Romance of Fires and Waters

14 Major Poems of 新川 和江 SHINKAWA Kazue





Trans. & Interpret.

高市 順一郎 TAKACHI Jun’ichiro




The following article “Romance of Fires and Waters-14 Major Poems of 新川和江 SHINKAWA Kazue” is from 『不滅の金字塔-16日本代表詩人』IMMORTAL MONUMENTS16 Modern Japanese Poets by J.TAKACHI (English edition, Tokyo: Shichô-Sha, 2011).

高市順一郎 TAKACHI Jun’ichiro is D.Litt. Prof. Emeritus of English, Oberlin University, Tokyo.

Born in Tokushima,1939. Member of the Japan P.E.N. Club, Modern Poets’ Association and Japan Writers Union.

Main publications are The Place of Love (Poems in Japanese/English bilingual edition, Shichô-Sha, 1998), The Cosmic Mirror (Poems, 2006), and The Bell in the Tree (10th Book of Poems, Shichô-Sha, 2009). Among criticisms are Sylvia Plath: Myths of Love and Fame (Shichô-Sha, 2007), and Figuration and Gnosis in Poetry-Shakespeare, Keats, Poe, Whitman, Wilde, Hopkins and Eliot (Shichô-Sha, 2008). Forthcoming: The Rose Window of Eliot (Poetry,2018) and Ezra Pound-New Apocalypse of Poetry, Paradise Scape of Light (Criticism,2019)





  Shinkawa Kazue 新川 和江, born in Yuuki county, Ibaraki in 1929, is one of the most eminent poets of Japan today. As one of the chief members of the Chikyû Group , she contributed poems to Chikyû (The Globe) and La Mer. For the latter she worked as co-editor with YOSHIWARA Sachiko for a dozen years. She has published more than 25 books of poems among which are several volumes for young readers. In 2000, all of her works were published as The Complete Poems of SHINKAWA Kazue from Kashin-sha, Tokyo. The newest volume after it is The Memorizing Water, 2007.

  SHINKAWA’s poetic career began fairly early ─ as early as she was fifteen years old, in girls’ high school. Then she made acquaintance with SAIJÔ Yaso 西條 八十, who had moved to a neighbouring town from Tokyo to escape the air raids during World War II. He was one of the leading poets of Japan at that time. She made it a rule to visit him once a week with a notebook full of poems.

  Although she once tried to write novels, SHINKAWA seems to have been born a poet. Sometimes her voice is of sweet songs of motherly tenderness, and sometimes powerful enunciations, though decent and elegant, like that of an orator. Her writings seem fringed by the spells of personal confession, but doubtless it is essential ardour as the representative figure of this sophisticated troublous age.

  She is the recipient of numerous prizes, some of the most recent including MARUYAMA Yutaka Memorial Prize of Poetry for 1994, Poetry House Prize for 1998, Toson Memorial Rekitei Prize, 1999, and Gendai-Shi Hana-Tsubaki Prize for 2007.


Figuration, Not the Metaphor

  Except a very few ardent feminine Tanka-poets, SAKANO-UE-no-Ooiratume and IZUMI Shikibu in Manyô-Shû and Kokin-Waka-Shû, almost all classical Tanka poetesses and heroines since The Tale of Prince Genji, had to handle their poetic enunciations of love and fate under thick restraints of expression. Even for YOSANO Akiko 与謝野 晶子, who was the first pre-modem renovator of women’s media of expression, it was because she turned the short form of Tanka song of seventeen syllables to the advantage as prompt weapon that she could liberate the feminine love and eros, like by her Entangled Hair 『みだれ髪』in early Meiji Era, 1906, with dauntless, sensuous images and dictions.

  SHINKAWA’s case is that of beautiful formalism of this restraint, but also its reversal ― an anti-abstinence of love, a forbidden and permissible vessel of eros. That is, in her root of eros, there is some hindrance to forbid her grasping love, which prompts her to aspire for a man of dream, “Dream-Person,” a persona of eros-presenter.

  She calls its mechanism “method of non-metaphor,” that is direct figuration of real feeling, vivid verity.

  In the title poem of her third volume of poetry, Not a Metaphor『比喩でなく』, 1968, she sings :

Ah, not a metaphor

I seeked for a love

Love itself . . .


I encountered some things like love.

But I could not grasp any thing.


That man filled my mouth with lips

and embraced me.

. . . Everything appeared like love, all things.

  The fundamental theme of SHINKAWA is that she strives to spell out work of art, so as to take back and refulfill her deprived love, to compensate it. Obviously this poem is an inventive work of “love’s body,” to refill the “mouth” of lack, with “not the metaphor” but the real fresh “lips,” which may change“something like love” into “everything ― all things of love.” We may assert this assumptive thesis can be regarded as an illustration of SHINKAWA’s formulas for all her poetic creation.

  The first poem, “In the Dream”「夢のなかで」is a poem of dream-story where “I” = “ a woman” , lost astray in a dream, encounters “a man” to “point out” the direction to go, but “I” or he do not know or share any mutual knowledge or dream of love, only wandering to search for “possible love” in the “darkness.”



In the Dream


In a dream

I met a stranger, who asked me the way.

He went in the direction I pointed out

treading the undergrowths in a grove.


But the way was wrong,

for after walking around for a while

I went down another path

where I discovered a real morning.


The person may still be wondering

in my dream.

And beyond the grove an endless night

continues, with no dawn.


Shall I wait here for a while, squatting

on the edge of the path wet with dew?

Wait for the man who may return,

to carry me wildly away into the inner

place of dream?


I will shut him up in a prison to torture

where there is no door to any morning ──

That man, who has walked through

my darkness I myself have not entered.


  In Japan, we have got a traditional saying, “the dark path of love”「恋の闇路」, which is paradox after “the dream path of love”「夢の通い路」, the frequent usage by Waka-poet of the Heian Era, 9th through 11th century for composing “Songs of Love”. In the classical “word= spirit belief” 「言霊信仰」, the dream was believed as a pathway for lovers to realize a soul-to-soul rendezvous. But down to pre-modem age, “the dream path of love” was transformed into “the way to darkness" where lovers could not see the light of hope, to discern each other's true hearts or mind.

