Love for Nowhere and Musical Bliss

 14 Later Poems of 谷川 俊太郎 TANIKAWA Shuntaro



        by 高市 順一郎 TAKACHI Jun’ichiro



The following article “Love for Nowhere and Musical Bliss―14 Later Poems of 谷川俊太郎 TANIKAWA Shuntaro” is from 『不滅の金字塔―16日本代表詩人』 IMMORTAL MONUMENTS―16 Modern Japanese Poets by J.TAKACHI (English edition, Tokyo: Shicho-Sha, 2011).


    A spirit of the Mozartesque, a golden eye of the eternal nowhere ─ if there is any such artistic soul, it would be no question that the Japanese poet TANIKAWA Shuntaro 谷川 俊太郎 is exactly such an aesthesian. TANIKAWA Shuntaro, born 1931 in Tokyo, began his career as poet only at the age of twenty-one years old, when he published Nijûoku-Kônen no Kodoku (Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude), 1952, and Rokujû-ni no Sonnet (Sixty-Two Sonnets), 1953. And he has been one of the greatest poets of Japan, together with OOKA Makoto 大岡 信, who are active and well-noted on the world-wide stage by publications and as performers.

    TANIKAWA is not only a poet, an essayist, and a script-writer who has published more than fifty books of poetry and other writings, but also a co-translator into Japanese of Mother-Goose and Selected Poems of Robert Bly, and Eros. He is a versatile artist who has compiled audio-versions of poetry and music, and has collaborated in pictorial joint-works that include Onna ni (To a Woman), 1991, and Travels, Toba and Anonyms, 1995. His main works have been already translated into English ─ among them, Coca-Cola Ressun (Coca-Cola Lesson), 1986, Hadaka (Naked), 1988, Yoshinashi Uta (Song of Nonsense), 1991, Rokujû-ni no Sonnet & Teigi (62 Sonnets & Definitions), 1992 ─ all by William I. Elliott and KAWAMURA Kazuo. It is by carrying these translations that he as a strong poet began to stride the royal road for poetry reading, to New York, Moscow, Berlin, Zurich, Rotterdam, London, and in 1992 to Dublin, to read with Seamus Heaney. The translator KAWAMURA has happily reported that the collections up to date, Seken-shirazu (The Naif) and Mozart wo Kiku Hito (The Person Listening to Mozart) were published in 2000, by Carcanet, in England.

    It is when looking into these recent three books, The Naif 『世間知ラズ』, 1993, Rather than Remaining Pure White 『真っ白でいるよりも』, 1995, and The Person Listening to Mozart 『モーツァルトを聴く人』, 1995, that we are struck with a wonder: what a difference of maturity and mastery is here! ─ far much more existential realism, intelligible legibility, and empirical wisdom! There is no explanation possible for that, but we cannot but admit that this is apparently since TANIKAWA began to go around the world to read his poems, and after he was confronted by his father’s death, 1989, that his works mirroring the innocent self-mystic world have come to assume an epistemic allegory and a sublime thought, and an unappeasable yearning for eternal peace, beyond the absurd and the false.

    These English texts of TANIKAWA’s poems cited as illustration are all translations by William I. ELLIOTT and KAWAMURA Kazuo, Professor Emeritus of English, Kanto Gakuin University.


Theoria on Existence and Absurdity


    There is no question that The Naif 『世間知ラズ』, 1993, is TANIKAWA’s epoch-making monumental work, where he has reached the culmination of poetic life, and has given a full expression to his naïve soul’s calling and personal reality of existence ─ “a living voice” as the American poet John Berryman put forth in his last poem of Dream Songs. TANIKAWA’s works before were usually in short free verse together with sonnet form, just as the style of the Bostonian Confessional Poet Robert Lowell was originally in the short traditional form, sonnet, until it came to the life-style poems in his final days. TANIKAWA in The Naif shows that he has suddenly grown ripe to an authentic self-enunciative style, where the artist adopts an existential theoria for allegorical contemplation as Lowell did in his last Day by Day, 1975.

    The title poem “The Naif” 「世間知ラズ」 ─ “Seken-Shirazu”: literally, “knowing no social affairs” ─ a paradoxical quality to the established poet, has disclosed, as testimony, what problems he had about the relation to his father, and his death. That is, his father’s death was a sheer crucial moment for TANIKAWA to ask himself, “What is the poet?” “Am I a real poet?”



        The Naif

My toe tips look unusually far away.

Five toes lie coldly together

like five people strangers to one another.


There’s a telephone beside my bed connected to the world,

but there’s no one I want to talk to.

Since I grew self-conscious my life has been nothing but business,


Neither of my parents taught me how to make small talk.


I’ve relied on versification as my only guide for forty years.

Strange, but I feel most comfortable saying “A poet”

when people ask who I am.

Was I a poet when I abandoned that woman?

Am I, eating my favorite baked sweet potato, a poet?

Am I, grown bald, a poet?

There are countless middle-aged men of such a kind who are not poets.


I’m but a naïve child

that has just chased the butterflies of beautiful words.

This child’s soul, approaching one-hundred,

remains innocent,

unaware that he has hurt people.


Poetry is



    The key concepts are between “I’m but a naïve child,” 4th stanza, and the last stanza, “Poetry is ridiculous.” Namely, “that he has just chased the butterflies of beautiful words” is most sweet, and tasteful. It makes this scribble a fine piece, “innocent” work. But the most serious concept seems to lurk in “innocent,/unaware that he has hurt people” in the last 2 lines of 4th stanza.


    Along with, a short poem, “My Father’s Death” 「父の死」 assists us to understand the real quality of TANIKAWA’s connection with Father.


According to the funeral director, the best sort of funeral is

the sort at which the body is eaten. My father was very thin,

so I thought he could only be served in a soup.

 ・・・   ・・・ 

Death is unknowable

and, being unknowable, lacks details,

which makes it resemble poetry.

Both death and poetry tend to sum up life,

but survivors enjoy the increasingly mysterious details

more than the summing up of life.


    These actually sound like an apology, or a justification, of the fact that he has been a “naïve” poet, innocent of wordly human affairs, and a sardonic anti-aesthetics that he enjoys even a humorous wit, to distil a spiritual consommé out of the broth of the cool-hearted muddy father-body of existence. The allegory of making clear soup of the life’s broth is very interesting as every poet likes its allusion. And another interesting point here is that TANIKAWA at the same time has given the antithesis that poetic spirituality must needs, to avert too much aloofness from reality, carry the bodily flesh of experience.

    About “innocent” and poetic spirituality, TANIKAWA has mentioned in another way, in the essay “The Poetry of Children,” More More Selected Poems of TANIKAWA Shuntaro (Tokyo: Shichô-Sha, 1993), “as MIYAZAWA Kenji has written that if not that which does overflow of the unconscious, anything in poetry is utter impotency or fraud. And so poetry of children has a clear image about the world, bearing an evocative spellpower in its language ・・・ . As we see by this example, the true poem must stand on a metaphor, as over-balmed by every possible experience, knowledge and thought brewed into the unconscious.” This is quite noticeable, for this is exactly what the Romantic visionary William Blake accomplished in writing “Songs of Experience,” to endow more realistic wisdom and serious reflection to “Songs of Innocence.”

