“Butterfly” by Saijō Yaso

Saijō Yaso was a Japanese poet and scholar from the early 20th century who specialized in French symbolist verse. His own work ranged from darker symbolism to lighter children’s lyrics. Butterfly When in time I slip down to hell where my parents and friends await, what will I take to…

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“When with Fatal Law the Shadow Threatened Me” by Stéphane Mallarmé

Stéphane Mallarmé was a French poet from the second half of the 19th century. The literary child of Baudelaire, Mallarmé crafted difficult poetry rich with disturbing symbols and musical language. Here is a translation of one of my favorite poems of his. When with Fatal Law the Shadow Threatened Me…

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“Tomino’s Hell” by Saijō Yaso

I’m always looking for ways to combine my love of poetry, translation and the macabre, so I was delighted to stumble across a sort of “creepy pasta” Internet legend about a cursed Japanese poem that causes tragedy and death should you read it aloud. I quickly looked for the piece,…

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“Autumn Lovers,” a Tanabata Sequence

Tanabata is a Japanese star festival derived from the similar Chinese celebration of Qixi. Meaning “seventh night,” Tanabata marks the yearly reunion in late summer or early fall of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (Weaver Princess and Boy Star), which correspond to the stars Vega and Altair. In the mythology…

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Bussokusekika #20

Bussokusekika is a rare form of Japanese poetry that consists of six lines written in a 5-7-5-7-7-7 mora pattern. Arising during the Nara period, the form had essentially died out by the Heian period. For centuries, the only existing examples were the twenty one poems inscribed beside the stone Buddha…

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“Drinking Alone under the Moon” by Li Bai

Li Bai, also known as Li Po, was arguably the greatest poet of China’s Tang dynasty, and possibly of all its history. His verse is notable for the strong voice and personality it reflects, uncommon in the 8th century. An accomplished martial artist and academic genius, Li Bai was also…

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“Dream People,” by Monk Sōgi

A zen monk from a humble background, Iio Sōgi became one of the most respected poets of 15th-century Japan, lauded by major figures and followed by a crowd of students. We may realize that people are merely dreams: the house abandoned, its wild garden becomes home to a swarm of…

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“The Emperor’s Visit” by Sotōri

The fifth-century Emperor Ingyō (c. 411-453) took as his lover Princess Sotoshi no iratsume (better known to us as Sotōri), the younger sister of Empress Oshisaka no Ōnakatsuhime. To avoid offending the Empress, Ingyō provided a residence for Princess Sotoshi far away from her older sister, first in Fujiwara near…

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“The Way of Walking Alone” by Miyamoto Musashi

A week before he died, Japanese swordmaster Miyamoto Musashi composed his Dokkōdō or Way of Walking Alone, a series of twenty-one precepts that spell out his philosophy of ascetic, honorable living. I do not oppose the age-old paths. I do not plot ways to find pleasure. I do not bias…

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“Behold the Dark Green Sea” by Cao Cao

Cao Cao (155-220 C.E.) was a statesman, master of military affairs and a great poet. He became the Prime Minister of the Chinese kingdom of Wei in 209, in 214 was knighted the Duke of Wei, in 217 became the King of Wei and was conferred the title Emperor Wu…

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