  In “In the Dream,” SHINKAWA who has set up her “lover”as “Dream-Path” assumes that “love” is latent “darkness in the heart" of infinite possibility, and that only when “man”= “Dream-Person” can find out the “heart” from “Me” in the “dream”, then a “love” of “Me” will begin, and can see the “light”=“morning.” The plot of this poem consists in the process of the “way,” first of “Me” and the “Man,” who search separately, and later mutually in the “dream” for each other, both herself and “He,” her mirror-image.

  Here is the beginning of “That Person”「そのひと」 = “Dream-Person”「夢のひと」, who stand for one of heart-cores of SHINKAWA’s poetic cause, which will reiterate to appear itself as the poem origin hereafter.


  In actual dimension, SHINKAWA’s poems are all designed as well-wrought urn, as a fine figurative handcraft. One of the finest well-wrought urns of hers is “The Jar”「壺」, made of “fire” image, included in the seventh book, Inside and Outside of Dreams 『夢のうちそと』, 1978.



    The Jar


White porcelain jar ──

By what fire were you embraced in charm

before you emerged in this presence ?

A cool beauty

as if transported from a peak of snow mountain.


Do you sometimes toss yourself

to remember that dazzling time

in a secret room,

where you were more fiery than fire

taken in arms of flame?


No, you don’t, you don’t.

Otherwise, you must appear distorted in flame

almost unable to keep standing.

Or, you must be cracked somewhere

with some sad water oozing.

── Just as I am now.

  This is an allegorical figuration that the cold beauty of woman’s body is a shaped form of her heart, forged by the fire of passion. The poet has given the re-definition that “the jar” is a “remembrance” of the “dazzling fire” of flame, stronger than the fire of love, embraced by “that man,” so as to make the art of fire a steeled-up living figuration. The poet seems to assert as if the “beauty” of serene “cold” shape is nothing but the very reflection of such “flame” as “more fiery than fire.”

  That “The Jar” is a figuration and a metaphoric allegory of “I”= “Love” is apparent even only by the evidence of the last additional coda, a simile ─ “Just as I am now.” Of course, this means SHINKAWA is a fine and fair walking poem of simile, above any metaphysical art of metaphor.


Odes to the Earth and the Fire

  In the Preface of SHINKAWA’s first poetry volume, The Sleeping Chair『ねむり椅子』, 1953, SAIJÔ Yaso 西條 八十 states a predictional praise for her good quality and future prospect. “In her personality we can sensibly witness something like a large river such as ingenuous and advancing varied thoughts from experiences of life . . . I am firmly convinced that in her poetry some tonal Leids resound like the prelude to what will grow slowly and tenaciously, prosper and tower loftily in the sky.” SAIJÔ has unmistakably affirmed that SHINKAWA’s poetry are odes of Agriculturism of /to the water-river and the aerial atmosphere, free and grand. 

  So it was a natural course that she began, after Not a Metaphor , 1968, to set about Odes to the Earth 『土へのオード13』1973,『火へのオード18』Odes to the Fire , 1977, and Odes to the Water 『水へのオード16』, 1980. To pick up a representative criticism on her Ode series, the estimation of ANZAI Hitoshi 安西 均 is a typical one to approve her well-accomplished issues. According to ANZAI, SHINKAWA’s work is an “earth-hymn” and “life-song” such as intoned by a Great Mother, with a warm “poetic embrace” and a magnanimous “sea-temperament”.

  It is due to SHINKAWA’s priority order, preferring “the substance of existence” to “metaphor” that her first book of Ode series on the Four Elements was Odes to the Earth 『土へのオード13』, 1974.


  As we notice, SHINKAWA’s predilection to the Earth is reflected most objectively in the last number 13. Therein, she identifies herself with “the Earth” repeating declaratory names. “I am clay ... /I am soil ...,” as if she is daughter, or incarnation of Fertility Goddess, or Mother Goddess.


Ode to the Earth



A “thing” can not transcend any “thing”

I once wrote.

Now I think there is a point

which can be transcended:

where it can transcend all “things” at once.


It may be something like knothole :

a hole even rats behind the roof do not take notice

something like a water puddle even a small kid can

skip to jump over, without dirtying socks ──

There is such a point as that

and one day we come, on a sudden, to stand

  in front of it.


It’s not necessary to call any physicists, bishops or dictors

we need only imitate innocently

the places of those Greek poets who passed through

the mirror face, without stirring any ripples.

If you feel too tired to move yourself

you may stay in standstill.

If you want to stay lying, you may remain in bed

  as you like

like a man in pajamas waiting for morning coffee.


I shall, in my own way, pass through the point

as too easily as “Time” looks breathtaken.

I shall transcend all “things” that surround me,

and supersede such books of my own poetry

as Diary of the Akebi Ivy and those volumes given

  hungrish titles

overcoming rhetorics, vocabularies, exclamations

  ”Ah!” or “Oh!”


I shall transform myself into a crasp of clay

more swiftly and lightly than a night is cleaved away,

needless to rename myself anymore.


As I am anonymous now

I shall be able to exist ubiquitously

I shall be able to raise a merry voice like an elation

  of heat haze.

I am clay, enduring a swooning vertigo on

  the rolling wheel.

I am clay, sticked on a young colt’s hoofs,

  with no iron shoes-on.

I am clay, of the ground seat of a monk in

  ascetic practice.

I am clay, storing the wetness of a year for

  oranges on branches.

I am clay to rise as whirlwind, rolling up

  to you.

I am clay, to be gulped into the stomachs of

  refugees for deceiving hunger.

I am clay, rubbed into finely into the cleft of

  an old urn as wound ointment.

I am soil that lies down with beasts for hibernation

  till spring comes.

I am soil that is hurriedly stuffed in sacks

  to meet the alarm of flood.

I am soil that provides the flakes of Mongorian

  roses with pinky hue.

I am soil that is inscribed “Freedom” by the underground

  revolutionist blood-inspiring finger.

I am soil that flattens up beats, potatoes, turnips

  and leeks.

I am clay and soil.

  As “Ode” is a style of poem where the poet is to call onto the divine spirit or something higher and supernatural, and thereby to soar up, transcending the real world, and to identify with the divine or ideal being, so what SHINKAWA sings in this ode should be comprehended rightly in that purport.

