タイトルは”The memory of the grass”（「草の記憶」）、発表は５月４日、原文はイタリア語です。”Okinawa”を英訳したD.Burleigh先生が英語に翻訳しました。
The memory of the grass
4 May 2019 from Cenisiweb
Review of the collection Okinawa by Hasegawa Kai, Red Moon Press, 2018, pp. 104, $15.00
Okinawa is the sixteenth collection by the Japanese poet and critic Hasegawa Kai (Kumamoto, 1954), who is responsible for the haiku column in the daily Asahi Shimbun, as well as associate professor at Tokai University in Tokyo.
The anthology retraces, in simple language, but treating (deliberately) in a dry and raw manner, the events of war that took place on the island of Okinawa during the Second World War, and in particular during the aforementioned Pacific War, in which the final death toll was around 200,000 soldiers and civilians. Okinawa was in fact invaded on 1 April 1945 by American forces on land, the conflict dragging on until 19 June the same year. The conquest by the Allied troops in this way is still remembered today as a unique land battle (chijō-sen 地上戦) in which Japanese soldiers lost their lives. The island was returned to imperial rule only in 1972, thanks to the conclusion of the Okinawa henken kyōtei 沖縄返還協定 (‘Agreement for the Return of Okinawa’).
In memory of these events, Hasegawa accompanies the reader on a journey at once historic and geographic, taking inspiration from those places, in peaceful times, in which however there remain 75% of the military installations of the present era, witness to what the Japanese usually remember as the ‘storm of steel’ (tetsu no bōfū 鉄の暴風 ), a period of about three months in which projectiles and spent cartridges fell like rain upon either the soldiers or civilians, including women and children.
The haiku that appear on the pages of the collection are thus based on direct intimate contact by the poet with the places, which he has visited almost every year for the last decade, becoming an “empty vessel” able to accommodate “the people, the dead, the banyan trees, the island lilies, and the enormous rocks, and lastly the gods of Okinawa”, in order to render them the necessary tribute, welcoming them in a receptive spirit “to tell of their sorrow and regret”.
The book is composed of 60 haiku, divided into two sections: the first, more substantial, containing a series of 50 entitled Okinawa published in August 2015 in the journal Haiku 俳句; the second then supplements the former with a further 10 on the same theme.
The components are presented in both languages, Japanese and English, and all accompanied by a note at the foot of the page which highlights – and in some cases specifies and contextualizes – the seasonal reference (kigo 季語), in order to facilitate its identification and comprehension on the part of the reader.
The literal tenor ranges from gentle and fine representations – in which the language seems rarefied – to figurations in tones decidedly more melancholy and allusive, through which the author conveys not only a particular emotional weight, but the suffering of the whole Japanese people:
samidare no shima samidare no umi no ue
the early summer rains
falling on the island
falling on the sea
natsukusa ya katsute ningen tarishi tsuchi
summer grasses –
soil that once was
The depth of each verse is emphasized by the use of certain rhetorical and expressive means, such as repetition. We have an example in the first haiku quoted above, but we find another, equally expressive, in the verse that follows:
umi fukaki yama mata yama mo nemurekeri
the depth of the sea…
a mountain then a mountain
The last one, in particular, recalls certain verses by the poet Awano Seiho (1899-1992), always succeeding in being precise and persuasive in conveying a natural-seeming link that, not being exhausted in mere contemplation, but reverberates in unseen ways as a “response to events of the past”, projecting at the same time “expression of concern about the future” (Burleigh), above all that oblivion that threatens to engulf the history, pain and sacrifice of the many forgotten ones who were thrown in the mud by one of the bloodiest conflicts in the twentieth-century history of Asia.
The author return several times to the theme of memory, but always with grace and without any hint of controversy, indeed with a subtlety of articulation at times unsettling:
haruka naru kioku no semi no naki itari
from far-off memory
But Okinawa is also a breviary of seasonal terms and expressions rooted in the history and socio-cultural context of Japan, embodying a roundness and interpretive complexity that the western reader must face with a debt of conscience. The approach to the text indeed requires an awareness that there is something that can move profoundly without ever revealing itself completely, giving the impression that the exegetical oar has collected now a wave, now the air, and that the sun that beats so violently upon the open sea beyond the islands has refracted no more than a glimpse of the truth that seems much greater.
It is the indeclinable form of hon’i (本意), a contracted form of hontō no imi 本当の意味 (‘true meaning’), that sometimes inheres in images that are familiar to us, sometimes in raw and primitive expressive forms:
chikyū jimetsu igo no chinmoku amanogawa
the silence after
the earth’s destruction –
the Milky Way
The book thus succeeds in synthesizing, through a language reduced to the essential but phonetically balanced and precise, a lived experience of suffering and rebirth, aligning past and future on the same wavelength of the present.
A work that reveals new glimpses of reality to each reader and that opens up to the world as the viewer becomes accustomed to the light, guiding them then with the love of a parent toward harsh but necessary views, in a life exercise that is not adjacent to pain, but to its very recognition and universalization through the filter of a “rough” nature (kōko 考古), beaten by the sun and bad weather, but always, invariably, sincere and open in offering itself to those who wish to welcome it.
The collection has, moreover, been given an honorable mention among the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards for 2018 with the following note from the jury: “The world is a graveyard out of which the grass blade, human being, and all living things emerge anew. The healing in such processes would seem to be a reason for hope, and a positive, even realistic, bulwark against existential despair. ”
１）鉄の雨降る戦場へ昼寝覚 / tetsu no ame furu senjō e hirunezame (a rain of iron / onto a battlefield / waking from a nap).
２）Hasegawa Kai is also known for his studies of classical haiku, especially the poetics of Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694). This verse clearly refers to a noted haiku by the Master, which goes: 夏草や兵どもが夢の跡 natsugusa ya tsuwamonodomo ga yume no ato (summer grass / the traces of dreams / of warriors).
３）https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/2019/04/21/hasegawa-kai-touchstone-distinguished-books-honorable-mention-2018/ (last accessed 4 March 2019).