Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Ink Dark Moon: Review

The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi & Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani. These poems were written by two ladies of the Heian Court between the 9th and 11th Centuries in Japan. These women were central figures in the only literary Golden Age where women writers dominated the field. Shikibu (974?-1034?) wrote during the court culture's greatest period. She was a woman interested in both religious consciousness and intense erotic experience. Komachi (834?-?) served in the Heian Court's first half-century. Her poems were very diverse--personally expressive with philosophical and emotional depth.

The poems are all very short and yet quite expressive in their brevity. The word choice is precise and beautiful--taking the reader into the heart of the poet's vision in just a few lines. I thoroughly enjoyed my time-travel back to early Japan. But the themes covered are universal. Love and desire, fulfillment and rejection don't change with the centuries. Love can be just as captivating and all-consuming now as it was then. Rejection and loss can cut just as deep. These women convey the feelings of all women...of any time. Four stars.


Of the two, I prefer the selections from Izumi Shikibu. But I do like this one by Ono no Komacchi:

I thought to pick the flower
of forgetting
for myself,
but I found it
already growing in his heart.

Selections by Shikibu:


In this world love has no color--
yet how deeply
my body
is stained by yours. (p. 51)

To a man who said we should meet, even if it were only for a single time

Even if I now saw you

only once,

I would long for you

through worlds, worlds. (p. 55)

Some cross the Pass of Love,

some don't.

Unless you are the watchman there
it is not your right
to cast blame. (p. 69)

On a night
when the moon
shines as brightly as this,

the unspoken thoughts
of even the most discreet heart
might be seen. (p. 78)


This heart,

longing for you,
breaks to a thousand pieces--
I wouldn't lose one. (p. 110)

Even when a river of tears

courses through
this body,
the flame of love cannot be quenched. (p. 118)

Even if I

repeated love's name

forever,

could outward life match

the intensity of our hearts? (p. 135)

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