  As a matter of fact, however, SHINKAWA has practiced no spiritual “calling” for “transcending” here, but only the literal declarations, forming verbal addresses. Even though this number 13 is most ode-like philosophical massive work in the whole Ode series, this can not be regarded a genuine ode which can “transform” existence, or “transcend thing,” into any more “superseding” spirit, but rather a Whitmanesque self-declamatory, self-myth-making work of lingual speech.

  If not by gnostic power of evocation, it is not possible for the Earth, the heaviest element, to overcome the “point” by a “point,” or to pass the “mirror” of reality by means of a “mirror,” for regeneration. SHINKAWA comes to recognize this impasse in the midway of inference-that is why she turns to the repetition of cataloguing, the intoning appeal to the “Earth”, by calling its soul’s names “clay!” and “soil.”


  For SHINKAWA, the “Water” should be naturally an important element as feminine poet, but that the “Fire” is more important for her was already shown by the “figuration of fire” of “The Jar” which we cited in the beginning.

  Woman is fundamentally regarded better goddess of Eros than anything else, and SHINKAWA is looked on as a grown-up goddess of love and beauty. In “Ode to the Fire” 2「火へのオード 2」, she sings of the process that she has transformed in the elemental elevation, from the fairy-like state as the daughter of the Water to the passion of the Fire, a goddess of love.


Ode to the Fire



When the water called me

my body fell off the log-bridge,

and in a breath I was in arms of the river.

I flew. And the water sang

── Your red Kimono is drenched and open,

  beautiful like water-flowers.

  Now, you will offer your flower

  right away to the Water-god.


But just then

someone called me in stronger voice than the Water.

Opening eyes slightly, I saw on the river bank

a fire was red in flame:

── It’s not quite good to sacrifice this healthy girl

  to the Water.

  Just throw only your drenched Kimono to him.

  Now, get a-fire! Burn like me!

  I am fascinated by your naked beauty.



I too was fascinated, and watched the Fire.

My body getting aglow, a vital life began to burn

my childhood, tucked on the shoulders, flew down

the river of mother country, together with “Red Kimono.”

And I began to walk

leaving on pebbles a blooming spot of red flower,

the first sign of womanhood.


Even now, afar and near

the Water seduces me, with his sweet tempting songs.

And every time I lavishly undress Kimono to toss

  for the Water,

revealing myself all naked.

I set a fire and from it

I start again, whatever times, just as if

  for the first time.

  This is a metaphoric allegory of seduction story, both of Water-god and Fire-god. As a mythological allusion, this is also an anti-love story, such as Apollo’s seduction to Daphne, who abhors the Sun-god, and cries for help of her father, the river-god.

  As an episode, this poem relates how closely to the god of “Water” the element of “Life” rules the far much stronger god of passion, the “Fire”. For in the psychic dimension, beside with the metamorphosis or regeneration of the life of “Water,” such miracle as rebirth or sublimation is really and easily possible to take places. That the tempting calling of the “Fire” to the young “I” to throw away “Kimono” to the “Water” signifies that the symbolic beauty of the girl’s appearance is almost not so important as menstruation, which indicates there is the poet’s latent consciousness that what “I”, the girl, desires primarily is the “Fire” of love, a real future lover.

  And the final cries of the girl, “I set a fire/ . . . I start again ― as if for the first time” hint that to desire and yearn for “Love,” as many lovers of Eros and Passion as possible ― it is not only the aspiration of poetic persona, but also the manifestation of SHINKAWAs own poetic origin and its cause.


  One of SHINKAWA’s persevering predilections is for the figures of the trees and flowers. Next poem, “Ode to the Fire”「火へのオード」11 is about “Hinoki”「檜」, Fire-tree. When pine and cedar are Japanese world-tree, “Hinoki”, juniper-trees, should be thought as holy tree.


Ode to the Earth



When I went to the mountain to find “Hinoki”, Fire-tree,

I encountered, on the way, an old woodcutter.

  “In former days, fire-trees stood in this mountain

  like ablaze fires ──

  Young men and women in love would come here

  to engrave their names on fat trunks of the Fire-trees.”


How was it with the features of Fire-trees? I asked.

The woodcutter puffed cigar-ashes, and answered:

  “Even while the wind on the pass was asleep

  their ten thousand leaves popped to burn.

  And fervent whirlwinds blowing up their boughs.

  And from every branch, birds in coupling

  come dropping down incessantly.”


How about boys? And girls? I pestered forward.

They changed into fire-trees, the woodcutter replied.

  “After graving each other’s name deeply on the tree

  they embraced it,

  and becoming one tall tree, got on flame, flaming ...

  I wonder if there are any such beautiful fires


  Even sun and moon winked to hide their lights.”


Were they all hewn down? I eyed the crosscut saw.

They disappeared. The woodcutter tapped ashes off.

  “When men and women in love stopped to dash up,

  regardless of day or night

  the Fires quenched off, and the trees got pale

  with all boughs and branches dropping.”


The Fire-trees, Fire-trees! Now Hinoki-juniper, Hinoki


Passing by a pale tree, the woodcutter waved his hand.

I descended the mountain desolately.

ls that only a legend for us now?

The Fire-tree in flames

and even ablazing love, too?

  The poet must have caught a conceit of this legend-tale when she hit the wonderous idea that “Hinoki-tree” 「檜」with which Japanese Shintuist shrines have been built can signify, by etymological sounds, the “Fire-tree”「火の樹」, just like the bush on fire to Moses. This conceit could easily denote, in SHINKAWA’s poetic figurative imagination, the world-tree of love, boy and girl embracing the apple tree of Erotic knowledge, like the Platonic perfect One-ball of love’s body; or Chinese mystic unification of Man 伏義 and Woman 女媧 in coupling: 連理の樹「在天願作比翼鳥、在地願為連理枝」“Wish to make, in heaven, phoenix with the pair of wings; Desire to do, on earth, a pole with combined branches.”(白居易『長恨歌』 )

  This poem also can be interpreted a parable-story, with an association of warnings that when young men and girls lose their “fire” of genuine love passion, the trees of life and knowledge in the Garden will perish and fall down; and the mountains of gods will disappear, like the holy wood of Lebanon cedars, hewn down by anti-cultural sin of human ignorance.

  SHINKAWA seems to enfold, befitting as Goddess of Life, besides Water and Earth, the figure of Tree as more important than those of Fire and Wind.


Spirituality and Figuration of Flowers

  SHINKAWA has gained a pair of supreme allegorical figures of flowers, “This Year’s Cherries...” and “The Saffron,” in New Select Poems of SHINKAWA Kazue, 1983.