    About the children’s “experience” and “knowledge,” we remember a famous legendary story of TANIKAWA’s early juvenile days, in relation to his father and education. Shuntaro’s father, Tetsuzo 徹三, who was a philosopher and an epicurean holding a unique educational theory, was not very happy to trust his only son with the public educational system. And the result was that Shuntaro, already a rebellious angry child, did not attend shools normally, but was chiefly taught by Tetsuzo himself at home, and naturally no specific learning at university level at all. This may sound not a small disadvantage to a poet of twentieth century when poetry is concerned with highly intellectual thought, and sophisticated criticism. But the opposite is also truth, and we know that poetry is a matter of invention of ideas and original creativity against convention. What we notice with TANIKAWA’s “naïveté” is the very advantage that not the pedagogic intellect, but the intelligibility as another name of wisdom, undecked with any educational pedantry or wordly cleverness, is the soul of poetry, and his poetry is exactly the art of intelligibility, innocent language and knowledge, unique and universal.


    “An Axe” 「マサカリ」 relates another phase of TANIKAWA’s existential problematic ─ Thanatos and the allegory of negative taste of life, with a slaughter-image in background.



        An Axe


I got up just after nine, had coffee

and sat at my word processor.

There are still trees in the garden of the house across the street.


Small birds are chirping ─ I don’t know what bird they are.

Is it because l think myself just a passer-by in this world

that I don’t try to learn the names of grasses, trees, creatures,

stars ・・・ ?


I just thought of the word “axe”.

Poems sometimes suddenly begin like that.

But I’ve never yet used the tool called an axe.

I haven’t even touched one.

I vaguely recall as a child seeing the doll Kintaro

carrying an axe on his shoulder, during the Boys’ Festival.

Anyway, I’m now looking for “axe” in my dictionary.


If, as Wordsworth says, poetry “takes its origin

from emotion recollected in tranquillity”,

yet my axe has nothing to do with tranquillity or emotion.

It’s just a small, noisy tool of imagination.


A woman who divorced recently once told me in bed that

poetry is just the clear surface of life with its scum removed.


I switched off the word processor and the words were gone.

I wish poetry would vanish, too.


     “Poems sometimes suddenly begin like that” with an impromptu idea of such word as “axe,” abiding in the Wordsworthian “recollection in tranquillity” of the brain’s “word processor,” and “Poetry would vanish” on its “switching off” are too keen and ironic, but we cannot deny that this is the sincere, real observation of the poet now.

    This seems to refer that in his senility, the earlier Platonic puerile lightness, the sweet overflowing sensitivity, have changed their positions with a feeling of utter void of life, and an anxiety of the doom of death despite his still persistent cause of Eros.

    This sharp, empty feeling of his placidly awakened consciousness with its “absurdity” and suspended “emotion,” directs our attention to the critical problem that it may have some relevance to the poet’s psychological trauma inflicted in his earliest childhood. I refer here to the mental wound he may have undergone in the implicit who-knows-knows story, that Shuntaro was, before coming born into this world, an unwanted child on the father’s side, but his mother strongly desired, to give him a light of this side of the world.

    Shuntaro himself has not given any comment to this glossed-over past, and it appears that the trauma has not cast any dark shadows to his life-thought, as the case of Robert Lowell actually did, which is revealed in his final poem, “Unwanted”, in Day by Day (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giraux, 1975). Lowell has given vent to his sufferings from mother, sixty years after, as follows: “the one unpardonable sin/ ・・・ Unforgivable for a mother to tell her child ─ / ・・・ you were an unwanted child/ ・・・ an incurable schizophrenic.” (122─24) In America this kind of spiritual dissociation necessarily causes on the person concerned an “unlove” or a mental breakdown, and if better, a recovery theme, in the literary conception, the “Recuperation,” of the frustrated hero, as Lowell’s healing motif tells ─ “Is getting well ever an art/or art a way to get well?” (124)

    TANIKAWA’s case in “The Naif” and “An Axe” seems innocent of the recuperation theme, but we should not oversee that the “poetry as absurdity” and “the poem as only the clear surface of life with scum removed,” shadowed by the image of scythe of death, “the axe,” may be a counter-allegory to keep his spiritual peace in balance, against the feeling of voidness of life, the bottom-down he might have seen owing to the traumatic experience, whose overcoming could have been possible only by his stainless angelic spirit and adamantine innocence he came born with.



Words ─ The Exotic and the Empty


    “A Key of Words” 「言葉の鍵」 is the masterpiece of The Naif, which tells of a sudden revelation of a miracle inversion of life to the extremity, where the poet faces the door to the other world. But it shows in the realistic context the same pattern of paradox as we have seen above ─ the disruption between his innocent sensitivity about existence and the intractable reality of woman’s love.


        A Key of Words


Words are alien.

I once wrote down what I ate in a single day.

It looked like a restaurant menu

and I felt like someone’s guest.


Suddenly the woman I was talking to on the phone stopped talking.

No matter what I said she kept her mouth clam-tight.

In the middle of the night, wrinkled pants, dirty T-shirt and all,

I took a taxi to see her.

With her mouth shut she didn’t seem human,

but then she wasn’t a rock, tree, or any animal, either.


There is a door a key of words will not open.

We live in a land where even our native tongue seems alien.

And that is our true home.


No breeze stirs.

There’s not a single book, of course.

Nothing there is pleasant.


    The interesting thing here is that the problematic of woman’s love and the poet’s attitude to open the door to her heart is testified as a question of the “words” as “exotic.” Language is TANIKAWA’s most favourite subject, to the degree that he is widely recognized as Japanese national poet, not only for children’s “word-play” poems, but as an expert in “Yamato-kotoba”, the Japanese mother-tongue. This fertile verbal resource is amply demonstrated in his Dare mo Shiranai (No One Knows), 1976 and Hibi no Chizu (The Daily Map), 1982. Despite all that, he meets here this puzzle, the woman as a mystery of language ─ an “alien country,” which is, an “exotic” territory as the original term tells. Every reader must like to see this sweet paradoxical mystery that woman’s heart sometimes happens to become an oyster-mouth to frustrate man, and likewise there is another “alien” world which the key of ordinary words is suddenly incapable of opening the doorway.

    An episode SANO Yôko 佐野 洋子, TANIKAWA’s third wife, talks may give some allusive commentary to this question of disparity between man and woman. She has written in “Mornings and Nights of TANIKAWA Shuntaro,” 1993, relating how angelic, self-centered the poet Shuntaro is in his real life, morning through night. Seeing Shuntaro to be such a tender carefree spirit, clothed with no corporeal flesh, Yôko feels inversely an undeniable anxiety that severance may come at any moment, because they are too akin as artists and too different in nature, and while she wants a husband, he is nothing but a poet. (More More Poems of TANIKAWA Shuntaro, 156─59) It is the fear in the same sense as the Feminist poet Adrienne Rich wrote in 21 Love Poems, 1976, “Two people together is a miracle/・・・ two people together is a work/heroic in its ordinariness.” (California: Effie’s Press. XVIII─XIX) And Yôko’s prophetic soul resulted in seeing the fear realized true as Rich’s “two people” ─ two women lovers, though! ─ did come to see “the cleft” and separation.

