I’ve been devouring Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. Her chapter on translation is insightful and the poems she’s selected as examples are moving, especially this one:
my black hair tangled,
I long for the one
who touched it first.
– Izumi Shikibu, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani
Hirshfield writes, “Japanese critics have long pointed out that Shikibu’s tangled black hair is one of very few references to the details of physical life in all Japanese poetry.” Reading Shikibu’s poem made me think of Jack Gilbert’s poem “Married,” one of many poems in The Great Fires that made me realize I couldn’t live without poetry:
I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which where
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.
Just writing these two poems next to each other in my journal was so powerful–they’re in conversation with each other. Though hundreds of years apart, these poems, when paired together, illustrate what Jane Hirshfield writes of in a later chapter: “the interpenetration of the natural and human realms.”
Have you witnessed a conversation like this before?