  The flowers are ever a symbol of beautiful face, the spiritual and sacral. “Cherries” and “Saffron” are in the feature of utmost brilliance and sublimation, as they are solely spiritual face, without any material green sprouts or leaves.


  “This Year’s Cherries ...”「ことしの花の ··· 」, the exquisite masterpiece in the flower motif, is the principal work of SHINKAWA’s another subjective concept, the tryst with Secret Lover under the tree.

  When this poem was published in a magazine, in 1982, colleagues of poetry coterie, The Globe『地球』, shared a uniformly sensation, a smiling scandal, ”Why, who is this happy man of this year of Lady SHINKAWA?” Of course, as something exaggerated ridicule to celebrate the new becoming, fine invention of love affair.


This Year’s Cherries ...


Standing under this year’s flowers

I think of the shadows of last year’s cherries;

and of the year before that

and the pink flakes which fell on the shoulders

of the man and woman of a distant spring

of an age no one knows.


Since that time

what has become of them?

The pair

who might be the grand-father of my father’s father

who might be the grand-mother of my mother’s mother.


How many times have these cherries come in

bloom and fallen?

How many times have lovers met here and parted?

I wonder, on this calm brilliant day

standing together with the man of this year

under the cool shadows of shining flowers.

  What the poet sings in this poem is the contradictory problem that “this year’s cherries” and the lovers, “the pair” coming to see the flowers, are different, not only year to year, but also from generation to generation; and that between flowers above and shadows below, there is a murky uncanny disparity. Flowers are “shining” now, but they draw “shadows” of time’s accumulation which are “cool.” We call that “coolness” at night in April “Hana-bié” 「花冷え」, chill under white flowers, which alludes some touch of cold fear lurking behind even at the moment lovers looking up and admiring the flourishing flowers, of love and beauty.

  In another level, the poet hints here an unsatisfactory rendezvous which her “Dream-Person”, for whose compensation she must have re-tried back year after year. The negative code, “cool shadows,” also includes one more serious implication, the doom that the beautiful figure, “cherry flowers”, love’s heavenly light, must carry darkness of death in the back, much stronger than sorrow because of evanescence.

  ONO-no-Komachi, 小野小町, the Madonna figure of love and beauty, in the Heian Era, sang the famous Waka :「花の色は移りにけりないたずらにわが身世にふるながめせし間に」”The colour of flowers /has faded in vain/ while I was watching ― My body/ the world withering away.” It is noticeable that while Komachi sits in passive, inactive posture, only watching her “flowers” flowing away with time in vain, SHINKAWA appears to re-enact a yearly rite of “flower-watching”, an atavistic spirit-evoker of love theme, as if in a Noh-play, where she calls up her “Dream-Person”, desiring to realize the unfulfilled daydream of love in the flower-storm.

  On the contrary, in “The Saffron”「サフラン」, of the same New Selection, SHINKAWA represents the feeble-looking, but psychically very keen flower, “Saffron”, which is tender and weak in appearance, but has a mystic strength of “soul”, able to face vis-à-vis with the “light” of the Sun-god.


The Saffron


The saffron opens flowers

as many lonely persons

as reduced of loneliness.


It does not know high boughs

like flowers blooming on trees.

Nor it has handy branches

where birds come to alight.

Even if it wants to wear ribbons

it does not grow proper stems.


But as the saffron flowers very low

to the ground, it can stare

without blinking

at the person residing on high.

So he pleases to pour sweet glances

of light on every face of saffron.


You, lots of loneliness!

Become saffrons, and bloom and flower!

Bloom as flowers, and be cured!

  In the former poem, “This Year’s Cherries ...” is a work of myth-making by an oratory charmer, this poem “The Saffron” is a mystery-initiation, endowed by the Mother-goddess.

  This is a tender instruction of motherly mercy to “lonely persons,” how to be “cured” in heart and soul. As plot, between the first 2 lines of puzzle-making and the last 2 lines of decipherment, the question and the answer are both prepared prerequisitely, as calls to “lonely” soul and counsels of “blooming” for “cure”. In Japanese Shintuist tradition, the supreme sovereignty is the Sun-goddess of Amaterasu, who can rule and cure everyone and everything. But as SHINKAWA adopts here the figuration of “Saffron”, a Greek mythological flower, sister to Hyacinth, she must have presumed that the highest Lord of Light is the deity that can give grace and mercy in place of herself.

  All told, the primal concept has been already pre-determined in the three supreme lines of the first stanza: “The Saffron opens flowers/ as many lonely persons/as reduced of loneliness”. That is, the “saffron’s face” is incarnation of “soul of the lonely person” into a spirit. The 2nd and 3rd stanzas are processive steps from “low” to get to the “the person residing on high,” the Sun-god, who pleases to pour “sweet glances of light.”

  The last stanza to exhort, as grace and blessing, “You, loneliness, be cured!” is to correspond, as ending coda, with the beginning concept-key of the first stanza. That is, when “The Saffron”, the lonely blue person, opens her “flower” face, she, stripping off the loneliness, can emerge as “spirit”, like a butterfly of light.

Story-Making and Self-Myth-Making


  Poetry of SHINKAWA should be regarded either as evocation of odes for alter ego, or as self-myth-making, which is story-making of self-compensation. Whichever it may be, she has set up her styling, not a narrative, but a story, a parable of recovery metamorphosis.

  One of SHINKAWA’s mentors, SÔ Sakon 宗 左近, once gave an announcement of his appraisal for her, to the tenor that her poems are songs of “light as grace”, or “fantasy” by a festive goddess who sucks “milk of the nature’s breasts”. The import consists in good appreciation, not only of her virtues as Great Mother,”tenderness”, a rich sea of embrace, fertility and compassion, but also the conceptual capacity of “myth-making” of herself, a meta-figuration of self and dreams as psychic drama.


  We see, in “The Earth Is Still ...” 「大地はまだ ··· 」, one of SHINKAWA’s most placid liturgical monologues and self-responses, on virtues and duties of “we”, the mother goddess.



The Earth Is Still...


The earth is still and ever

producing rolls of red apples and golden oranges

so many out of pocket, isn’t it?

It’s marvellous,

on it we live now.

Learning from the earth

we should give birth to the new lives.

