June 16, 2010

Maruyama Kaoru

Maruyama Kaoru [Japan]

Maruyama Kaoru is read little today in Japan or abroad, in part because of Japanese readers' dismissal of him as an "intellectual" poet and because much of his work has been unfairly labeled as "sea-poetry." Maruyama did attempt to check lyricism and sentimentality in his work, and due to his life-long fascination with the sea, he wrote a great many poems about the ocean and voyages; but his work overall is quite varied and the controlled surface of his works often are belied by highly emotional content.

Born into a family of a high ranking bureaucrats, Maruyama spent much of his early years adapting to new surroundings, as his father was transferred numerous times to different locations. In the tightly-knit social structures of Japan, such displacement obviously had its effects; throughout his life Maruyama felt separated and apart from the Tokyo-centered poetry circles.

Living in the port of Yokohama in 1911, he was taken on class trip to see the ships in the harbor. The blue eyes of the Scandinavian sailors amazed the young boy, and from that incident, Maruyama dates his fascination with the sea. Despite strong opposition from his family, he sat for the entrance examination to the Merchant Marine Academy. Failing the examination, he enrolled in Tokyo preparatory school in order to retake the tests the following year. In 1918 he passed the exam and entered the Academy.

However, at the academy his dreams of becoming a ship captain were dashed as he discovered his fear of heights; the intense physical activity of the Academy, moreover, caused his legs to swell, and he received a medical release. Under his mother's guidance, he took the examination of the Third Higher School in Kyoto, where he entered in 1921 in French literature. By the time he entered Tokyo University in 1926, he had already determined to become a poet. Influenced by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde and others, including the Japanese master Hagiwara Sakutarō, Maruyama determined to use his education as literary stimulus rather than as a goal towards a bachelor's degree.

During this period he met Takai Miyoko, with whom he fell in love and married in 1928. Upon their marriage he rented a luxurious residence in Tokyo and later invited his mother to move in with them. He also dropped out of the university to concentrate on writing.

The collapse of the Japanese economy in 1930, meant difficult times for the family. Forced to move again and again, Maruyama found it difficult to concentrate on writing. But in 1931, his wife found a job in downtown Tokyo with sufficient pay to support his concentration on his art. His first collection, Ho—Ranpu—Kamome (Sail—Lamp—Gull) appeared in 1932. Soon after, he joined with other poets in publishing Shiki (Four Seasons), which involved him, for the first time, in the Tokyo poetry circles, and helped in the development of his poetic aesthetic. In particular, the theory of his fellow university student and poet Hori Tatsuo (1904-1953) and the writings of Rainier Maria Rilke highly influenced him in his attempt to balance objective observation and intellectual truths of the mind.

In 1935 he published two books, Tsuru no Sōshiki (Funeral of the Crane) and Yōnen (Infancy). The second book won the Bungei Hanron poetry prize, which brought much needed money and request for new manuscripts.

The following year, however, tragedy struck as his sister-in-law, with whom had developed a close friendship, died of consumption. His fourth collection of poetry, Ichinichishū (A Single Day) contains a section devoted to her memory.

An invitation to write on midshipmen's experiences at sea, finally realized Maruyama's boyhood dream in 1941. Those experiences were collected in poetry in 1943 in Tenshō naru Tokoro (Hear the Ship's Bell).

The Japanese war effort disrupted Maruyama's activities in the year's following, and in 1945 he and his family escaped into the "snow country" of the north, where he remained until 1948, when moved to his wife's home city of Toyohashi at the age of fifty. There he settled into a lectureship on modern Japanese poetry and began to write the books of his last years: Seishun Fuzai (1952, Lost Youth), Tsuresarareta Umi (1962, The Hostage Sea), Tsuki Waturu (1972, Moon Passage), and Ari no iru Kao (1973, Face with Ants). He died of cerebral thrombosis at the age of 75 in October 1974.


Ho—Ranpu—Kanome (Daiichi Shobō, 1932); Tsuru no Sōshiki (Daiichi Shobō, 1935); Yōnen (Shiki Sha, 1935); Ichinichishū (Hangasō, 1936); Busshō Shishū (Kawade Shobō, 1941); Namida shita Kami (Usui Shobō, 1942); Tenshō naru Tokoro (Ooka Sha, 1943); Tsuyoi Nippon (Kokumin Tosho Kankōkai, 1944) [author refused to acknowlege this work]; Kitaguni (Usui Shobō, 1946); Senkyō (Sapporo Seiji Sha, 1948); Aoi Kokuban (Nyûfurendo Sha, 1948); Hana no Shin (Sōgen Sha, 1948); Seishun Fuzai (Sōgen Sha, 1952); Tsuresarareta Umi (Chōryū Sha, 1962); Tsuki Wataru (Chōryū Sha, 1972); Ari no iru Kao (Chūō Kōron Sha, 1973); Maruyama Kaoru Zenshū (Kadokawa Shoten, 1976-77).


Self-Righting Lamp: Selected Poems, translated by Robert Epp (Rochester, Michigan: Katydid Books, 1990).