    What TANIKAWA is likely to show as “alien,” “exotic,” can be understood by the analogy which Robert Bly, the American mystic poet, allegorizes in “Loving a Woman in Two Worlds,” according to Jacob Boehme’s antithesis, “We speak (and love) in two languages (of this world and the inward world), and we must understand (woman) and be understood also by two languages.” (The Light around the Body, Harper & Row, 1967, I)

    And one more important point to notify in “A Key of Words” is the tag-phrase, again, as an absurd self-reflective proviso in last three lines. But if it is true that the paradox sounds too cool-headed an afterthought, is it not reversely true that “there-is-none-such” book and “there-is-no-that pleasant thing” is what, TANIKAWA hints, he could surely bring out by his able “exotic” key of words?


    “One Poem” 「一篇」 is an answer, as the continuing theoria of “A Key of Words,” to the skeptic concern about uncertainty of poetic language: how the “reality” of “world” that words have built up can stand right and just?


        One Poem


When I have finished one poem, there the world ends,

Though it matters no more than the fact that

the door I’ve just banged shut bangs shut just once.


People who believe they’re writing poems therein find a unique reality?


A carefully selected reality, a hair’s breadth different from the ordinary.

Is the poem words only? No, not really.

It’s the indescribable confusion and the order of a soul

that are beautiful to some people, incomprehensible to others.


One poem, connected to another,

goes on to connect with still someone else’s.

Poetry shapes a world of its own

but how is it different from a jam-packed baseball stadium?


Suppose you weigh the prose of law, contracts and stories

against poetry on the other scale,

the ideal would be when the balance is pretty stable,

sometimes swaying and sometimes dipping violently.

Others may have a more radical idea.


Fruit grows even on a tree in a world that ends each time I finish a poem.

Does that fruit’s taste drive us away

or does it fence us in here

as if we were an endangered rare species?


    The first line “When I have finished one poem, there the world ends,・・・” is a paradox in positive meaning, because for TANIKAWA, to face poetry right direct is to build up a Kekkai 結界 bound of inspiration, a psychic sacred field. He considers that every poem is that which only imagination presumes to see as a completion of its utmost frame of introduction-development-turning-and-conclusion. And, that the “ending” means a “finish,” completion, should be necessarily obvious if you witness TANIKAWA “realizes” the theoria of ideas as cognitive discovery with highest and best details of metaphysic, and figurative correspondent codes.

    As he is genius of improvisation, as if an ingenious musician, to whom the whole scale of music has been already finished as soon as the concept keys of a sonata is displayed, TANIKAWA seems to have almost instantly completed the designing and setting of any initial idea, for producing “one poem”: “the world,” “reality.” For its evidence, we can point out that the first original line has got, before hand, the correspondent conclusion, “end,” as a metaphor of “Tree,” in the last stanza: “Fruit grows even on a tree in a world that ends each time I finish a poem.” Namely, it is that TANIKAWA thinks, poetry is a built-up mountain, or a world tree, holding what is “beautiful,” or “the order of a soul,” and figures up it as another loftier duration of “reality” above the actuality, a sacred region with an apple tree standing richly.

    And after having established this art-frame, TANIKAWA as aesthetic and father-inherited epicurean shows the awareness about the “taste,” and puts the whole artful issue on an “scale” of absolute estimate: whether the built-up supra-real “world-tree” could be praised as that of the ideal paradise, Eden, valuable enough to be a home for him as bi-sexual hedonist, Adam and Eve; or such privileged activity as “fencing-up enclosure” of a poetic another-dimension is not guilty as profanity, or condemnable as to be banished out of divine family bondage.

    We may say poetry and its stance of TANIKAWA in The Naif is that of confession, apology and justification, to be wise and fair, to look back, reflecting, and to be good with Father and Mother whom he is now-shouldering on his back.

Trees and Other-Worldly Sights


    Zooming back for taking a wider perspective of TANIKAWA’s later works, we can pick up a handy volume, Giving People Poems 『詩を贈ろうとすることは』, 1991 (Trans. William I. ELLIOTT and Kazuo KAWAMURA. Saru/Katidid, 2005), whose copy in English translation was recently sent to me from Prof. KAWAMURA.

    This slight handsome book was originally published, 1991, by Shûei-Sha, Tokyo, when TANIKAWA was 60 years old, which was 2 years before The Naif was issued. Each work housed in it is a composition in short formal style, mostly 4 stanzas of 5 lines.

    “Cherry Blossoms” 「桜」 and “Trees are Tempters” 「木・誘惑者」 are poems of figuration and definition of trees and flowers. What is noticeable is that definition is no more logical or dialectic, but that image-thought or sensuous metaphor is more primary and more significant.


    About the “Cherry Blossoms” 「桜」, the particular point is that as for the poet the most important is what he senses first and cogitates best, “Sakura” 「桜」 is not the sublime beauty, but “other-worldly sight.”


Cherry Blossoms


Five petals, some thirty-five stamens, an unlike calyx.

I plucked a blossom in the school yard

and examined it in class with a magnifying glass.

That, I thought in my school days,

is how cherry blossoms are.


Now near sixty, I find I cannot

focus my naked eye on a cherry blossom.

It may not be fair-sightedness.

Looked at from a distance

the blossom becomes something strange.


Countless blossoms trailing like mist

is an other-worldly sight.

Though I’m sure no bodies are buried underneath,

the color is close to that of a skull

but as alluring as blood running pale beneath the skin.


“A dab of white cloud beyond the blossoms

And beyond the cloud, deep sky”

are lines I wrote long ago.

A foreign student mistook those blossoms for daffodils,

although my eyes were not directed toward the earth.


    TAKACHI thinks it is because TANIKAWA senses not only an erotic scent in cherry’s faces, but also see through, and beyond their flourishing splendour, that he discovers and defines “it” as “[some] bodies are buried underneath,” “the colour is close to that of a skull,” and “as blood running pale ・・・”

    The poet is already well-ripened enough, 60 years old, as his eyesight is “beyond the deep sky,” and not, of course, like an ungrown-up student, whose eyes are “directed toward ・・・ [earthly] blossoms” of “daffodils.”


    “Trees are Tempters” 「木・誘惑者」 is a figurative definition of “Tree,” and an item-catalogue of its virtues and nobleness. Cataloguing style reflects TANIKAWA’s favourite versatile intelligibility, but now here, figurative and allegorical codes of the aesthetic, sacred and mythological, are more prominent.


Trees are Tempters


Trees don’t care what others think.

They merely lift their fingers to the sky.

They bloom, scatter their seeds

and, adding an annual growth ring,

long outlive people;

turning bone-white in the distant future,

at long last they wither and die?─incredible chaps.

So don’t let down your guard.

Their roots, having seized our souls,

will never let them go.


Their young leaves shatter sunlight

and entrance lovers.

Their trunks, indifferent to any tyrant’s history,

wear blank faces

and their shadows make pilgrims

in any age dream of paradise.

With their greenness

they invite our eyes to the world beyond

and spreading their great branches

they embrace our noisy future.

With the rustling of their leaves

they whisper to our ears the eternal words of love.


Because they are irresistible tempters

we can only stand in awe to them;

and because they are far nearer to God than we are

we should pray to them.


    The term “Tempter” in the title alludes that the poet already has obtained the “Tree” in the correspondence with the Apple tree in the Garden of Eden. That is why the poem sounds almost like an admiring hymn to the Trees of Life and Knowledge: “Bloom,” “growth ring,” “roots,” “lovers,” seizing “our souls.”

