August 30, 2014

Nakahara Chūya

Nakahara Chūya [Japan]

 Born on April 29, 1907 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in what is now part of the city of Yamaguchi. His father, Nakahara Kansuke, was a highly touted and medaled army doctor. In his early years, Chūya’s father was posted to Hiroshima and Kanazawa, before returning to Yamaguchi in 1914.

     In 1915 Chūya’s younger brother died, which led the boy’s turning to poetry to relieve his suffering. He sent his first three poems to a women’s magazine and to a local newspaper in 1920, while still attending elementary school.

     In 1923, Chūya shifted to the Ritsumeikan Middle School in Kyoto. And a year later he began living with the actress Yasuko Hasegawa, a relationships which would end in 1925 when she left him for the literary critic and novelist Kobayashi Hideo.

     Early in his writing career, Nakahara preferred the traditional tanka format, but has he reached his teenage years, he moved quickly into writing free verse, particular that as advocated by the Japanese Dadaist poets Takahashi Shhinkichi and Tominaga Tarō    

     Moving to Tokyo, the young poet met writers Kawakami Tetsutaro and Ooka Shohei, with whom he began publishing a literary journal, Hakuchigun (Idiots). Kobayashi introduced the young author to the French symbolist poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, whose poems Nakahara translated into Japanese. Beyond the poetic influence, Rimbaud, in particular, influenced the young man’s lifestyle, as he came to be described as a “bohemian.”

     Still employing the traditional counts of five and seven, used in Japanese haiku and tanka, in his poetry, Nakahara nonetheless often used these forms with variations to obtain rhythmical and musical effects. Several of his poems were used as lyrics for songs, including compositions by the composer Saburō Moroi, whom he met in 1927.

     Meanwhile most the major publishers continued to reject his poetic experiments, while the poet found audiences in smaller literary magazines such as Yamamayu (edited by Nakahara and Kobayshi); indeed, Kobayashi and Nakahara remained close friends all of the younger poet’s life.

     In 1931, Nakahara was admitted to the Tokyo Foreign Language College in Kanda to study French. He remained there until 1933, when he married, his son being born a year later. The death of his son in November 1936 resulted in a nervous breakdown for the poet, from which he suffered for the rest of his life. Many of his poems served as remembrances of his beloved son.

     The poet was again hospitalized in January of 1937, and was released the next month, when he moved to Kamakura, leaving several of his works behind with Kobayashi, as he planned to return to his hometown of Yamaguchi. Soon after, however, he died of cerebral meningitis on October 22nd of that year. He was buried in Yamaguchi.

     Only one of his poetry collections, Yago no Uta (Goat Songs) appeared during his lifetime, in a small, 200-edition he himself financed. Just before his death, he edited a second collection, Arishi Hi no Uta (Songs of the Old Days). Kobayashi saw to the publication of that later work. Ooka Shohei collected and edited the Complete Works, containing the poets, uncollected poems, his journals, and selected correspondence.

     Although at the time of his death, Nakahara was not considered a mainstream poet, his work has continued to exert a major influence on Japanese literature in the years since his death. He is now regularly taught in studied in Japanese classrooms.

     In 1966 the city of Yamaguchi (with the support of Seidosha and Kadokawa Shoten publishers) established the Nakahara Chūya Prize, presented annually to an outstanding collection of poetry with shinsen na kankaku (fresh sensibility). The winner receives not only a cash award for several years, but the works, originally, were translated into English—although the latter aspect has been discontinued.



Yago no Uta (1934) / (ed. By Ōta Seiichi (Tokyo: Hatsubaimoto Seiusha, 1996); Arishi hi no uta (1938); Yago no uta; Arishi hi no uta (Tokyo: Sōgensha, Shōwa, 1951)


Depilautumn: The Poetry of Nakahara Chūya (Toronto: University of Tornoto/Your University Joint Centre on Modern East Asia, 1981); The Poems of Nakahara Chūya (trans. by Paul Mackintosh and Maki Sugiyma) (Leominster, Herfordshire, England: Gracewing, 1993); Poems of the Goat (bilingual, trans. by Ry Beville) (Woodstock, Georgia: American Book Company, 2005); Poems of Days Past (bilingual, trans by Ry Beville) (Woodstock, Georgia: American Book Company, 2005)

For “A Suite of Translations from Nakahara Chuya, with a Concluding Poem in Tribute” by

Jerome Rothenberg and Yasuhiro Yotsumato, click here:

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