‘The City’ – C.P. Cavafy


You said:  “I’ll go to some other land, I’ll go to some other sea
There’s bound to be another city that’s better by far.
My every effort has been ill-fated from the start;
my heart-like something dead-lies buried away;
How long will my mind endure this slow decay?
Wherever I look, wherever I cast my eyes,
I see all around me the black rubble of my life
where I’ve spent so many ruined and wasted years.”
You’ll find no new places, you won’t find other shores.
The city will follow you.  The streets in which you pace
will be the same, you’ll haunt the same familiar places,
and inside those same houses you’ll grow old.
You’ll always end up in this city.  Don’t bother to hope
for a ship, a route, to take you somewhere else; they don’t exist.
Just as you’ve destroyed your life, here in this
small corner, so you’ve wasted it through all the world. 


“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” 

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
– Robert Herrick

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May *oil on canvas *101 x 82.5 cm *signed b.r.: J.W. Waterhouse. / 1909
Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May
*oil on canvas
*101 x 82.5 cm
*signed b.r.: J.W. Waterhouse. / 1909

Princess Shikishi Poem – 式子内親王の詩


Winter Becoming Spring

In spring too
what first stands out —
Mount Otowa —
from the snow at its peak
the rays of the sun appear.

Here deep in the hills,
my pine door would never know
that springtime had come —
but for a broken trickle
of jewels of melted snow.

Though warblers
have not called,
in the sound of cascades
pouring down rocks
spring is heard.


With spring manifest
on moss-grown, decaying eaves,
the plum tree
of my house, unaged,
emits its fragrance.

Even when
my watching you today
becomes the past,
plum near the eaves,
do not forget me!

Flowers have blossomed
in my mind
while I awaited them:
at last to Yoshino
I have transplanted them

It’s spring:
to my heart’s content
I gaze at the treetops
shrouded in haze
and budding.

Now the cherry trees
seem to have bloomed;
it’s cloudy,
hazy with spring,
the way the world appears.

I look for the end
of the haze-mountains
with shelves
of white clouds
against the dawning sky.

On the Sea of Grebes
a boat is making its way—
beyond the haze —
with its sail billowing forth
to make a vista for spring.

As I sleep somewhere
near a mountain
away from home,
spring is fragrant
in reality and in dreams.

Visitors, go home
without breaking
off branches:
even the warbler’s wingwind
cruel to my cherry.

Spring Becoming Summer

With the blossoms gone
I look for no special color
as I gaze afar
and then from the empty sky
spring rains begin to fall.

The clouds
of May rain
have closed into one —
water beads from the roof
unstrung, chaotic.

Layers of eightfold
yellow roses
in such glow
when what remains of spring
may be counted in days.


So rich in my hand
was the scent of the water,
that I searched upstream —
and found it flowing there
beneath a wild orange tree.

Is he telling me
in which village
he’ll wait?
Under flowering deutzia
a cuckoo whispers.

Calls of the clapper rail
far into the night —
moss-grown gate
closed to all
but the moon.

The sound of wind
rustling bamboo leaves
near my window —
short is my nap
and its dream.

Saying, “It’s cool,”
I sought the wind’s message:
wild lillies
near a clump of grass.

Like the evening dew
soaking a spider’s web,
how long,
I only wonder
will I last?

Passing the cedar grove,
at Osaka Barrier,
I cup water
from the mountain well.

Each time
the shower returns,
the leafy oak
waiting in my garden
responds and takes it in.

As I grow
used to the moss mat
and rock pillow,
the sound of mountain water
cleanses my heart.

To the sound
of water tumbling
beneath rocks
in the pine shade,
cicada voices coolly respond.

As I gaze.
the moon dims,
on the face
of the garden,
only a few fireflies.

Summer Becoming Autumn

Is it to tell
the geese
of the autumn wind?
Fireflies rising close
to the evening clouds.