Blooming flowers, we must breed and grow seeds

in good health.


The sky is still and ever

giving the birds freedom to flutter wings

to send every window sunlight.

Under it we live, don’t we?

Learning from the sky

we must have a broad mind.

At dark night, we must take care

how to light up this world

by scattering the moon and stars thereon.


The sea is still and ever

enfolding lots of swimming, shells sleeping

and mixes immeasurable sorts of tears

making up valuable salts.

Is it not so?

Surrounded by the sea, we live now.

Like the sea, we should be always rich and full.

“Mother”─ for those who call us so

we must continue ever singing lullabys.

  The main key is “Mother”─”We should be always rich and full.” For its illustration, SHINKAWA numbers up the figurations of “The Earth”, “The Sky”, and “The Sea” with each their derivatives.

  We can recognize here that the poet’s corollary thought, in parallel refrains, for poetic construction is always by the metaphorical induction from the Earth, the Fire and the Sky. Concerning the “tenderness” and “fertility” of Mother-Goddess, the Fire which is of Love and Passion, assures the persona of “We” with life-power, to “light up this world,” and to breed and grow “the new lives”, with tender “lullabys.”


  “Letters from Him”「あのひとからの手紙を」, from the same Same Age as the Spring『春とおないどし』, 1991, is a girlish self-play of conceit that too many, too passionate love letters from “Him” may threaten, even if concealed, to get aflame, revealing the secrets hidden in the breast of the poet, the Madonna of Love. In that heated assumption, she wishes she would rather trust the precious keepsakes to the god of Fire to consume.



Letters from Him


O, fire!

I will trust you all these letters from him.

I have no place to keep these safe.

If stowed in a letter box

they may threaten to smell out . . .

Even if hidden in the bottom of a drawer

some of them may give voice out . . .


But O ! letter sheets turning up, begin to get aflame !

Fire ! Is it you are heartfully reading these words

  of mine?

But your reading, how quick!

It’s like you are a hungry wild cat fasting several


Please read slowly, more slowly

as these are already a history of our love, three

  thousand days.


Ah, tears boiling like hot water

my heated eyes seem almost to bum up.

But I don’t care, for I don’t need eyes anymore

because new letters cannot be expected from him

and I shall not see his face,

or praise his necktie’s patterns any longer.


But fire!

you only, at least, remember !

Please keep my letters, line by line, in your heart

and let me listen to you reciting

when I distort my face, tormented by loneliness !

O, fire!

You, the only witness to my true love for him !

  Apparently this appealing is a variation of the concept of “Dream-Person,”

as a conceit of story-making.

  When SHINKAWA published this poem, she was 62 years old. Sixty-two years old, whether as old as the Spring, or so juvenile as the Flora goddess, that is senior age enough, as well grown- and ripened-up as the hey-day of love is gone, and the Fire of Passion subsided. But with so much passion and anxiety for the coming-up and going-out of His love, the poet appears so capricious as almost beside herself, “trusting all the letters of Him to you, Fire,” “Read, Fire, the history [our love] of three thousands days,” “I don’t need eyes any more/ because I shall not see his face any more,” but “Fire, keep my letters, line by line/ the only witness to my true love for him.”

  This too much heated, pathetic wild fancy must be a sort of self-fictional dramatization of the poet herself, who against the self-made anxiety of losing the spring Eden, struggles to recover the past god of love, and ventures to overtide her predecessor, NAGASE Kiyoko 永瀬 清子, her juvenile solo-play declaring a self-conceited feministic assertion,「私は春に向かってぶっ倒れた!」“I outburst, falling forward to the Spring!” And it is recognizable, too, that SHINKAWA was, in this respect, paradoxically imitating the celebrated French novelist, Margritte Dulas, who boasted “Love, yes, of course ! As long as till becoming ashes ! “


  The father-figure of “That Person” of SHINKAWA appears as real persona, in the next poem, “The Sun Is Sinking in the Same Wood ...”「同じ森に日は沈み ··· 」, To the Sun This Morning 『けさの陽に』, 1997, as if he were a real lover, “Sun” or “Tree”, of her poetic origin.


The Sun Is Sinking in the Same Wood...


When I thought of him

my eyelashes would get wet like water grass.

As there was no river or lake nearby

the origin of water must unconcealably lie inside me.

But I did not tell him a word of it.

The sun continued to sink in the same wood for years.

And I drew the same curtain on the same window

  to meet the night.


“I wonder

how all my life has passed away in a single night,”

a poet, KUROTA Saburo, wrote once.

But my whole life seemed to be nothing

but only staying here like dregs in Ai dye jag,

sedimented with the darkness of a thousand nights,

which I could not bury away with myself alone.

Winds and stars only went passing

above the roof.


We met on occasions, to walk in the wood.

Beeches and Nara oaks hastened, desiring light,

to grow to heaven, and for that caused the darks below trees

so much deeper.

But I did not tell him a word about it.

He talked me of the beautiful green of high branches

glittering like canopy with sunshine.

And I only took my steps silently, thinking about

the painful sorrow of the trees enfolding darkness.

And I only took my steps silently, thinking about

The painful sorrow of the trees enfolding darkness.

  The recurrent refrains,“The sun sinking in the same wood” and “But I did not tell him a word of it”, suggest there are very much heart-secrets and too many true words with“wood” and “it.”


  As we know, KUROTA Saburo 黒田 三郎 is one of the most important names as her prototype, Father-figure of her poetry, as he was the founder of Japan Modern Poets’ Association, 1960, together with MURANO Shiro. But SHINKAWA herself disclosed to me once he was not her type. And “We met on occasions to go to the “wood”, the place of growable love, could be a mentioning to one of trysts with ISOMURA hideki 磯村 英樹, a handsome movie star-like poet, a silent man though he was. What KUROTA says by “all my life has passed away/in a single night” does really allude a “wonder” how a single night of love-dream realized could have changed his, and ever of her whole world into a miracle of joy. But such a confession was only a possible supposition that might save “me” off from the existence of nothing in “staying here.”

  To say the fact, it was SHINKAWA herself who could not transform herself, to jump into the real dream of love with KUROTA or upright ISOMURA, or even ideally with SAIJO Yaso, because she had been married since young at the age of 18, before she encountered any attractive poet or real Dream-Person. The repetitive lines, “But I did not tell him a word of it”, and “we met on occasions, to walk in the wood”, are all regrettable reflections on unfruitful mixed-up adventures to break away from tragic labyrinth of love.