    The culmination is in the two lines of 2nd stanza ─ “they invite our eyes to the world beyond” and “they whisper to our ears the eternal words of love,” which are both bound for, and towards, heaven.

    What is most marvellous for TAKACHI, in this poem, is the discovery of “God,” that I have found for the first time in all TANIKAWA. It may be only a capricious mentioning of its superlative pronoun, as in the improvising composition. But, for goodness’s sake, here is no difference. For, from this on, so much as this evidence, it is that we cannot regard TANIKAWA as only liberal purist, or any ascetic atheist at all.

Love for Nowhere and “Remaining White”


    1990 through 1995 was a most fertile period for TANIKAWA, of great flux and external development to the absolute.

    Rather than Remaining Pure White came between The Naif, 1993, and The Person Listening to Mozart, 1995, with its contents more plain, shorter, and personal.

    TANIKAWA’s poetry is, we can say in general, a literary and existential place, where he is ever questioning what the life is and how the poetry as life should be, and that all remarkable poems of his are written as the poems of love. To affirm his poetry as poetry of love does not mean that he is such a romantic poet of passion as Paul Eluard or Pablo Neruda, but rather he is a poet bent on redefining the subject of love, or Eros, searching in it an absolute answer of the absolute question about the finality of existence, the edge of soul, in which he is one of the keenest, and most ardent deconstructionist poet of recognition, as to be compared with his friend, ÔOKA Makoto, who is a poet of revisionism as the sturdest rehistorization of the Japanese and French literature. Here is also that TANIKAWA with a free tactful soul who can get inspiration anywhere, whether sitting at table, or on travelling, watching picture tableaux, or cooking in the kitchen at night, to improvise occasional inspired poems by which he goes touching the metaphysical, universal themes, out of phenomenological realism.

    In the Japanese tradition, TANIKAWA is regarded as a successor of MIYAZAWA Kenji, the primitivist originator of modern figurations, HAGIWARA Sakutaro, the erotic narcissist and aesthetic étranger, and MIYOSHI Tatsuji, the alcoholic sublime sensitivist. But TANIKAWA’s spiritual lightness, and original creativity, beyond his own self-deconstructionist genius, is so outstanding and unique that it can be said he has no comparable peers or predecessors in Japan. Even the modernist poets, NISHIWAKI Junzaburo, who imported to Japan the surrealism, “The Traveller Never Returning,” from London and Paris, before 1940’s, and MURANO Shirô, who adopted the Neuesachlichkeit from Germany before the Second World War, and the existentialism of Jaspers, “The Being towards Death,” do not seem to have left any influential traces on TANIKAWA’s thought or poetic concepts.

    TANIKAWA is, and has been, a poet always alone and independent as is becoming to the unrivalled self-principled poet, who exceeds only his own art of definition as original invention, as shown in the marvellous metaphysics and physical figurations of Ai ni Tsuite (On Love), 1955, through To a Woman, 1991. For the subject of “love” is a touchstone to any poet’s soul, and is such an inspiring epistemic subject that TANIKAWA’s innate genius cannot but have excelled his own empirical insight to the superb, self-sufficing gnosis. We see it in “Love” 「愛」 1・2, Rather than Remaining Pure White.





When you are in love

Even grasses and trees are your allies.

But when you love

No one will help you.


Taught by nothing

Not intoxicated by music

You learn how to love:

Flesh possessing own soul.


Led by the invisible

The unattainable ─

You can reach it

Only by the unreachable.



When you are in love

Now ends now

Now begins now.

Fear and calmness fill time.


Staying here simply

You travel for nowhere

Attracted to homeland

At the edge of illusion.


There all names melt

Becoming one.

You can find yourself

Only by calling out that name.


    Here the key-words are “the unattainable” and “the unreachable,” with which “love” is defined in analogy of “homeland,” that is the most ideal Utopian “country.” Indeed “love” is the most sweet graceful theme, but the one which the poet must needs, when facing it, be “edged” utmost, his stance getting most solitarized, sheerly revealed in lingual nakedness. Why must the poet rise up so solitary and so precipitous? Here is even the ruling tone of the sublime and the sacred, and the problematic concept is the “homeland” which is named as “nowhere,” where the poet’s “soul,” equal to “love,” travels for seeking for the ever-abiding “now” and “here.” This indicates that TANIKAWA is another Rilke, again, who pursues the same Eros-theme, a spiritual, existential “Nirgends,” nowhere, the inner “Heimat,” home, where everything is in love and peace, full of “sägliche,” sayable, “names,” the capital You.

    In Rilke’s The Duinese Elegies, “The Seventh Elegy”, all the negative “Nirgends: Nowhere” is to be inverted, by dint of eager faith in God, to the affirmative “Innen Welt: Inner World” to “Vermochten Wunder: Accomplished Wonder,” owing to the angelic contemplation: ─


Nirgends, Geliebt, wird Welt sein, als inner.

War es nicht Wunder? O staune, Engel, denn wir sinds

wir, O du Grosser, erzähls, dass wir solches vermochten.


Nowhere, Beloved, will the world be, than inner.

Is it not wonder? O stare, angel, for we are it

O you great, relate that we this have accomplished.


    And in the culminating “Ninth Elegy,” the “unspeakable world” is converted, by means of “praising,” into a “homeland” of the “speakable,” from the “transcient uncertainty” to the “saved,” gaining the light of “bliss”: ─


Hier ist des Säglichen Zeit, hier seine Heimat.

Preise dem Engel die Welt, nicht die ungägliche, ihm.


Here is the speakable season, here its homeland.

Praise to angel this world, not the unspeakable to him.


    It is unknown whether TANIKAWA has read Rilke or not. But whether yes or not, we may make it granted that he is such a self-taught talent as can know and write as much and well as Rilke, or any others by his own God-given insight and imagination.

    The “Nowhere-orientated wish” of TANIKAWA indicates, we may say, the “Utopia,” the ideal world of love as concerning paradise-desire, namely, the theme of the “home country” of poetry beyond time and space.

    Though to cite Biblical allusions for comparing TANIKAWA’s enunciation may sound out of correspondence, his poetry can be sorted as such poems of declaration as “prophecy” of St. Paul’s “preaching” to the unawakened, blessless audience about the “mystery” of love and salvation. It is the same as Paul has stated in “The Corinthians” I, “Lo! I tell you a mystery ・・・ Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (15:30)

    Notwithstanding, here is an obvious undeniable condition to reserve. It is that though we must respect and approve TANIKAWA’s “God” and “belief,” that may not necessarily mean any definite confession of Credo, or poetic asseveration of an adoration to God. What is important in this case is to admit the conceptual formality, as if of analogy or allegory, which assures how eagerly and sincerely the poet yearns for the “Nowhere,” the Eternal Home, as if he believes in its Infinite Hope wherein God abides.

    About this, it is pleasing to see that TANIKAWA’s innate idea in this love-subject already has reached the same “l’espace littéraire,” literary space, “No-Where,” of Maurice Blanchot, the “zero place of writing,” where he has attained through Hölderlin’s “the unnameable” and Mallarmé’s “book to come” in which there will be no-writer but words only ─ “no-where” equal to “now-here,” all time and all being. (Le Livre à Venir, 1959. IV)

    In this sense, we can assert that TANIKAWA’s poesy is an antithetical reversion, of NISHIWAKI’s “The Traveller Never Returning” into the returning to the real “home,” and MURANO’s “Being towards Death” into the being towards the eternal life.


