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The Master Singers of Japan by Clara Walsh

What is Japanese poetry translated into English? A true translation? Or an imitation? With Japanese poetry we need to convert words and structure. Or do we? If so, to what degree?

Kenneth’s Rexroth’s translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry appeals to me best, however, his work is still under copyright and only a limited number of verses can be reproduced. Like my page to him here (internal like.)

Enter the somewhat mysterious Clara Walsh for whom an adequate biography does not seem to exist.

Clara published The Master Singers of Japan in 1914. It is a selection of classical Japanese poetry and you can read her work at: (external link)

I’ve written over and over that reading foreign works demands you get a translation that appeals to you .(internal link) Otherwise, you may never get into the text or even approach it.

Walsh did a fantastic job in bringing these poems to the Western World. I think Rexroth brings a better sense of regret and melancholy than Walsh does, but that is only my impression as one who does not read Japanese.

Rexroth was a world class poet and I find translations by poets to be the best. Poets relate to each other like how Ezra Pound enabled the poetry of T.S. Eliot. Read some of Clara’s translations here and then check back at my Rexroth page to see the difference.

I wrote of structure. I don’t know which forms these take. If you are going to try that Haiku thing, include a reference to the seasons. Not just the right syllable count. Your instructor may not tell you that but I am telling you that. Trust me. (internal link)

I am being too fussy. Here are a few poems translated by Walsh. And I thank her for it.


by H.I.M. The Empress

When in the Spring I pass through mountain ways,
I see camellia blooms all scattered lie
In dewy beauty on the paths. A haze
Of drizzling rain obscures the weeping sky!


By Teika

Lonely and desolate
Stretches the coast line.
Here and there thatched roofs
Of fishermen’s dwellings.
Cold gleam the waters.
Nor soft hue of blossom,
Nor rich glow of maples,
To brighten the sadness—
But twilight autumnal!


(From the “Manyôshiu”)

The pale mauve wavelets of wistaria,
Which I had planted by my dwelling-place
That it might bring me thoughts of thee I love,
At length are blooming: pure ethereal
As their own fragrance, fugitive and rare.


By Ōtomo no Yakamochi

Why talk of jewels? Though by night
Their hearts with changeful colours shine,
Can they impart the deep delight
That lives within the golden wine
And drives away one’s care?

If in this Lifetime
My heart be light and joyous,
What does it matter
Though in the next existence
I change to bird or insect?


Through the wild cherry-blooms that snow
Yamato’s hills with petals fair,
The shining morning sun-rays glow:
Will you not come and see them there?


Outside my dwelling crickets sing,
Deep in the grass. And on the lea
The clover-bush is blossoming
In full perfection.—Come and see!


Standing, her beauty holds,
The peony’s white loveliness;
Seated, her robe enfolds
Charms that surpass in graciousness
The Botan * in its pride;
And when she walks in silk array,
Abashed the fragile poppies sway
In slender grace outvied.

By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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