Saturday, April 9, 2016

To the Lighthouse: Coupled Images

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

The Prism of Mokichi, 2013

Saito Mokichi
translated by Aya Yuhki et al

[Saito Mokichi] devoted himself to the study of Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), treasured the sounds and style of tanka, ... he came under the personal influence of Saigyo and Basho, but at the same time he injected very modern concrete images such as ...."hen and the knife sharpener" into his tanka.... Furthermore, from the viewpoint of tanka history, he introduced a new horizon to the tanka world by uniting two disparate things -- such as "conflict in Shanghai and red flowers of balsam,"1 or "hens and a knife sharpener" -- in one tanka; that is, one image in kaminoku (the initial 3 phrases) and the other in shimonoku (the latter 2 phrases) of one tanka, ... which produced a spark from the collision. --  excerpted from The Prism of Mokichi, p 177.

 ... from the viewpoint of tanka history, he introduced a new horizon to the tanka world by uniting two disparate things,...  in one tanka ... which produced a spark from the collision.

Technically speaking, this is a good example of what American poet Archibald MacLeish calls "coupled 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" (Krishna Rayan, Suggestion and Statement in Poetry, p.69). It is in the "space between'" that the poem grows. 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.


Note: Aya refers to the following tanka by Saito Mokichi:

an incident
has occurred in Shanghai,
while the red flowers
of balsam
scatter on the ground

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