Classical Japanese poetry translation: “The Hollow City” (虚しい街) by Yoshinobu Morikawa (森川義信)

By | September 30, 2020

Yoshinobu Morikawa was a Japanese poet who lived from 1918 to 1942 and left behind various poems, some with dark or mysterious themes. He was said to be influenced by famous poet T. S. Eliot, author of The Wasteland.

This post contains my full English translation of Morikawa’s poem “The Hollow City” (虚しい街), first published in 1941. Translation generally involves at least a little bit of interpretation on the translator’s part, but for poetic works there can be even more ambiguity, hence more necessity for the translator to interpret as they see fit. This work is no exception.

You can find the full original Japanese text of the poem here. I have translated another of this author’s works (“The Forgotten Garden”) here in case you are interested.

By the way, I’m not that familiar with T.S. Eliot’s works, but let me know if you see any resemblance.

If you enjoyed this work, please consider checking out my published translations on Amazon here.

And finally––happy International Translation Day!


The Hollow City

Yoshinobu Morikawa

(Translated by J.D. Wisgo)


The chalky-white forms

Their resolute nooks and crannies

Sinking low

Sinking low in the dejected darkness

Buried in shadows

Held up by gloom 

Those stairs, leading to who knows where

Oh, the many times I have arisen among emptiness

And tried to take them

Near a window clouded by smoke

A door opens of its own accord

Yet no sign of anyone escaping

Beside a forgotten wooden chair

Hangs the miserable scent of water

In the wake of a fallen shirt

Comes, as if by mistake, a gust of wind

In those brown, unhappy times

A majestic wheel moved quietly

And you, too, must have been watching the city

Waiting for the sound of hesitant footsteps

Casting light from a single soot-caked lamp

That burned softly

Who would believe now

In the wistful memory

Of dilapidated furniture

Will even the sound of collapsing, of departure

Return home, like the distant rumblings of night?

Walk

You must go somewhere

From an unseen street corner 

Towards a terribly lonely wind

A city without substance

Crossing a deep space

The enormous wheel has returned

Discovering the ruined passage

Trampling fast

Over the frozen cobblestone  

One will become free from a dissolute mind that seeks salvation

The sound of smoke and flames rings out

In the midst of violent tremors

You collapsed, mistakenly

What ever were you thinking?

Even the countless doors and pillars 

Contorting with grief

Must have sunk down, right into the earth


(English Translation Copyright © 2020 by J.D. Wisgo)

Note: picture taken from Pexels.com

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