Hagiwara Sakutarō (1886–1942): Seven poems translated by Hiroaki Sato



The person sleeping under the chair,

is he the children of the person who made the grand house?



          The Reason the Person Inside Looks like a Deformed Invalid


I am standing in the shadow of a lace curtain,

that is the reason my face looks vague.

I am holding a telescope in my hands,

I am looking through it far into the distance,

I am looking at the woods,

where dogs and lambs made of nickel and children with bald heads are walking,

those are the reasons my eyes look somewhat smoked over.

I ate too much of the plate of cabbage this morning,

and besides this windowglass is very shoddily made,

that is the reason my face looks so excessively distorted.

To tell you the truth,

I am healthy, perhaps too healthy,

and yet, why are you staring at me, there?

Why smiling so eerie a smile?

Oh, of course, as for the part of my body below the waist,

if you are saying that area isn’t clear,

that’s a somewhat foolish question,

of course, that is, close to this pale window wall,

I am standing inside the house.



          Spring Night


Things like littlenecks,

things like quahogs,

things like water-fleas,

these organisms, bodies buried in sand,

out of nowhere,

hands like silk threads innumerably grow,

hands’ slender hairs move as the waves do.

A pity, on this lukewarm spring night,

purling the brine flows,

over the organisms water flows,

even the tongues of clams, flickering, looking sad,

as I look around at the distant beach,

along the wet beach path,

a row of invalids, bodies below their waists missing, is walking,

walking unsteadily.

Ah, over the hair of those human beings as well,

passes the spring night haze, all over, deeply,

rolling, rolling in,

this white row of waves is ripples.



          The World of Bacteria


Bacteria’s legs,

bacteria’s mouths,

bacteria’s ears,

bacteria’s noses,


bacteria are swimming.


Some in a person’s womb,

some in a clam’s intestines,

some in an onion’s spherical core,

some in a landscape’s center.


Bacteria are swimming.


Bacteria’s hands grow right and left, crosswise,

the tips of their hands branch out like roots,

from there sharp nails grow,

capillaries and such spread all over.


Bacteria are swimming.


Where bacteria live their lives,

as if through an invalid’s skin,

a vermilion light shines thinly in,

and only that area is faintly visible,

looks truly, truly sorrow-unbearable.


Bacteria are swimming.



          Rotten Clam

Body half-buried in sand,

still it’s lolling its tongue.

Over this invertebrate’s head,

pebbles and brine rustle, rustle, rustle, rustle, flowing,


ah so quietly as a dream flowing.


From between the sand and sand that go on flowing,

the clam again has its lolling tongue flicker and flare red,

this clam is very emaciated, I’m saying.

Look, its rubbery entrails seem about to rot,

and so when sad-looking evening comes,

sitting on the pale beach,

flickering, flickering, it lets out rotten breaths, I tell you.



          The One Who’s in Love with Love


I painted rouge on my lips,

and kissed the trunk of a new birch,

even if I were a handsome man,

on my chest are no breasts like rubber balls,

from my skin rises no fragrance of fine-textured powder,

I am a wizened man of ill-fate,

ah, what a pitiable man,

in today’s balmy early summer field,

in a stand of glistening trees,

I slipped on my hands sky-blue gloves,

put around my waist something like a corset,

smeared on my nape something like nape-powder,

thus hushed assuming a coquettish pose,

as young girls do,

I cocked my head a little,

and kissed the trunk of a new birch,

I painted rosy rouge on my lips,

and clung to a tall tree of snowy white.



          Unknown Dog


This utterly unknown dog follows me,

shabby, limping on its hind leg, a crippled dog’s shadow.

Ah, I do not know where I’m going,

in the direction of the road that I go,

roofs of tenements are being pelted pelted in the wind,

in a gloomy, empty lot by the road,

bone-dry grass leaves are pliantly thinly moving.


Ah, I do not know where I’m going,

a large, organism-like moon is vaguely afloat ahead of me,

and in the lonely street behind me,

the tip of the dog’s thin long tail is dragging on the ground.


Ah, no matter how far, how far I go,

this utterly unknown dog follows me,

crawling along the filthy ground,

behind me, dragging its hind leg, a sick dog,

distant, long, sadly terrified,

at the lonely moon, howling afar and pale,

an unhappy dog’s shadow.


           [NOTE. Although poetry & illness were not the same for him, there was a constant interplay between them – a dialectic from which he emerged as one of the early poets moving the old language into new directions.  Writes his translator Hiroaki Sato about his initial volume Howling at the Moon: “A collection of poems written at a time when literary diction was being replaced by everyday language, it deliberately blended the two and the effect was unsettling enough to make the words themselves appear poetic.”   Hagiwara’s own view of himself was of “a half unconscious automatic machine” in the process of creation.  If his concern was with psychological states as a kind of obsessive self-exposure, the formal vehicle was one of “rhythm” as the “new” in poetry might now allow it.   Unlike Pound’s call for a return of poetry to music, however, Hagiwara’s poetics brought that whole relation into question. Thus he wrote of his own practice: “Through the free verse form the poet has been able to freely reveal the perfect rhythm of his ego for the first time.  When it broke every unreasonable restraint and escaped from the bondage of music, poetry for the first time was able to discover its legitimate route and construct the ‘music of words’ in the true sense.” Toward similar ends his work displays a mix of elevated & low language, along with a range of syntactic irregularities that force the mind out of its normal channels.” (J.R. with Pierre Joris in Poems for the Millennium)

                A full collection of Sato’s Hagiwara translations will be published shortly by New York Review Books.]