    The year that this “Love” 1・2 was written is 1985, and it is around this period that TANIKAWA met the American poet William Stafford, and a few years later the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, at the Kantô Poetry Centre, which William I. ELLIOTT and KAWAMURA Kazuo, the co-translators of most of TANIKAWA’s works, conducted with summer seminars every year. And a few years later, in 1991, he produced To a Woman, a collaboration of his love poems and etchings by the painter SANO Yôko, who became his third wife in 1990. It seems that 1985─93 were the miraculous years to the great artist, when his love-theme and redefinition poetics, with deepening existential recognitions, have turned on full cycle, to yield the rich autumnal harvests, ripened, fully clarified, and allegorized.

    And here now, we have one of the most clarified allegorical poems of TANIKAWA, transcending all metaphors and figurations ─ only a purified cogito, a transparent metaphysics: “Rather than Pure White.”

    “Rather than pure white” might mean, TAKACHI considers, not any paradoxical negation of purity, or white innocence, but solely a psychic serenity, floating freely as if with lingua lux, in as malleable as golden foil.


        Rather than Pure White



Love’s lying around, isn’t it?

In the kitchen, maybe.

While weeping over the onions I’m cutting,

I remember

that love has always been

the cause of sorrow.



I’d like to be re-born as a whale

and live in the ocean, singing.

Though I know no language,

there are certainly songs.

Those songs last forever,

because a whale’s heart is much larger than ours.



Look, the flowers are blooming.

Listen! Hear the ocean roaring

and the breeze blowing?

Wouldn’t that be enough to make you feel happy?

Yes ─ that’s why I feel guilty

about being alone.



I like lying,

because I can feel as if I knew

true things I don’t yet know.

But really true things

pass you by in an instant

like a fine fragrance.



I’d rather a tree than a man embrace me.

I want to be touched by a leaf,

to be bound by a branch,

entangled with roots.

I feel jealous of the sky,

because trees watch the sky even at night.



Did you ever notice

that a feeling has different colors?

I wouldn’t mind my color being mixed with yours.

I’d rather be the color of a flower I hate

than be pure white.

Wouldn’t you?


    In this title poem, the key-concept of composition is still on “Love.” As the concept of love is a conceit, it follows the style of “definition,” and TANIKAWA’s high esprit culminates to flourish most supremely, as if in art-painting.

    But in actual, because the form is only of 6 lines, the play of metaphysical graphics is limited within one caprice, “love has always been/the cause of sorrow” in 2, or “I’d like to be re-born as a whale/and live ・・・ singing,” in 3, so on.

    As this series of short poems are monographic tableau of etchings, it is natural to see each piece to be a singular figuration. But the poet’s pleasure to play on ideas seems also to assume a riddle-setting and decoding ─ an innocent angelic hide-and-seek of surprise-spur: “I feel jealous of the sky/because trees watch the sky even at night” (11), or a bit of paradoxical wisdom, of the reborn sage who has satiated too much of this world even after repeating marriages three times, “a feeling has different colors?/ ・・・ I’d rather be the color of a flower I hate/than be pure white.” (12)

The Uncanny and the Human Tears


    As we have seen, there lies, in the back of “Love” 1・2, something “Unheimlich,” unhomely, or the “Uncanny” as Sigmund Freud, the predecessor of R. M. Rilke, has named, which exists murkily and mysteriously beside what is illumined, in the rear of the poet’s epistemic awareness. This is obviously what we see latent in Rather than Remaining Pure White and Tamashii no Ichiban Oishii Tokoro (Soul’s Most Delicious Place), 1990, which seems something unexplicable and intractable, Anti-Eros, standing obtrusively in front of the poet’s psychic eyesight. This Rilkean “Heimlich,” “Innenraum,” the inner immanent space as is connected with the Freudian “Unheimlich,” the “Uncanny,” is what TANIKAWA’s recognitive soul is to face straight in The Person Listening to Mozart, 1995.


    “Breeze, Graveyard, Dulcimer” 「そよ風、墓場、ダルシマー」 in The Person Listening to Mozart 『モーツァルトを聴く人』 is a poem of recognition and resignation, as against the “Uncanny,” in which TANIKAWA reasserts himself as a “unscathed” 「無疵の」 poet, assuring himself an unblemished jewel, to acknowledge a love of the “poesy of silence” and musica andante as the ultimate good:


        Breeze, Graveyard, Dulcimer


Late at night sitting at the table, noisy friends gone,

and thinking what to write about, I suddenly recall a morning

   thirty years ago.

Then, too, I was writing “something” at a different table, in a

   different house.

“Parting”, as it was called, which was addressed to a woman I

   got to know that summer,

could hardly end, like a letter in which affection hangs about.

Then, too, a melody was flowing from the radio,

which I still recall vaguely.


At the time it was fine,

because I was young.

But is it all right even now, I wonder, to go on writing “some-thing”

   like this?

I have aged, never having read Marx or Dostoyevsky,

and only listening to Mozart.

I could not empathize with people in their suffering.

I lived to the fullest, always content in my own selfish way.


I’ve talked and laughed a lot, but in truth I loved something quiet,

a breeze, a graveyard, a dulcimer, a smile, a sheet of white paper,

myself bound one day to vanish ・・・


But am I allowed to trust only poetry and andante which

   border on silence,

overwhelmed by wild desires and the riotous passions that lurk

   in the everyday prose and drama?

Or is it too late now?

Am I just the same poet I was that morning thirty years ago,

still unscathed?


    As is witnessed, TANIKAWA confesses that he might have lacked the capacity “to empathize with people in their suffering,” and feel an uncertainty though he “loved something quiet/a breeze, a graveyard, a dulcimer” besides “only listening to Mozart.” Is he “allowed to trust only poetry and andante/which border on silence,” thus remaining indulgently “unscathed”?

    This “unscathed” is the same as the “naif,” which he now reflects again as defect to the true poet, who should have lived confronting and challenging the drama, the greater and the uncanny themes with “riotous passions.”

    The fact as we know is that in 1996, Shuntaro divorced his third wife, Yôko, and he himself, left alone, fell into a crucial depression and inertia. And after several months he was said to attain a calm resignation that it would be easier and better to maintain the love in having Yôko as a friend than to contend against each other as man and wife in marriage. And this year, 1997, he answered to our interview to the effect that “now it is pain to me either to read, or to think. Now l want to keep myself away from poetry, and not to write poems any more, unless it is unremittable required writings. Just allow me this selfish egoism.” Thus, at the age of 65, this reaction of his may be an apt evidence that after a new awakening he is cutting off all fatuous “pains”, No’s, to shape himself up in all angelic spirit, Yes’s, and also to expose his poetic license to a stricter existential justice, not to mention of out-fathering his father, the philosopher-purist, or the anti-aesthetic epicurean.


    In 1984, TANIKAWA lost his mother, in fact, five years before his father’s death, 1989. It was said she had been tied to bed, fooled out of sanity, four years, and wrote a letter appealing to Shuntaro every night. This sad misfortune caused him serious sufferings, reminding him of the importance of “emotion” or “feeling” 「情」, as is well reflected in “Pansy” 「パンジー」.


“This is a quotation from the universe,”

she says unashamedly.