  This poem should be called, and actually is, the most sorrowful, darkest pathos-drama, projecting SHINKAWA’s pityful fate of the “tree of sorrow enfolding darkness,” that she could not out-Hadez Hadez with the shadow-play of love’s confinement, an anti-self-romanticizing reversion of the green and rosy dream of Eden where two Trees of Life would embrace each other, but could not, melting into One.

Autumnal Romance - Cathartic Recognition


  If poetry stands upon metaphoric figuration and self-myth-making, we may see the whole poetry of SHINKAWA has been completed as one and the same from the beginning through to the end. For figuration is the being-in-itself, consisting in a silent circle of self-questioning and self-answer, while self-mythmaking can constitute an autonomous, self-enclosing conclusion, if not gaining metamorphosis or development.

  SHINKAWA’s poetical method has been in the extention line, of putting into practice the ultimate proposition of Paul Célan- which she learned from SAGA Nobuyuki 嵯峨 信之, the editor of Shigaku「詩学」- “In the river streaming in the extreme north of far future/I angle a fish,” or the particular principle of Jules Supervielle, “Write as God whispers stammering.”  It is after these two that SHINKAWA can manifest her own remarks, “I exert to explore, and to establish, an elaborate relation with words” (“Word, Word, Word,”1985), and “It was my ideal, when writing poems, to run ever through the farthest time and space by/in writing” (“Concerning a Poem”, 1992).

  This was her way of forging her creative methods, to deepen and heighten thoughts, and to cultivate linguistic field of meta-symbolism and slow sonorous agriculturalism. This is how rich fruition of elegant agricultures of SHINKAWA’s Japanese Kana 仮名 spellings, and the gracefulness of calm, unfaltering stance of language-feature, have come realized.


  It should be regarded a natural result, now, that in the end of Same Age as the Spring, 1991, and in the latter half of To the Sun This Morning, 1997, moments of a calm air of romance of autumn, or a light of cathartic recognition come alighting as the “same sun sinking in the same wood,” the same dreams to see the same “That-Person,” and the “same-wood” to go seeing the same “flowers.”

  We witness in “A Park with Ducks”「アヒルのいる公園」, To the Sun This Morning, a calm clarified scape of Indian summer park, with “I” and “You” walking leisurely.

  This is a supposition scene of dream come true, topos amoris, along with a little variation of the same recurrent theme of “walking in the wood” with the “Dream-Person.” The great difference this time is that it is a walking along a “pond,” not as a recollection of sedimented love, but a subjective supposition, a hatching egg of “swan.”



A Park with Ducks


“Getting near to see the swan, I found it duck.

Do you remember that park, with a moor . . . ?”

Is it possible that I may speak such a thing to you

some years behind.

So thinking, I am walking leisurely with you

along the bank of a moor in the park

where we come for the first time.


── There are only two birds, it seems.

── As it’s a large moor, they may use here

   as freely as they like.

── After all, they want to live together, don’t they?

   A week ago, I read a poem by a school boy :

   The little boy asks his bigger brother,

   Can we eat the duck’s egg?

   Then the brother answers,

   Yes, we can. But we must not eat that,

   because swan may latch from the egg.

── O, lovely story, isn’t it?


We too may remain ducks still

how much time may elapse.

Such day we can fly in the sky with white wings

will never come after all.


On the moor, clouds in the sky are reflected.

They are clouds only in this afternoon today, this year.

Cool wind comes and goes, breezing my sweaty skin.

This is the wind only of this afternoon, today this year.

  The two ducks on the moor stand for “we,” of course, who may live now “as freely as we like,” and who “after all, want to live together.” The cited episode, the schoolboy’s lovely story of “duck’s egg” plays an excellent role of new jump, breaking the vessel, to suggest a “free” release. The poet may have encountered a flash of inspiration by this episode when she served a judge of some poem competition, or invented a revision reflecting on Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.” She, with grown-up, all ripe, well-weighed prudence, must surely have obtained so much anagnorisis as is suited for poetic justice towards the ending of dramatic life: “we must remain forever ducks... how much time may elapse,” or “such day we can fly” as swan ... “will never come after all.”

  This is a poem of romance in the sense that as in Shakespeare’s plays of romance, SHINKAWA has come to the autumn harvest of enlightened recognition, with wise discretion and resignation. “Cool wind” and the emphasis of “the first time” and “this afternoon, today this year” should be what SHINKAWA intends for to cut a new dimension, to reveal the cosmic wind of autumn, of wisdom, and 一期一会 “One chance, Once all” to build up the timeless existential relation between now here and lightful words.


  Next poem, “This Late Now”「今頃になって」, from Same Age as the Spring, a supreme excellent work, reveals the final awakening from the sedimented love, or better a calm fruition of clarified love.




This Late Now


Up in the winterly sky

a giant nettle tree stands, spreading branches like nets.

Half way up, a green cluster hangs floating

like leaves forgotten of falling.

“Mistletoe ─,” you say.

──”People tell, under a tree wearing mistletoe,

  lovers can kiss.”

A thin sunshade falling on your forehead.


What a joke! This late now!

We were talking about each other’s daughter and son

already grown up

to become a bride, or take a bride.

That is how time has passed, without our noticing.


We walked in this wood before, several times.

This nettle tree must have stood here.

But we did not notice.

It must be because the balmy leaves flourished

so thick as to hide the shape with green over green.

And there was nothing below but a heavy darkness

You were keeping silent, as if furious,

and I also silent, sadly suffering.


──”How would you like to do it?”

You say once more, smiling.

Why, are you serious?

This late now, as dropping all leaves

my heart has already all cleared up and light.

  The main code is the “mistletoe”, which is used here both as the symbol of love knot, and as the image of knotted love. SHINKAWA narrates the plot how “I” and “You” come several times to this wood “for walking,” but missed to notice the Tree of Life, the “nettle tree”, or the love knot, the “mistletoe.” That is because not only the tree’s “green leaves” made so thick “shade” of passionblood, but also their love was banished out of the wood of Eden and blindly taken in the path of “heavy darkness.”

