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.
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
(Translated by J.D. Wisgo)
The chalky-white forms
Their resolute nooks and crannies
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?
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
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