tanka.
A blind white. A destiny like a blind figurine. And what can a figurine read “with two eye holes “?
Perhaps, the white letters unwritten in this world:
to say good-bye
I must be going along
shut the door
and leave just like that
it can’t be done in this world ***
Published in “Lynx – a journal for linking poets“, SUA, nr.XXV/2/2010.
Notes : */**/***/ White Letters Poems by Saito Fumi . Translated into English by Hatsue Kawamura and Jane Reichhold , Copyright © 1998.
Original text in romanian :