Monday, September 1, 2014

One Man's Maple Moon: Knife Sharpener Tanka by Saito Mokichi

English Original

past the hens
bathing in the dirt
a knife sharpener
walks and is gone

The Prism of Mokichi, 2013

Saito Mokichi
trans. by Aya Yuhki et al

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Saito Mokichi (May 14, 1882 -- February 25, 1953) was a psychiatrist and one of the most successful practitioners of the new tanka. In 1913, he published Shakko (Red Lights), a book that created a great impression not only on tanka poets but also on the literary world in general. In 1951, he received the Order of Culture.


  1. Below is excerpted from The Prism of Mokichi, p 177.

    Furthermore, from the viewpoint of tanka history, [Saito Mokichi] introduced a new horizon to the tanka world by uniting two disparate things -- such as "conflict in Shanghai and red flowers of balsam," or "hens and a knife sharpener" in one tanka,... which produced a spark from the collision.

  2. Technically speaking, this is a good example of what American poet, Archibald MacLeish, calls a "coupling of images:"

    "One image is established by words which make it sensuous and vivid to the
    the eyes or ears or touch-to any of the senses. Another image is put beside it.
    And a meaning appears which is neither the meaning of one image nor the
    meaning of the other nor even the sum of both but a consequence of both-a
    consequence of both in their conjunction, in their relation to each other."

    It is in the "space between'" that the poem grows.

    I'll further explore this technique in my forthcoming "To the Lighthouse" post.

    And atmospherically speaking, the collocation of "hens and a knife sharpener" makes the poem emotionally effective as a suspenseful piece of writing. It draws readers into a story and creates a sense of momentum.