Into Clouds on the Hill

I pet my dog
neck to back
back to tail

Ears lie flat
Coat glistening
belly bent in a bow

Ah my petting hand wind in motion
the dog's tance bending into my strokes
the dog's dashing through its stance

I unleash him into clouds on the hill
The dog bounds off full speed
like a flung stone you can't call back

Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Busshō Shishū, 1941)

Into the Future

The father said:
Look! at this picture
at the sleigh dashing swiftly on
at the wolf pack in pursuit
see the reinsman frantically whipping the reindeer
see the traveler taking steady aim with a rifle
from behind the luggage
now a scarlet flash from the muzzle

The son said:
One wolf's downed right?
Oh another sprang at the sleigh
but tumbled over backward covered with blood
It's night the endless steppes buried in snow
Can the traveler hold out?
How far has the sleigh to go?

The father said:
The sleigh flies like this till dawn
slaying yesterday's regrets one by one
dashing like Time into tomorrow
Soon beyond the path that sun will climb
streets of the future will glimmer into view
Sky on the hill already turning white

—Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Namida shita Kami, 1942)

A Poet's Words

The late Nakahara Chûya said
"You find no mermaids in the sea
In the sea
are only waves"

These words from some strange reason
remain vivid in my mind
If I chant them three times
mermaid faces peer out from between the sounds
If I mutter these words to myself
as I think back on a past cruise through southern seas
countless merman arms and tails appear and disappear
into sea's high blue swells

Or if I think dreamily of these words
when standing on a rock shore under overcast skies
splashes of foam that dash against crags
sound like mermaid's singing

The late Nakahura Chûya's legacy to me:
The word wave has become mermaid
The word mermaid
has become wave

—Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Tenshō naru Tokoro, 1943)

Carossa and Rilke

In his Romanian Diary
Carossa wrote as follows
about a young girl suffering from consumption
in the aftermath of war's destruction
"The scant oxygen in her entire body seemed
concentrated in those hugely opened eyes"
If at that moment
he had inadvertently approached her with the flame of love
her eyes would have burnt away in an instant
and she would have gone to heaven

They say Rilke's eyes were always limpidly blue
profoundly absorbing imagery
without harboring even a hint of a shadow
What if we had sailed a boat on a lake of that hue?
Dread would quickly have driven us insane

Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Hana no Shin, 1948)

News from the Cape

Over the last two or three days here
the sea has been intensely transparent
the sky pure blue

Turning up my heels
each day I dive
deep into the sea and
marvelous! marvelous!
before I know it I'm in the sky
Through my diving goggles
I can see the sun between a cleft in the rocks

Holding my spear high
I rush toward the light
Then somewhere
a harp starts singing serenely
and a file of fish circles the sky
as in an ancient Egyptian mural

Reaching out gingerly
I pry off sea mussels and abalone
from behind the sun

—Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Seishun Fuzai, 1952)

A Crane

A crane soars
over the blue sea

like a sooted and shabby umbrella
singing sadly

That bubble reputation
so long enjoyed
turns to shadow slips away
mirrored black
on crases in the brine.

Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Maruyama Kaoru Zenshū, written 1955)

The Tree in Me

I don't know when it began but a tree has taken root in me
It grows through my growth
Spreading branches from my growing limbs
its leaves thicken into shapes of grief

I no longer go out
I no longer speak to anyone
not to Mother not even to friends...
I'm becoming the tree in me
No no I've already become that tree

I stand quietly far beyond the fields
Whenever I greet morning sun
whenever I look off after clouds fired by sunset
my silence glitters
my solarity self sings

Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Maruyama Kaoru Zenshū, written 1956)

Illusion in the Reef

The chalk coral grove
comes floating transparently to the surface
like a sunken image
deep within a poem
A single baby shark undulates
through coral tips sunlight streaming everywhere
No that's a boot
an airman's book already beginning to dissolve
like a shadow like kelp

—Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Tsuresarareta Umi, 1962)

Minato Ward, Nagoya (Memo on the Isé Bay Typhoon)

Mackerel bob up from the kitchen
enter the alleyways through a window and revived
swim down the street between slanting utility poles
heading vigorously for the estuary for the sea
Deep under riled-up eddying waters
old people
who had instantly exchanged their souls with the fish
surface here and there and towed off on rafts
pass again today
under twilight eaves holding their breath
Tomorrow creamation under sunny skies

Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Ari no iru Kao, 1973)

Face with Ants

Ants crawl over eyelids
Then that nearby hollow suddenly gathers shadows
as though engraved

Ants lick the inner corners of the eyes
From there they go straight down the cheek
—and as I watch that nearby hollow
deepends as though scooped out

Ants circle that mole by the mouth
Then they scurry into breathless nostrils
They won't show themselves again
They may never reappear

Oh the shame of staring so
Oh the shame of being so stared at

Translated from the Japanese by Robert Epp

(from Ari no iru Kao, 1973)


"Into the Clouds on the Hill," "Into the Future," "A Poet's Words," "Carossa and Rilke," "News from the Cape," "A Crane," :The Tree in Me," "Minato Ward, Nagoya," "Illusion in the Reef," and "Face with Ants"
Reprinted from Self-Righting Lamp: Selected Poems, trans. by Robert Epp (Rochester, Michigan: Katydid Books, 1990. Copyright ©1990 by Katydid Books; English Language translation copyright ©1990 by Robert Epp. Reprinted by permission of Katydid Books.

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