Kasa no Iratsume

About a year ago, I went to my local used bookstore to find an art book to give my mother. I didn’t find one, but I did find this treasure– a book of poetry written by female Japanese poets from the 7th Century into the modern era. I bought it thinking I would give it to a relative who specializes in Asian culture, but I liked it so much I kept it and gave him 1Q84 instead. One of my favorite poets in this anthology is Lady Kasa. Here are a couple of her poems for you to enjoy. I think the third poem is an alternate translation of the second, but I’m not sure. Like Dickinson’s work, these poems at first appear simple, but are powerful and yield more on reflection (though since Kasa no Iratsume is from the 8th Century, I suppose it would be better to say that Dickinson’s work is like hers. Not that Dickinson necessarily read Lady Kasa’s poems…. ANYWAY). The little bit we know of her life sure sounds like some great gossip. Enjoy!

Cherry blossoms in the evening in Sakura, Japan.
Cherry blossoms in the evening in Sakura, Japan.



The Gods of heaven are irrational.
So I may die and never meet you,
whom I love so much.



When evening comes
sorrow overwhelms my mind.
I see his phantom
that speaks the words
he used to say.



Evening comes and sorrow crowds my mind,
because your phantom always appears
speaking the old words in the old way.

trans. Kenneth Rexroth & Ikuko Atsumi


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