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  • Ryūka: Okinawan Lyric Poetry
  • Translated by Taira Buntarō (bio), Frank Stewart, and Katsunori Yamazato

Ryūka is a form of Okinawan lyric poetry sung to the accompaniment of the sanshin. When written, ryūka have thirty syllables, ar ranged as three phrases of eight syllables followed by one of six. The form and rhythm of ryūka are deeply embedded in Okinawan culture. For many of the following poems, the authors are unknown; some poems are attributed to certain authors based on a lyric’s style and sentiment.

No sign of you yet. Are you late or not coming? Still I wait throughout the night. Even the moon’s sad face abandons me. (yushiya chirū)

We lay together so sweetly. Your face shining and lovely. Near midnight I woke to see the moon Slipping away over the hill.

In the long days we work In separated garden plots. Meet me at night, please, No matter how briefly!

Hey, butterfly, heading east. Hold up a moment. On your Winding errands take this message From me to my beloved.

The newly formed buds of grain Are as plump as girls of twenty. So fresh and golden. I give to you The pick of spring’s first harvest. [End Page 71]

I’ve crossed off the days Until your return. x after x makes me tremble, Dreaming of your arms around me.

I count the pebbles on the beach. Each is a day since you’ve been gone Counting and waiting. Counting and waiting for your return.

Mount Unna blocks the way Between your village and mine. If I could only sweep it aside to make The distance to your village closer! (unna nabī)

The bridge of Hija hurts me. Someone heartless built it. And I must cross over and leave home to work in that shameful district. (yushiya chirū)

I am neither the newly ripened millet Nor the freshly plump rice grains Yet the greedy sparrows circle me And tear at my tender places.

Others must have their reasons But I am ashamed to cling Like a coward to my wretched Interminable life. (yushiya chirū)

If you love me, dear one, Come quickly to the flowering village, Ishado, in Nakagushiku, To ask for my hand. [End Page 72]

Taira Buntarō

Taira Buntarō was a pioneer in translating Okinawan poetry into English, and for many years was a professor of literature at the University of the Ryukyus. His book My Fifty Favorite Okinawan Poems was published in 1955. The book was later expanded to include seventy-seven poems and was reprinted in 1969 as My Favorite Okinawan Poems.



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pp. 71-72
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