It’s better than doggerel she might write on a word processor,

but I’m not hungry for poetry

or for anything to eat.

         ・・・   ・・・

I say to myself,

“You know, what I need now is compassion ・・・ not poetry.”

There’s not an iota or compassion in the universe.

That’s why the stars look so beautiful.


    The sight of this poem is towards the star in the greater cosmic dimension, directed by some angelic voice, from the departed Yôko, “Your poem ─ that is a quotation from the universe.” To it, the poet’s voice responds: “You know, what I need now is compassion ・・・ not poetry.”

    Yôko has left a sweet recollection of TANIKAWA, as if in place of his lost mother, that he is “too much TANIKAWA Shuntaro,” with “profound, awful eyes of a poet,” who is so tired of this world that he cannot but cling crazily to broken old-fashioned radio-systems to try to mend them, but who is the embodiment of “good nature” itself ─ an angelic, auto-dinamo, airy spirit, a “seijitsu,” sincere and “richigi,” upright man ─ serving Yôko’s mornings and nights with breakfast and pillow-talk. But, she continues, he is at the same time no one but a “selfish” and ego-centric man, only to accept “required writings” for business work, because that is the only reason for him to live in this world, and he can write best when required, and not because he likes to write for its own sake. The only shortcoming in this is that as a consequence, TANIKAWA has not written a great poetry such as symphony or concerto, on the grand theme for its own conceptual cause.

    For his mother, TANIKAWA has actually written a proper poem, “A Song of Tears” 「なみだうた」 in The Person Listening to Mozart.

    In the first part, he talks of the reminiscence of the “anxiety” when he was child, for losing own “mother,” which was replaced by listening to Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” after she really was gone.


        A Song of Tears


As a child I often stood crying, forehead pressed against the pillar

   of our living room

thinking my mother would never come home again.

She always came home, no matter how late,

and then I stopped crying.

But that same anxiety remains somewhere deep down

and torments me, though I am a grown man.


Much later she did stop coming back,

but I no longer cried.


Instead, strange though it may seem,

I sometimes listen to Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus.”

They said it means ‘Behold the true body of Christ’

but I don’t quite understand what this ‘true body’ is.

Somehow it sounds very erotic.


   Droplets dripping down my face

   made me slobber, blubber,

   till I stamped my feet in sadness

   and the tree twigs trembled


   A very flood of Buddha’s tears

   filled eyes and overflowed.

   Flesh is fleshless.

   Be merciful to us.




Branches sway in the breeze, young leaves a-light with summer sunshine

I’ve seen this every time in season for many years

and yet the feeling is always fresh.


People name emotions variously ─

sorrow, loneliness, joy and pity ─

but some feelings should be anonymous ─

the feeling, for instance, that doesn’t rise from my heart and body,

that I am immersed in some enormous, invisible stream.

At such times I know that tears originate

at a far greater distance than we could ever think of.


   Tears and tears

   both big and little

   start up from the sea.

   My cheeks are wet.


   A calmness came.

   I cried and calmed down

   the breeze there came

   the dawn I hoped came.


    In the second part, TANIKAWA takes up the “emotion” ─ this time such “feeling” as we must not senselessly name “sorrow, or loneliness, or joy or pity.” For, when in “the feeling like I am immersed in some enormous, invisible stream ・・・ I know that tears originate/at a far great distance ・・・ ”

    Indeed, Mother was to TANIKAWA a door as absence, to the “anxiety” for the uncanny, and the entrance to the infinite feeling, as immersed in the enormous, greater “invisible stream.”

Musical Felicity, Clothed with Own Fatherhood


    While TANIKAWA’s relation to Father had deepened itself into the sublime Nowhere and the Uncanny, the complicated relation with Mother seems to have taken a fairly long time for solution. It comes to light by some remarks in poems that the strong tie to Mother, who strove to pull him apart from Father’s rule of “selfishness,” was by the attractive power of her “piano.”

    He has set down a recollection of his mother’s “piano” in “A Stroll through Salzburg” 「ザルツブルク散歩」 ─ a lovely senile lady who fell in dimentia, now changed into innocent child, but who “played piano well,” when young.


My mother played piano well.

She taught me piano as a kid and I was afraid of her.

When she grew senile, she wrote to me almost every night

and said in every letter that my father was a cold fish.

She begged me not to be like him.


Without a knowledge of his world we couldn’t dream about the next


But my intended love always end up in raising anger and grief in people.

Is that how we know this world?


    It was for this that he has corroborated himself to be not such a philosopher or epicurean as his father was, but solely a poet, an “alien” spirit who likes to live in music, quite akin to the angelic Mozart, living in a spiritual sphere.

    Meanwhile, TANIKAWA has written, likewise, in “To Speak Honest” in More More Selected Poem of TANIKAWA Shuntaro, “My mother used to say my father was selfish,” though the “selfish” here is meant to indicate “fastidious about food.” “Selfish” and “ego-centric” is also what he has mentioned about himself, in the essay, “To Speak Honest,” “Although I sometimes feel like dying to listen to music, I do not feel so much to read poems, except on very rare occasions. ・・・ It seems poetry does not move me so much as music, paintings or stories.”

    It was almost in the same level and mood of reflection and repentance that in “Mozart in Arizona” 「アリゾナのモーツァルト」, composed during the lonely driving in the Western American desert, TANIKAWA came across with a discovery of “a single harmony ・・・ growing out of a whole world,” and got to know “how to wait” for the emergence of “something unreachable in words,” which is an unconscious awareness of the Mozartesque existence of himself.


Even in the absence of people and particulars,

a whole world grows out of a single harmony.

Even though I know I can’t hate people,

I tremble with the joy of being alive

in this world of nothing but blue sky and horizon.


And we wait for something people are unaware of

and that we shall never be able to reach in words.


    We can assume that TANIKAWA’s destination of driving in America was an unreachable edge of spacial travel. It is noticeable in the four lines of “Waves of Oregon Coast” 「オレゴンの波」, in musical term “harmony.”


communed with silence, while a single harmony expanded

like a ring of ripples ・・・


I was smiling.

Dreaming I could become like the sky, tree, sea, music,

steeped in a sadness endlessly calm.


    This might be all but TANIKAWA’s ultimate blissful state, the airy, spiritual catharsis, like in musical waves, which expands in a low tone of “single harmony” of loneliness, yearning, sadness and immortality.

    Its expansive musicality has come from Mother’s piano as is related in “Two Rondos” 「二つのロンド」, as a paradoxical absorption of spiritual “happiness,” but an emotional “loneliness.”


the closer its instant moment gets near to eternity

the farther it is removed from immortality.

The happiness which music brings always carries with it

  a certain loneliness.




No doubt the melody aims at telling something

beyond our fleeting emotions,

but that something will remain forever hidden ・・・


    The remembrances of his Mother’s music ─ “The first I heard was my mother’s piano” which became “the very archetype of my happiness,” and non-musical “showers of arpeggios” his insane “alcoholic mother played after drinking eau-de-Cologne” ─ now drove the poet crossing the desert of sad depressed tide, and washing him up, beyond the tearful “melody” about Mother, towards another Nowhere.

    We may say, one significant point granted out of these should be that, having got out of, and compensated, all bondages and causes of loves and emotions for parents and betrothed, except his son Kensaku 賢作, the musical composer, what was left for TANIKAWA might be something like Orpheus’s wind song and lamentation, nothing other than He himself, clothed in the musical felicity.