  How many years and volumes of poems has SHINKAWA waded, for giving a determinative answer to this hereditary theme of lovers’ walk in the wood? The final solution seems to have been prepared by a well-fitted adaptation of the symbolism of Christmas “mistletoe.” It is by means of a light-up humour from a folklore, “Under a mistletoe, any would-be lovers can kiss,” which the good magnanimous “That-Person”, likely ISOMURA Hideki, proposed like Deus ex Machina. “My” whispering response, “Why, this late now!?” to the second temptation of “You”, “How would you like to do it?”, is excellent; and the light carefree answer SHINKAWA herself has given, though half apologizing for taking too much time, is more excellent, bestowed with her best favourite wonderful adjective, “all cleared up and light”「あっけらかんと明るくなった」.

  And this coda, brimful with rich autumnal calmness, is the best utmost answer and apex of SHINKAWA’s poetry that she has gained though all her poetic creative career.

Awe for the Uncanny and the Beyond


  In Pages Fluttering Open . . .『はたはたと頁がめくれ ··· 』, 1999, and the latest    The Memorizing Water『記憶する水』, 2007, SHINKAWA’s way of metaphysical epistemology and its allegorical enunciation seems to have shifted to the Uncanny, death, and the Beyond.

  From the starting point, she had a very advantageous stance where she was blessed to absorb the highest and most advanced instructions from her senior precursors. When she published her first book, The Sleeping Chair『眠り椅子』at the age of twenty-four, 1953, she was endowed with a striking recommendation of KIHARA Kôichi 木原 孝一 of the (Japanese) Waste Land School: “Even for writing a love poem, you must challenge a work where you penetrate to the cosmic dimension.” As to this stimulus, she confessed, in I Am Here, “I felt the earth’s axis suddenly go slant.” We can take it granted that in this rational extending line, she must have advanced, through forty years, due to “the necessity to venture to let words retroact to the primordial origin, and to stand as if in the new-born posture,” seeing beyond.

  The title poem of Pages Fluttering Open ...『はたはたと頁がめくれ . . .』, 1999, is an allegorical poem, broader and loftier, with something uncanny and mystic, than the foregoing figurative works.

  SHINKAWA has set up this work as a play of voiceless dialogue, within her breast, between the “rock” on the sea-shore and the sea, waving upward to her feet.


Pages Fluttering Open...


On the sea-shore

there is a rock I come once a day

to sit on.

How long has it been here?

Perhaps since the day the land and the sea

were separated

it has been situated at this place.

As the tidal level in this bay

does not change so much,

the waves, on flow, come up near here.

But they do not reach this rock.

So they have not even drenched my toes in sandals.

Unless the rain falls

the rock remains dry all day.

It might be too romantic to imagine

the tongue of wave has not touched the root of the rock

except only once in a thousand years.

I sit on, inhaling the brine wind deeply

and read a book a little.

The pages are fluttering open

and there is a day a thousand years will elapse

in a blink.

Next day I come here again

and open a book,

but I cannot read through anything of it.

Perhaps some time later

I may be taken away somewhere

before recognizing

that another thousand years will pass

over the dried rock.

And that may be only a today

for the rock.

  That “I come once a day/ to sit on the rock/ . . . open a book to read” is for decoding the grand mystery of the cosmic “book”, the “sea”, while her “rock” indicates the eternal dimension and power of existence, “thousand years.”

  The poet does not seem to “recognize” quite well her own standpoint in the play, with her father-figure, the “rock,” and her mother-figure, the “sea.” That might be because she is only the persona as protagonist, a mirror-image, representing both the god and the goddess, while her main role is solely the quest for seeking to decode ―“know” and “recognize”― the myth-inscriptions of the great cosmic “book.”

  We do not see any conclusion, or determinate answer, in this poem. That may be because this is a poem of questioning, an absorption to the mysterious spells of the cosmic book of sea and sky, for which all she can do is only to seize “a today,” to open an invisible page of the thousand years for reading in the timeless beyond.

  It seems as if the charm of this monologue play consists in the well-woven word-plays of the solo-protagonist, as codes of make-believes, like in the chant-dialogues of masked players of Noh-play.


  There is an apparent inclination with SHINKAWA’s latest poetry that her finest work is an illustration show of the triumph of her aesthetics ― a slow graceful agriculturalism of/ as word-field. That might be told because her poetry is not such type of epistemology as in discursive dialectics, with keen insight, but a well-wrought urn or fair-patterned clothing of word-silhouettes, exquisitely designed as both palpable images and tangible allegories.

  At a reception party of Japan Modern Poets’ Association, May, 2009, SHINKAWA made an eloquent speech, slow but graceful and dauntless, and mentioned, citing Victor Frankl, that the most important necessity in writing is first “substance that the hand can scoop up”, and “proof-evidences either by senses or by logic” should be less than secondary. For “any intelligent answer cannot be possible to the question for the ultimate meaning of life. All what we can do is to offer ‘my own existential answer’, that is, to hand out ‘my actuality itself’ in place of answer, well-wishing gift of life.”

  This paradox, obviously very unreasonable, seemed what is concerned with the novelistic dimension, and not quite appropriate to poetry, which is “what is made up by words.” This insistence of hers was apparently a mere reflective repetition of her prejudice, shown 25 years before, in I Am Here 『わたしは、此処』,”Not to write about the Thing I invented in Mind, but to create and enjoy the primordial bodily joy, of grasping it by hand.”


  The title poem of The Memorizing Water『記憶する水』, 2007, is a perfect poem of romance (of Water), though not all sensuous substances as her ideal norm, but mainly figurative inventions, beautifully done. In here, SHINKAWA has invented four motifs — her own former life in a classical Heian style of visiting marriage, with the husband, persona of “Dream-Person”, a mirror-image of Prince Genji; the narrator-poet as lonesome wife, beloved but in “jealousy” because herself being almost forsaken; her own persona-identity being postured in mystic repersonalization as high-born wonder child; and the final rehistory-making of her assumed ending, with impossible wish, sueing to the Lethe’s stream, “Please bear me in your memory.”



The Memorizing Water


Water has a memorizing power, a French scientist told.

It must be true.

I was standing on the lawn after rainfall,

watching towards the road, absent-minded.

The fumy cold, creeping up my toes and heels, whispers:

── Your lord’s ox-cart was out there.

   But he passed away, looking this way cautiously.

Oh, what a wanton story of ancient age!

It’s true that I had a lover I yearned for, burning my secret


But now it is a distant illusion with vague feature.

