To Someone (Not to Play)

Not to play,
not to waste time,
you come to meet me.
— Painting no paintings, reading no
books, doing no work —
and two days, three days,
we laugh, frolic, play, and make love,
shrink time mercilessly,
exhaust several days in an instant.

Ah, but it’s
it’s not to play,
not to waste time.
For us, brimming over, there’s no
other life.
This is life.
This is power.
Maybe it seems too wasteful,
too excessive,
August’s wealth of nature:
grasses bloom and decay in the heart
of the mountains,
the voice of sunlight springs forth,
flocks of clouds move endlessly,
overabundant thunder,
rain and water,
green, red, blue, yellow,
forces that blow forth in the world,
how can we say these are wasted?
You dance for me.
I sing for you.

Moment by moment, we tread
life fully.
I, who one instant casts aside a book,
or another opens it,
am one and the same.
Don’t associate me with
vain diligence
or vain indolence.
When your loving heart bursts
you come to meet me,
abandon all, transcend all,
trample all,

Translated from the Japanese by John Peters. From New Orleans Review (28.1). Subscriptions: $18/yr. (4 issues) from Loyola University, Box 195, New Orleans, LA 70118.

Behind the Story

Kotaro Takamura (1883-1956) is one of the pioneers of modern Japanese poetry. The son of a sculptor, he too pursued art all his life, with poetry and criticism as sidelines. Yet he managed a literary revolution with his first book, Dotei (Journey) in 1913 — the first book of poetry in colloquial Japanese.

As important as Dotei was, Takamura’s most famous volume by far is Chieko-Sho (The Chieko Selection) of 1941, from which ‘To Someone (Not to Play)’ is taken. It’s a poetic chronicle of his very happy, very sad marriage to Chieko Naganuma (1886-1938), a politically committed feminist artist who lived with Takamura on terms of sexual equality rare even in the free-spirited Japanese avant garde of the post-World War I era. Her descent into schizophrenia and her institutionalization in 1935 ended a relationship that Takamura chronicles with wit, horror, tenderness, sexual frankness, and a near-religious devotion to her memory. — Jon Spayde

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