    And TANIKAWA has composed, as if counterposing his own mirror, two self-questioning and -answering odes, towards the grand music itself, or the Mozartesque melody.

    The first one is “Even People Who Can’t Love Others” 「人を愛することの出来ぬ者も」. This fine poem, in pretty form of 4 stanzas with 4 parallel refrains, begins with a superlative sentence, “This is the best of all.” “This” indicates, needless to say, the utmost bliss, now presenting itself in front of the Eye and the Ear, namely, the overflowing picture of Mozartesque music.


        Even People Who Can’t Love Others


This is the best of all.

Though it is not as good as a clear September sky,

it may be better than all the flowers in the world.

The moment briefly lingers in the air and melts away,

but that moment is nearer to eternity than pyramids.


This is the best of all.

If it can’t compare with cold water a parched throat might gulp

   down voraciously,

it’s as good as fresh boiled rice, eaten with seaweed, egg and

   salted salmon.

It’s a horrible thing, being so pure it makes us forget about

   starving children

and draws us closer to angels than to people.


This is the best of all,

the best we sinful beings could ever have possessed.

Shouldn’t we at least be contented that this,

which gives delight to the guard and prisoner, the enemy and

   friend alike,

is not a shrine, a castle, gold, much less lying words?


This is the best of all ─

this short, simplest melody.

I hold my breath, I softly exhale.

Even people who can’t love others weep over Mozart.

If that is an illusion, then the whole world is but a dream.


    The 1st stanza makes the metaphor of “eternity” prominent by the big paradox, “that moment is nearer to eternity than pyramids.” And the 2nd stanza describes “a horrible thing” 「恐ろしいもの」 figuratively, which could be compared with “purity” or “angel.” Though the translators have interpreted 「恐ろしいもの」 “the tremendous thing” as “a horrible thing,” TAKACHI understands, as it is not like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, “O horrible, horrible, most horrible!”, it should be better translated as “an aweful thing,” in positive meaning.

    The 3rd stanza builds up, for defining “the best” third time, a compromizing synthesis between “the best we sinful beings could ever have possessed” and that “which gives delight, ・・・ not a shrine, a castle, or gold.” And in the final 4th stanza, “this” turns out, by the second line’s subject, “melody,” to be TANIKAWA’s favourite “music,” and that of the proper Mozart.

    So all is already obvious that the enactment of decryptage has been almost close to the culmination, through parallelistic cataloguing, how and why “Mozart” is “the best.” The answer to the riddle reaches the finish in this way of dialectic steps, by providing the subject ─ “people who can’t love others” ─ with a predicative ─ “weep over Mozart,” or “be moved to tears.” TANIKAWA has succeeded in giving deftly an unexpected answer, of fine paradoxical proposition, reversing “can’t love” to “can love,” by means of changing its objective “people” into “music of Mozart.”

    And we can also acknowledge now, TANIKAWA’s another conscientious problem, the self-condemnation that, as owned in the first cited poem “The Naif,” “he has, innocently, hurt people” is here at last consequently and justly appeased.


    The supreme masterpiece, the title poem of The Person Listening to Mozart 「モーツァルトを聴く人」, is also a work of contemplation, where the poet confronts the melody of music as absolute question and its absolute answer.


        The Person Listening to Mozart


The person listening to Mozart curls up like a child,

his eyes following the curled wallpaper as if it were the blue sky,

just as though his invisible sweetheart were whispering in his ear.


The melody annoys him in the shape of a question

which he cannot answer,

because it easily answers itself,

leaving him behind.


The lover’s words so vulnerably spoken to the whole world ・・・

a caress too tender to survive this earth ・・・

a prophecy too cruel to be realized ・・・

the ‘Yes’ which rejects every possible ‘No!’


The person listening to Mozart stands up.

He shakes off the caress of mother-music

and walks downstairs toward the street, looking for an answerable



    This poem is, contrary to John Keat’s “Ode to the Grecian Urn” in which Keats sings of listening to an “unheard melody” out of a picture, on TANIKAWA’s real dream of pleasure, listening and enjoying “the caress of mother-music” in Mozart. Like as the waltz dance is composed of the gentleman’s leading steps and the lady partner’s corresponding pacing, so the music of Mozart is made up with a combination of the questioning of dancing notes and the answering of sweet melody-feelings.

    The definitive metaphors to verify the real, sensual feelings of pleasure and sweetness of Mozart’s “melody” are shown in the whole 3rd stanza: “the lover’s words to the whole world,” “caress too tender,” “a prophecy not to be realized,” and “the ‘Yes’ which rejects every possible ‘No’.” While Keats held up, in the “Grecian Urn,” the anti-thesis, “the Negative Capability” ─ “unsatisfied kiss and embrace, for to eternalize love,” ─ *TANIKAWA does adopt, to build up the absolute formulas of triumph, “the overwhelming Yes superseding all No’s,” so as to fulfill the inaudible melody of music as all-tangible, intelligible dream-reality.

    The reason why, for TANIKAWA, the music comes superlative on the topmost, may be because between the loss of Father and Mother and Nowhere, or Death ahead, that is the only paradisal reality, of Eros and pleasure, left for him. Music is an alien dimension, Utopian Now-Here of joy, whose buoyant and lightful play, psychic, erotic and poetic, like Mozart’s golden malleability, fluency and brilliance, TANIKAWA loves, intoxicating himself in its musical bliss as if in his own sweet happy Fatherhood.

Self-Revelation, the Cosmic Sigh


    After The Person Listening to Mozart, 1995, TANIKAWA has published Tenderness Is Not Love, 1996, Minimal, 2002 and the enlarged sonnets, 62 Sonnets+36 in bilingual edition, 2009. And quite recently Prof. Emerit. KAWAMURA has sent to me the complete English text of WATASHI (I Myself), just finished, October 2009. (The Japanese original of it was published, 2007, by Shichô-Sha).

    It is a marvellous wonder to see this English version before publication, about which TANIKAWA himself has, as KAWAMURA reports, mentioned “the best of all my works.” I can guess that “the best of all my works” must mean “my favourite accomplishment as I have done best.” For we notice that TANIKAWA appears, in this volume, in quite a released, ethereal mood as well as of light, transparent, fluent air of lingual, melodious enunciation. He is like swimming or flying in psychic light or epiphany, as if he has been liberated from every burden or bond of earthly matters. The difference is not so much self-confessional or antithetical as liberal and magnanimous, following only inspiration’s whispers, not so much philosophical, or reflective due to justification, as playing in dream-thought led by gnostic inspiration.

    Main concepts are the recurrence to the innocent angelic puerility, “Boys,” and the determinative meditation towards own “Ending,” Death and emancipation. And between them, he still enfolds his ever-reiterating causes ─ to live true and sincere, and to pursue origins of genius, “Words” and “Writing.” Over them, the epigram “I, who am infinite silence, will give you words” after God Contemplates Humans by Jules Supervielle seems to add allusive influences.


    We like to take up two poems here, a mysterious piece standing on a state of Zen-like emancipation in silvery clarification, and another, in which a mystic mentality in cosmic height getting nearer to God is solemnly inferred.

    First, “‘A River of Sound’ ─ TAKEMITSU Tôru” 「音の河 ─ 武満徹に」.