When looking back into a such an implicit story

I cannot but be betrayed by a wonder

where a strong jealousy of thousand years revives in a memory

against another woman living in a recess behind the road.


Lap-lap, Lap-lap!

That soft warm water filled in a wood-tub with fresh smell

where I, a new-born baby, was afloat!

The water going up and coming down

between heaven and earth ──

it will come, if I call, hurrying as hot water to my tub,

so as to relax tenderly my exhausted heart and body.

Now in my body the “memorizing water” is lively breathing

and these two sorts of water are resounding together.

The rhythms of the generating waters I memorized at birth

are both my favourite music.

I close my eyes enraptured.

Lap-lap, Lap-lap . . .


Now and then, going out for a walk,

I take a stroll along the bank of a neighbouring river.

“Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

Imitating the poet who inscribed his own epitaph before


I stoop down on the bank, dipping the fore-finger,

and write my own name on the surface of water.

The twilight allures glow-worms to blink blue spotlights,

the dawn seduces dayflowers to seep violet tears,

and dyeing up daces’ bellies in coupling colours.

I call to the water:

── Please remember me!

   Even when everythingon the earth forgets me,

   and even I forget myself,

   at least you only bear me in your memory ──

   Even though, when meeting again,

   it might be across the blurred hazy bank.

  This supreme masterpiece, “The Memorizing Water,” shows that though SHINKAWA’s figuration began as the “Fire” ─ her shape of beauty was by the transfomative power of “Fire” ─ her origin of the life of poetry is ever the “Water”, the element of life of her own goddess. The title, “the Memorizing Water,” has come from the first line “Water has a memorizing power, a French scientist told,” who took the “Ig-Nobel” prize, 1991. SHINKAWA seems to have been so much impressed by the thesis that she as devotee to the Water does not feel “ignoble” at all to adopt this tenet as her poetic theorem.

  In the first stanza, it is related that to the poet’s feet a “fumy cold,” a shadow of doom, steals, and a “Dream-Person” appears as a projection of such”Lord”「おとど」, husband of the visiting marriage, like that of the Waka-poetess of love, IZUMI Shikibu 和泉式部 or    Prince Genji, and then the poet tells a recollection of “wanton story of ancient age,”      to foresee her own nearby end of real old age.

  In ancient Kyoto, when Emperor KANMU 桓武天皇 decided to place here as site of capital, 794, Kami-gamo Shrine 上賀茂神社 was settled as a holy site of Jin-Ki 神亀, whose pure water was used as birth-water for new-born royal princes, and as the holy water “Waka-Mizu”若水 for new year’s ritual. As SHINKAWA’s native country was near the water country, Tone River and Kasumiga-Ura, in Ibaraki, she must have got naturally such a strong connection with Water, as in the second stanza she sings a fresh cheerful joy when she was bathed, afloat in the birth-water. The warm generating waters filled in a water basin, the sounds “Lap-lap, Lap-lap!” are in Japanese original “Tap-Tap-Tap!”, and this original onomatopoeia of her spelling proves how fresh, rich and vital her sensuous feeling to the Earth, the Water, and Psyche.

  In the third stanza, the poet’s persona returns back to the real time now, and appears a dimming whitish beautiful feature on the bank of the terminal river. The stream reminds us of blue light of fireworms, pathos-feeling「もののあはれ」, the opposite side of graceful beauty 「みやび」of the courtly nobility, towards the twilight scene of loves autumn. The poet does not forget to illustrate the natural autumn scene of mating crowd of “dace-fishes,” with marriage-colours” of “red bellies,” but what she sees in firont is the flow of Lethe’s River, which carried away Orpheus, “singing his last songs.”

  Here is the plausible reason why SHINKAWA has given this poem the title, “The Memorizing Water,” which is that she must needs trust the “River of Oblivion” with her supra-rational, though contradictory, rationally impossible, but fanatic anti-mythical, desire, “Never forget me! Even if I forget myself, bear me ─ at least my poems, in your memory!”: Bear at least my history/story of love in your memorizing power of Water!

  Seeing the stream going, SHINKAWA also cites the epitaph of John Keats, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” The problem is that as she read this epitaph in some incorrect Japanese translation, she misread the real meaning of “writ in water” and misunderstood it as if “scribed on water.”

  As for the fact, it was a sort of little-known story that when he was lying in a midnight watch listening to the sound of the solitary fountain of Spanish Square, near his apartment, Rome, the dying Keats got an inspiration, a fantasy of himself dancing an ecstatic ascending whirl like Ondine in the fountain. If SHINKAWA knew this scene of Keats’ last dream, just a week before his decease, she could have imaged up the young genius’s fancy, how lively and cheerfully he was soaring up, dancing with the beloved fiancée, Fanny Browne in the spring water, his name and poems all together. Then, she must have spelled out her culminating poetic vision, how her name and life were fairly different from the callous evanescence of Orpheus’ vanishing songs, and she could wish for her love and poems to survive in the bosom of the goddess of Water, her name outliving in the beyond, much more loftier and more illuminating.


Texts Cited


SHINKAWA, Kazue 新川 和江. The Complete Poems『新川和江全詩集』 Tokyo:

  Kashin-Sha 花神社, 2000.

SHINKAWA, Kazue 新川 和江. The Memorizing Water『記憶する水』 Tokyo:

  Shichô-Sha 思潮社, 2007.

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高市 順一郎

タカチ ジュンイチロウ
TAKACHI Jun’ichiro               D.Litt.Prof. Emeritus of English, Oberlin University, Tokyo. Born in Tokushima,1939. Member of the Japan P.E.N. Club, Modern Poets’ Association and Japan Writers Union.                                  Main publications are The Place of Love (Poems in Japanese/English bilingual edition, Shichô-Sha, 1998), The Cosmic Mirror (Poems, 2006), and The Bell in the Tree (10th Book of Poems, Shichô-Sha, 2009). Among criticisms are Sylvia Plath: Myths of Love and Fame (Shichô-Sha, 2007), and Figuration and Gnosis in Poetry―Shakespeare, Keats, Poe, Whitman, Wilde, Hopkins and Eliot (Shichô-Sha, 2008). Forthcoming: The Rose Window of Eliot (Poetry,2018) and Ezra Pound ― New Apocalypse of Petry, Paradise Scape of Light (Criticism,2019)