Saturday, 13 April 2013

Dialogue Of The Destitute.

        Today's poem, written by Yamanoue no Okura, from another place and another time, but sadly, some things never change. The poverty written about all those years ago, in this poem is still very much part of today's world. For how much longer?
       Yamanoue no Okura (660–733) was a Japanese poet, the best known for his poems of children and commoners. He was a member of Japanese missions to Tang China. He was also a contributor to the Man'yōshū and his writing had a strong Chinese influence. Unlike other Japanese poetry of the time, his work emphasizes a morality based on the teachings of Confucius. He was perhaps born in 660 because his fifth volume, published in 733, has a sentence saying "in this year, I am 74".
        The Yamanoue clan was a tributary of the Kasuga clan,[1] who is a descendant of Emperor Kōshō. Yamanoue no Okura went on to accompany a mission to Tang China in 701 and returned to Japan in 707. In the years following his return he served in various official capacities. He served as the Governor of Hōki (near present day Tottori), tutor to the crown prince, and Governor of Chikuzen.
      Modern scholar[who?] have reached the general consensus that Okura was likely of Korean extraction. He is believed to have been one of the refugees from the Korean kingdom of Baekje (called Kudara in Japanese) who fled the Korean peninsula for Baekje's close ally Japan after their kingdom was invaded by Tang China.

Dialogue of the Destitue
"On nights when rain falls,
                  mixed with wind,
on nights when snow falls,
               mixed with rain,
I am cold
And the cold.
       leaves me helpless:"
I lick black lumps of salt
and suck up melted dregs of sake.
Coughing and sniffling,
I smooth my uncertain wisps
                        of beard.
I am proud-
          I know no man
                is better than me.
But I am cold.
I pull up my hempen nightclothes
and throw on every scrap
of cloth shirt that I own.
But the night is cold.
And I wonder how a man like you,
          even poorer than myself,
with his father and mother
starving and freezing,
with his wife and children
begging and begging
              through their tears,
can get through the world alive
               at times like this. "

"Wide, they say,
              are heaven and earth-
but have they shrunk for me?
Bright, they say,
               are the sun and moon-
but do they refuse to shine for me?
Is it thus for all men,
                  or for me alone?
Above all, I was born human,
I too toil for my keep-
as much as the next man-
yet on my shoulders hangs
a cloth shirt
not even lined with cotton,
these tattered rags
thin as strips of seaweed..
"In my groveling hut,
    my tilting hut,
sleeping on straw
cut and spread right on the ground,
with my father and mother
       huddled at my pillow
and my wife and children
       huddled at my feet,
I grieve and lament.
Not a spark rises in the stove,
and in the pot
a spider has drawn its web,
I have forgotten
what it is to cook rice!
As I lie here,
a thin cry tearing from my throat-
                  a tiger thrush's moan-
then, as they say,
to slice the ends
of a thing already too short,
to our rough bed
comes the scream of the village headman
           with his tax collecting whip.
Is it so helpless and desperate,
the way of the world?"

I find this world
a hard and shameful place.
But I cannot fly away-
I am not a bird. 

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