Labor Pains

Because there just aren’t enough poems that deal with actually giving birth (as opposed to metaphorically giving birth, a habit to which many poets have been much inclined), I give you: Labor Pains, by the Japanese bluestocking poet, Yosano Akiko, who is an amazing person you should really get to know better. I especially enjoy the bit about the prattling young doctor, which reminds me so much of the hateful Nurse Ann of my own experience. And then section immediately following that, the suggests a difference between knowing a thing and experiencing a thing, and then how each experience is unique. Really, there is not one single part of this poem that I don’t love. What do you think, readers?


Labor Pains
by Yosano Akiko

I am sick today,
sick in my body,
eyes wide open, silent,
I lie on the bed of childbirth.

Why do I,
so used to the nearness of death,
to pain and blood and screaming,
now uncontrollably tremble with dread?

A nice young doctor tried to comfort me,
and talked about the joy of giving birth.
Since I know better than he about this matter,
what good purpose can his prattle serve?

Knowledge is not reality.
Experience belongs to the past.
Let those who lack immediacy be silent.
Let observers be content to observe.

I am all alone,
totally, utterly, entirely on my own,
gnawing my lips, holding my body rigid,
waiting on inexorable fate.

There is only one truth.
I shall give birth to a child,
truth driving outward from my inwardness.
Neither good nor bad; real, no sham about it.

With the first labor pains,
suddenly the sun goes pale.
The indifferent world goes strangely calm.
I am alone.
It is alone I am.

-trans. Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi


One thought on “Labor Pains

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