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This review is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.

A BRAVE ATTEMPT From the Country of Eight Islands, an anthology of Japanese poetry edited by Hirosaki Sato and Burton Watson, introduction by Thomas Rimer (Doubleday Anchor) $17.50, $9.95-pb

Auden once made a useful distinction between 'Ariel' poetry and 'Prospero' poetry; the former kind depends almost completely on the nature of the language it is written in; the latter kind, because of its greater, or more explicit, content, is less dependent in this respect, and consequently easier to translate: even in the most prosaic translation of The Divine Comedy one can discern the lineaments of a great poem. But how would one translate the work of Thomas Campion, for example, into another language? Even the most skilled translator would, I suspect, be wholly unable to transmit those subtle rhythms and sounds that are the principal value of Campion's verse, and the reason for its survival.

The impression I have after reading this ambitious anthology is that perhaps the most important part of the Japanese poetic tradition remains, and will remain, closed to those who have no Japanese, and even to those who have some Japanese but whose inwardness in the language is not sufficient. To put it bluntly, I do not think that haiku and tanka are translatable; which is not to say that the attempt should not be made, nor that messrs. Sato and Watson have not, between them, made a brave attempt.

But as I look back through this anthology, I find that I have marked, as transmitting some kind of content or individual view of things, the tanka only of Saigyo, Myos, Fujiwara no Teika, Yosano Akiko, Wakayama Bokusui and Saito ...


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