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  • The Moon, and: Sheep Song
  • Chuya Nakahara (bio)
    Translated by Christian Nagle (bio)

The Moon

More solitary than ever tonight, the moonwonders at her doubting foster father.Time hauls a silver tide away to the desert.An old man’s earlobes glow like fireflies.

Ah, forgotten embankments of canals,tanks, the earth resounding in my chest…The moon pulls out a rusty silver caseand languidly smokes a cigarette.

Heels over head, seven celestial nymphskeep dancing round aboutbut give no comfort

to the moon’s heart, weltering in disgrace.O far-flung stars!The moon awaits her executioner. [End Page 76]

Sheep Song

for Yoshihiro Yasuhara

I. Pray

May I look up when I die!May not this small chin become smaller still!Yes, I am blamed for what I havenot felt, an invocation to death, I believe.

Ah, if only I look up!Then, at least, I might be as one who feels everything.


O expectations, stale and dismal airs,leave this body of mine!I want nothing anymore but simplicity,quiet, murmurs and order.

O acquaintances, grantors of dark disgrace,do not wake me again!I will endure my solitude,arms seeming already useless.

O eyes that open doubtfully,open eyes that stay motionless for a while,ah, heart, that believes in others more than itself,

O expectations, stale and dismal airs,leave, leave this body of mine!I enjoy nothing anymore but my wretched dreams. [End Page 77]


My youth was nothing but a lowering storm occasionally lanced by sudden sun.


there was a nine-year-old childthe child was a girland as if the world’s atmosphere were hersas if she could lean on itshe tilted her headwhen she spoke with me

I warmed myself at a kotatsushe sat on the tatamian exceptionally mild winter afternoonmy room aglow with sunlightwhen she tilted her headher earlobes seemed translucent

trusting me   fully at peacethe girl’s heart was of an orange colorits warmth neither overflowednor shrank like a deerI forgot about everything thenand gently contemplated time [End Page 78]


Even so, my heart is lonely.Every night, alone in a boarding room,thinking thoughtlessly about thought, a monotonousand wretched heart’s duet…

I hear the sound of a steam whistleand think of travel, my childhood—no, no, I don’t think of childhood or travel,but see what looks like travel, what looks like childhood…

My heart, which thinks thoughtlessly about thought,is closed, like a casket fuzzy with mold.White lips, dry cheeks,fade into the cold stillness…

The more I get used to it, the more I endure.This painful solitude. Withoutmy realizing it they fall, sudden and strange,tears which are no longer tears of love… [End Page 79]

Chuya Nakahara

Chuya Nakahara was a Japanese early modernist of conflicting impulses: apolitical but iconoclastic; a progressive formalist; occasional swain of his own urban pastorals; an agnostic singer of prelapsarian hymns. He was dismissive of institutions, and yet was a successful auto-didact, his mastery of waka (formal, 7/5-syllabic verse) combining with a competency in French to provide for his hybrid evolution. He wrote in the wake of his Meiji-era predecessors, while straining towards those Symbolists and Surrealists he admired and translated. His English, however, was inadequate to an academic understanding of English-language poetry.

One should not, therefore, consider him in the context of Western poetry, although he is admired today as one of the most scrupulous pre-war Japanese writers of poems informed by European models. Fundamental differences between Japanese and French mean that while incorporating some Western elements of form, Chuya had to devise Japanese versions of others. In his sonnets, for example (“The Moon” below being one), since Japanese is non-accentual, he refigures iambic meter as waka-form syllablic lines.

Chuya died of tuberculosis, and his biography leads one to think of certain Western poets whose early deaths also spawned cult followings: Keats; Rimbaud; Plath. He published only one volume of poetry in his lifetime—Goat Songs, which sold about 50 copies...


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