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Love poems from The Tale of Genji
translated by Jane Reichhold with Hatsue Kawamura
Stone Bridge Press
PO Box 8208
CA 94707
ISBN 1 880656 62 0

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This is a 237 page paperback book. GENJI MONOGATARI is the title of a novel that was written about 1,000 years ago by a woman called Murasaki Shikibu. It has since been widely studied and translated into English. Professor Edward Seidensticker's translation of THE TALE OF GENJI was published in 1976. A STRING OF FLOWERS, UNTIED is a reworking of the poems based on the story in this translation. However the translators used Akiko Yosano's modern Japanese translation of the poems in the novel. The purpose was to rewrite the tanka (in English) in a more original format using the modern translation. It is effectively an English translation of Akiko Yosano's Japanese working of the original poems.

As stated in the preface, these poems were translated into a 5 line format previously (by Professor Helen Graig McCullough). However, there are widely differing views about the right ways and wrong ways of writing tanka in English. This is because of the vast difference in the way in which the two languages are constructed. The 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count has largely been abandoned by British poets. Furthermore, cultural differences, which give secondary meaning, also lead to contextual difficulties in translations. Added to this there is the 1,000 year gap! It does state on the back cover that it is based on the first 33 Chapters and that this is not a translation of the complete work. There are also the additional poems by Akiko Yosano.

This is an impressive work. The poems give a very pleasant read. The story is also easy to follow. The story is about the fictitious Prince Genji who is linked to the Imperial Court of Japan. The tanka are embedded in the story and give a flavour of oriental times past. They also illustrate how tanka were used in Japan. There is a small section at the back of the book about traditional Japanese tanka.

It is always a pleasure to see Akiko Yosano's work in English. I cannot judge whether the tanka in this English translation come close to the original meaning; but I can say that they are lovely and they are in keeping with the tone of the novel:

	the unsure heart
	at the mountain's edge
	the moon proceeds
	lightly into the heavens
	vanishes without a shadow

	if our conduct
	was like man and wife each night
	we wouldn't be separated
	by the embarrassment
	of garlic in the daytime
The word "dew" needs special mention because of the old cliché in Japan between tears and dew. Traditional Japanese poets love puns and clichés. Unfortunately, they have been frowned upon in modern western usage. The word dew appears in many traditional tanka:
	spring grass
	grows up not knowing
	how short life is
	how can it be that
	the dew would vanish?

	I wish to know
	whose dewy lodge it is
	before harsh winds
	blow across the fields of
	the tiny bamboo grasses
The title is taken from a tanka:
	in evening dew
	strings of flowers were untied
	in this way
	thus by chance our destinies
	have a reason to exist
This book is a joy for anyone who loves tanka. It is also useful for scholars studying Japanese culture of 1000 AD.

reviewer: Doreen King.