        ‘A River of Sound’


A river of sound is flowing between trees and trees,

between thunderclouds and cornfields,

and probably between men and women.


You make its undercurrent audible to our internal ear

with piano, flute, voices ・・・

sometimes with silence.


Music will never turn into a memory,

because it makes this present moment echo towards the future.

Nor will you ever cease to be.


Donning the clothes you’ve left behind here

I listen to the song you are singing over there,

as darkness slowly settles on the trees that surround the hall.


The verbal cosmos gradually recedes into the background

and in our ears we feel

the sigh of the world filled with contradictions.


    The main key is “You make its undercurrent audible to our internal ear,” stanza 2, and its reflection, “I listen to the song you are singing over there,” stanza 4. And between these two, there is an uncanny enigma, “undercurrent,” which is “the sigh of the world.”

    The title, “A River of Sound,” is regarded a musical metaphor as a variant from Dante’s River of Light in Il Paradiso. Standing on its bank, the poet’s ghost watches the sound, meditating on the antithesis, “Music will never return into a memory,” in stanza 3. It is instantly reversed into the positive thesis, next line, “because it makes this present moment echo toward the future.”

    TAKEMITSU the musical composer, good friend and rival artist to TANIKAWA, is hereupon represented as “You” and “It,” the music itself. That is why TANIKAWA respects him, with that superior capability, and seized with jealousy. That is why, also, TANIKAWA “competes” with him, an originator of “a river of sound,” by means of composition of “the verbal cosmos,” a “poem.” He might not know, or did know a little, of the Music of the Spheres, the Ptolemic empyrean harmony, whose shadow is the uncanny enigma, “undercurrent.” For he shares the coincident recognition with TAKEMITSU, that in the cosmic “recesses” there is a resounding “sigh of the world.”

    He seems to think that both the poet and the musician stand on the same position that they can cope with the “darkness” and “contradictions” by virtue of “song” or “verbal cosmos” of which their “internal ear” will make up gnostic healing, to overcome the aporia for reaching the beyond. As a matter of fact, TAKEMITSU is foregone beyond, with music and fame, 10 years ago. We may assert, TANIKAWA must be listening to TAKEMITSU’s “inner song,” and feeling bent to come returning to soul’s home across the river of “sigh.”


    The second poem, “A Scene” 「ある光景」 is a phantasia, or an apocalypse like a surrealistic painting of Dali, reformed into a silence of the world’s end, Death. The key concept is “All the words ・・・ a mistake,” and “The end of the world ・・・ calm and beautiful.”


        A Scene


A whirlwind standing on a deserted field,

having lost its way, is at a loss.

Exorbitant tears that evaporated and turned into cirri

now float in a corner of the blue sky on the verge of death.


Corpses litter the weeds

but no birds are seen pecking at them.

Signs of what was once called music

are drifting in the background like timid ghosts.


All the words up to now invented, spoken and written by people,

were from the very outset a mistake.

Only a silent smile,

directed at a new-born puppy, was just.


The lapping sea draws near the mountain

and one by one the stars close their eyes.

Is that because ‘God’ still exists

or is already dead?


The end of the world is calm and beautiful like this ・・・


So I write just now.

In words I find nothing but my past

and see no future anywhere.


    The magnet field of “A Scene” is a “deserted field” with “a whirlwind” standing still over it. In stanza 2 and stanza 3, TANIKAWA appears most horrible and aweful, as he has never been such, like an inverted revelation of St. John, proclaiming that “signs ・・・ of music/ ・・・ drifting like ghosts,” and “All the words invented, spoken, and written ・・・ /were [all] a mistake.”

    And all on the instant, in next line, he messages, or declares, the greatest code of this poetic eschatology, that “Only a silent smile,/directed at a new-born puppy, was just.” This reveals that this absolute “justness” is what TANIKAWA has pursued and put up as his poetic justice throughout his poetic career up to now.

    Fortunate enough, TANIKAWA’s broader eyesight now can witness the overflowing “sea” lapping up “the mountain,” which is man’s sacred precinct, and the higher serene sky, where God’s eyes are closing for taking rest of peace.

    So then, it is quite necessarily that, next, in stanza 4, the line “Is that because ‘God’ still exist?” comes, as if before the meditative eye of Zarathustra on the Mount. Of course, God does exist ─ is, lives here before you and us! It is quite natural and matter-of-course, by the affirmative conviction, more of the Divine Light and Flow, than the “deserted field” of “Death,” that “The end of the world is calm and beautiful, like this!”

    The first line of the last stanza, “so I write just now,” signifies that by the poet’s stronger psychic eyesight, the eschatological “end” and “desertion” is duly returned into the “beginning” in principality again, following the beginning of the poet’s inventive and fanciful writing.

    Thus the phantasia of inverted “Revelation of St. John” is re-inverted and re-invented by TANIKAWA’s sublime insight into a more lucid, gnostic epiphany of enlightenment.

    TANIKAWA’s “verbal cosmos” of poetry has transformed, in this way, into more ethereal floating “world of sign,” of capricious joy of improvisation, which is mirror-persona of another WATASHI, as poesy of pleasure, playing inaudible music of spherical notes.


Works Cited & References

TANIKAWA, Shuntaro. 『続続・谷川俊太郎詩集』 More More Selected Poems.

   Tokyo: Shichô-Sha, 1993.

________.Giving People Poems. San Francisco: SARU Press International,

   1991 (2005).

________.『世間知ラズ』 The Naif. Tokyo: Shichô-Sha, 1993. California:

   Kaytidid Books, 2004.

________.『真っ白でいるよりも』 Rather than Remaining Pure White. Tokyo:

   Shichô-Sha, 1995

________.『モーツァルトを聴く人』 The Person Listening to Mozart. Tokyo:

   Shôgaku-Kan, 1995.

________.At Midnight in the Kitchen I Just Wanted to Talk to You. Trans.

   William I. ELLIOTT and Kazuo KAWAMURA. Portland: Prescott Street

   Press, 1979.

________.The Selected Poems. Ed. & Trans. Harold Wright. San Francisco:

   North Point Press, 1983.

________.Naked. Trans. William I. ELLIOTT and Kazuo KAWAMURA. Berkeley:

   Stone Bridge Press, 1988.

________.Selected Poems Trans. William I. ELLIOTT and Kazuo KAWAMURA.

   Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1998.

________.『私』 WATASHI. Tokyo: Shichô-Sha, 2007. Trans. William I. ELLIOTT

   and Kazuo KAWAMURA. Sydney: Vagabond Press, 2010.

Rilke, R. M. Werke in drei Bänden. Insel Verlag. Frankfurt am Main, 1955; 1966.

Berryman, John. 77 Dream Songs. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975.

Bly, Robert. Loving a Woman in Two Worlds. New York: The Dial Press, 1985.

Lowell, Robert. Day by Day. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975.

日本ペンクラブ 電子文藝館編輯室
This page was created on 2015/03/31



  • 目に優しいモード
  • 標準モード

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)

The following article “Love for Nowhere and Musical Bliss―14 Later Poems of 谷川俊太郎 TANIKAWA Shuntaro” is from 『不滅の金字塔―16日本代表詩人』 IMMORTAL MONUMENTS―16 Modern Japanese Poets by J.TAKACHI(English edition, Tokyo: Shicho-Sha, 2011).