Saturday, June 2, 2012

Floating Bridge of Dreams



A spring night
The floating bridge of dreams
Has come to an end
And broken away from the mountain peak.
Cloud bank of the sky.

It's probably kind of silly of me to present this poem so early on in this blog but I had almost forgotten about it was my favorite by far. Fujiwara no Teika was the compiler of the Shinkokinshuu which came after the Kokinshuu (it literally means the "new-Kokinshuu"). I think Teika was a genius and probably the best poet of Heian Japan. He had a refined intellect and solid creativity which separated him from the pack of classical Japanese poets who too often were too attached to tradition to try something new.
This poem has been translated probably hundreds if not thousands of times in a myriad of languages but of course I'm partial to my own. I haven't read all the translations so there is a chance that mine looks a lot like someone else's. I apologize if that is the case. The floating bridge of dreams has a special significance since it is also the last chapter of the Tale of Genji. I read and studied the Genji while I was in university and it is a very interesting work. The plot of the Genji is erratic and organic and the story kind of "drops off" as opposed to concluding. By the final chapter Genji is already dead and he has two sons who are also wrapped up in the romance and court intrigue as Genji was but they are far less good at it. Kaoru is feckless and Niou lacks sophistication. The story ends with Kaoru contemplating about visiting a woman he cares for. It's not really a good ending and I feel like it wasn't meant to be.
Anyway, the floating bridge of dreams is significant to me for a different reason. While in university I always idealized Japan and Japanese culture. I saw Japan through the eyes of Genji and Basho. I focused my energy in studying about Japan and Japanese language. It wasn't until I got to Japan that I realized that as compelling a country Japan is, it is still an ordinary country like everywhere else with similar problems. The legacy of Genji, Basho, Teika, etc. is more like a subtle perfume, easily missed, than a guiding force of Japanese society. I realized that my understanding of Japan was antiquated and over-idealized. And then volunteering in the Philippines and helping clean up the mess that Japanese men caused over there with their failed romantic excursions solidified in me that Japanese were all too human.
I like the epithet "floating bridge of dreams" because Japan was my bridge to Asia and my starting point for study and work in the entire region. It was also a dream, a pleasant dream that I was rudely awaken from, but also learned from.
As for the interpretation of the poem above, well I'm sure you have your own ideas :)
At the moment I am translating a series of summer poems from the Kokinshuu which I will post when I'm finished but it might take awhile.

No comments:

Post a Comment