PERHAPS A GREAT POEM
by Tamura Ryuichi (trans. Christopher Drake)
A poem rests, barely, on a single line
a kind of balance of terror
humans must hold out their arms
and endure this balance—
a moment’s dizziness
will tile your whole life
Perhaps a great poem
travels faster than the speed of light
to invade the present from the future
and the past from the present—
a dead man steps out of the ground,
returns to the hands of those who buried him,
then, moving backwards, continues on
to the flesh-colored dark that bore him,
the original birthing spring;
love moves from destruction toward completion
all things begin in their ending:
the permanent revolution
the withered-away state
a singled poem
Perhaps a great poem is
in November light—
the light that pierces every object
making humans close their eyes,
stretch out their arms, stand precisely there
* * *
Tamura was born in what is now Sugamo, Tokyo. He was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1943, and although he did not see combat, the fact that many of his friends died in the war left him psychologically scarred.
In 1947, after World War II, he revived the literary magazine Arechi (“The Waste Land”), with his surviving school friends, and became an important figure in post-war modern Japanese poetry. His first poetry anthology, Yosen no hi no yoru (“Four Thousand Days and Nights”, 1956), introduced a hard tone to modern Japanese poetry, using paradoxes, metaphors, and sharp imagery to describe the sense of dislocation and crisis experienced by people who had suffered through the rapid modernization of Japan and the destruction of World War II. With the publication of Kotoba no nai sekai (“World Without Words”, 1962), he was established as a major poet. He was awarded the prestigious Yomiuri Prize In 1984.
Tamura was awarded the 54th Japan Academy of Arts Award for Poetry in 1998. He died of esophageal cancer later that same year. His grave is at the temple of Myohon-ji in Kamakura.
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[…] —Tamura Ryuichi, from two essays—respectively, “Mapless Journey” and “A Roadside Pigeon”—quoted in “A Journey to Fear,” by Ayukawa Nobuo, in Tamura Ryuichi: On the Life & Work of a 20th Century Master, Edited by Takako Lento and Wayne Miller (Pleiades Press, 2011). […]