The moon’s color, too,
says autumn’s close;
late at night
will reeds near my hedge
startle me?

in the boarded well,
far from the village,
now to be removed;
autumn is near.


the passage has occurred;
as I brood,
autumn dusk dewdrops
fall on my pillow.

When autumn comes,
even the pines
aging on mount Tokiwa
deeply change
their hues.

The clear-toned cicadas
have exhausted their voices
on the hillside,
when again
the evening bell startles.

The voices of insects
and a stag by the fence,
as one,
disturb me to tears
this autumn dusk.

The paulownia leaves
are hard to make a way through
so thick have they fallen.
Although it’s not as if
I’m expecting anyone.

In my garden
where no one comes,
wrapped in sedge,
in the depths of dew,
a pine cricket cries.

Away from home
over the dewdrops
fragile on my pillow
lightning at dusk
gleams intermittently.

Flowering pampas grass,
again dew-soaked;
I thought I would not be out
and gaze
in autumn’s prime.

Watching, I have grown lonely.
If only I had a lodging
outside the autumn!
The moon lives
in the field and on the hills.

Autumn Becoming Winter

Winds cold, leaves
are cleared from trees
night by night,
baring the garden
to the moon’s light.

In the shower
red leaves fell;
now hailstones drop
on garden leaves.

If you haven’t seen it
on the ice of this well,
you must insist
the moon
is of autumn alone.


Away from home
in Fushimi Village,
the day breaks; across
the frost of harvested fields,
a crane calls.

Uji River boat piled with brushwood
unable to pull up to shore —
one after another
the drops from the pole
turn to ice.

As I watched
winter came;
along the edge of a cove
where ducks sit,
thin ice is forming.

Unable to sleep with ease,
on my mid-night pillow;
a wood duck
that iced itself
has come to ask.

Flowers and leaves
of all colors —
let them be:
late winter night
has its pinewind sound.

Frost not falling
from the grebe’s wings
however it flaps them:
is it unaware
that it’s moonlight?

As winter comes,
the sound
from the valley stream stops,
and a wind from the mountain
visits my window.

Tumultuous winter sky
all day—
now it suddenly turns cloudy,
sleet slashes aslant,
winds competing.

to hilltop pine branches
break under snow,
I spend all night
in a valley hut.

Who grows used to living here?
A hut
with a brushwood fence
in the falling snow.

The kind of place
where the way a traveler’s tracks
disappear in snow
is something you get used to —
such a place is this world of ours.


With reference to the sources listed below, these poems
cited, edited and adapted from:
String of Beads: Complete Poems of Princess Shikishi,
tr. by Hiroaki Sato, U. of Hawaii Press, 1993

Traditional Japanese Poetry,
tr. by Steven D. Carter, Stanford U. Press, 1991

From the Country of Eight Islands,
tr. by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson, Columbia U. Press, 1986

The Colors of Poetry: Essays on Classic Japanese Verse,
by Ooka Makoto, Katydid Books, 1991

Japan - 日本 Journal

The Expatriate

I am, therefore I think. 

I think I have grown tired of these walls, so I walk out on the veranda to a fresh view. 

The walls are gone.  My perspective has changed.  My protection shed. 

The hair on my body dances from the breath of the gentle breeze.

 I did not know they could dance.

 I see the sun orange and red calling me.  But in what land does it lay to rest? 

I know you, my neighbor.  You enter a castle, but by simply entering are not made king.  You have told me what is there, but have not become.  I have so many neighbors.   Do you understand?

Who am I now? 

Where was I before?  I seem so far away. 

I want to become.  I want to know.   

The firm earth will turn to sand.  It blows here and there.  Can you catch a grain?

My friends become enemies overnight and would cut my throat with a word. 

It’s lonely. 

How can the beautiful blue sky turn dark and dreadful so quickly? 

The sun is so beautiful orange and red when it’s on the horizon. 

I want to touch.  I want to know.