Valentines Day Excerpt: Haiku, Tanka, and Japanese Free Verse Poetry on Love
Happy Valentines Day everyone! Today is a day to celebrate love and to reflect upon the meaning that it, in its many nuances, luminously bestows upon us.
We are, by our very nature, social animals, and the relationships we form, particularly those of intense emotional intimacy, come to hold an ineffable existential weight, one that alters our lives profoundly. For many, Valentines Day provides a pleasant contrast to the hatred and violence rampant in society, drawing us away from the negative valences of human nature and reminding us of the capacity for love to overcome the collective angst and vexing commotion of the world.
In light of all this, and to commemorate Valentines Day, we’ve pulled this week’s excerpt from three of our poetry books: A Long Rainy Season, a landmark anthology of traditional haiku and tanka in which fifteen Japanese women poets reveal universal female themes; its companion piece, Other Side River, in which 36 modern Japanese women poets, writing in an "imported" Western free verse form, display their diverse viewpoints, rhythms, themes, and insights; and I Wait for the Moon, a collection of 100 haiku written by celebrated Japanese poet Momoko Kuroda.
Below you will find various poems from these three poetry collections, all of which display deep insights into the nature of love in its many incarnations – from falling in love to sliding, perhaps jarringly so, out of it; from erotic sentiments and violent love to honoring and cherishing an aging and tender relationship; from the slight, everyday gestures pregnant with heart to the sexual passions which awaken our most primal impulses toward connection. Enjoy, optimally with a loved one:
bright as a tulip in bloom–
I finger the
lace on my collar
until night, when you
turn over my petals.
Carry me off
as if scooping up
in one stroke,
If you love him
a yellow day lily
bending to the wind
for my man
in the darkroom
I’m grilling sanma
distinguishing the crickets’ chrip...our passing years together
by Saho Asada
If the gentle roundness of our arms
Around the napes of each other’s necks
Quietly adorns our two naked bodies,
Beating in the dark of night,
Like garlands of benediction
On a long journey–
We can start walking
To where the earth becomes round.
At the twenty-sixth hour
Something like invisible snow
Soundlessly falls and stays,
Making the earth brighter than any dawn.
Then we can remember clearly
Everything that shines
We can cross the river easily.
It is the nocturnal river
Cutting through the headlands
That have witnessed our footprints.
by Yufuko Shima
the light of a feast in the intermittent darkness
your back waits & then stands still
urged on by the sound of the snakeskin shamisen
my geta are growing impatient
led by the hand that steps on gravel
where the shadow of the Takakura Granary lowers its voice
we go under
the adan tree’s branches
on my back
toward the moon you kiss me on the lips
the swaying waves we gaze at
sitting by the sea
my dangling legs trembling
one geta disappears on the beach
your fingers running through the black hair
that hides my cheeks
fingers speaking in whispers
I will leave here tomorrow
days passing by the window
gathering lost composure
a child smiles
in the hopes of capturing
its mother’s heart
that was so long ago what has become of it now?
fingers halfway resting on the lips
looking up at the sea the moon recedes
this thing called fleeting love
comes back in pieces.