signature seal (hanko) impression for KURI-SU CHRIS'S JAPAN PAGE title bar amulet for one born in a Monkey year, from Tadou Taisha shrine, Mie Prefecture

"Seeing a dream"

an exploration of Miyazawa Kenji

(work in progress: updated June 6, 2004)

page 1

The dragon and Miyazawa  | "Cloud signal"  | Notes | References | Readings |

This image of a dragon with Japanese inscription is painted on a concrete wall which divides the former track-bed of the Rochester, New York, subway. (The subway was shut down in the early 1950s.) I was a little startled to turn the corner of the wall and suddenly be confronted with the beast. I wondered if the artist's intention was something as banal as "Puff, the magic dragon," so that it merely represented a tribute to The Weed. The inscription led me to hope otherwise.
True, yume wo mite iru "seeing a dream" is not an unusual phrase, but the words might have been intended as a quote. They immediately evoked for me the poem of Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933) entitled Kumo no shingou "Cloud signal." This poem is characteristically alive with Miyazawa's feeling for the world around him, the world of "spring and the Asura demon" (Haru to Asura) — the beauty and indifferent cruelty of sky, clouds, and earth, the joys, yearnings, and sufferings of all the (other?) sentient beings. There is a visionary quality, his feeling of communication and ultimate oneness with them all — and not just as they are in the here and now, but as they have been through the long ages of their existence.
If the dragon is meant to evoke the poem (or if we choose to make it do so), then this figure becomes a cosmic dragon — like "the dragon king worshipped by the yellow-flag devotees and the red-flag devotees" (ryuuou wo matsuru ki no hata aka no hata gyousha, Ms. A, Meiji 44, January [1911]). Why not the dragon that Miyazawa named Chanata in one of his stories? In "The dragon and the poet" (Ryuu to shijin, cited here from the translation by George Wallace [ref. 3.4]), the banished "ruler of the wind and the clouds" advises the poet: "We are all, each and every one of us, the wind, the clouds and the water." Accordingly, we also exist across the sweep of time, just as "to a dragon, a thousand human years are no more than ten days." Indeed, each sentient being may be the dragon as well, and that immanent dragon nature may appear unpredictably, as in the wilding horse: "eyes red, it turns into a dragon / struggling it rakes at / the blue velvet spring sky" (me ga akaku ryuu ni kawatte / aobiidoru no haru no ten wo / assete kaite [Kanba "Unruly horse"]).
poet and notebook: postage stamp for the birth centenary, 27 August 1996 Miyazawa is recognizable in his well-known character Giovanni, lying back in the grass, studying the stars, and falling into a vision (in Ginga tetsudou no yoru "Night of the Milky Way railroad"). He is likewise found in the yearnings of the poet in the above story: "I want to come here every day that I can, to look up at the sky, to gaze into the water and to observe the clouds. And as I do so, I want to talk with you about the creation of a new world." In that world, no doubt, the rural desperation around him would disappear; people would not have to say — only halfway to the next rice harvest — "already there's no more to eat" (mou mattaku taberu mono ga nai [Jinushi "Landowner"]). The goals of his own labors with fertilizers and improved agricultural techniques — so graphically shown in his unfinished "The rice crop: an episode" (Inasaka souwa) — would be achieved at last. It is not only the mountains in "Cloud signal" who dream. (For his ideal of selfless service, click on the illustration to the right.)
Miyazawa is heard, most of all, speaking as himself in the poems, in one or more voices, his vision moving across the single world of being, from the people and animals around him to the horizon, the sky, and the stars beyond. A devout Buddhist, he also invokes the world of "the naïve primordial gods" (sobokuna mukashi no kamigami [Wafuu wa kawadani ippai ni fuku "A soft breeze blows filling the valley"]). He had said to his sister Toshiko, in her last illness: "like a bird, like a squirrel / you've been longing for the woods" (tori no you ni risu no you ni / omae wa hayashi wo shitatte ita [Matsu no hari "Pine's needles"]). Now, after her death, "two large white birds / exchanging sharp sorrowful cries / fly in the moist morning light / they are my little sister" (nihiki no oukina shiroi tori / surudoku kanashiku nakikawashinagara / shimetta asa no nikkou wo tonde iru / sore wa watakushi no imouto da). The very title of this poem, "White birds" (Shiroi tori), calls up the ancient, animistic world of the Nihon shoki and the Kojiki, where the dead speak, all white animals are magical, birds preside over a god's funeral (ref. 5.2, pp. 126-28), and souls become birds.
reproductions of the funeral singer/dancer haniwa figures from Saitama Pref."White birds" relates the legend of the hero Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, who "taking the shape of a white bird, came forth from the misasagi [tomb] and flew towards the land of Yamato" ([ref. 5.1, p. 210]) — that is, homeward. Miyazawa uses the more emotional Kojiki version of the legend, in which it is the hero's wives and children who vainly follow after the bird (ref. 5.2, pp. 250-52). The Kojiki also contains the hero's death songs. These brief texts may well have appealed to the poet, especially the following one. It invokes an image he favored, and his weather eye frequently went to the horizon (literally or figuratively), to see what blessing or disaster might be burgeoning: "from the direction / of my beloved home / the clouds are rising" (pashikeyasi / wagipe no kata yo / kumo-wi tati ku mo [ref. 5.2, pp. 249, 432]).
Miyazawa's habit of looking to the sky for omens, as well as his seeing the flight of birds as a transit of souls, would feel familiar to the ancient poets of the Manyoushuu (ref. 5.4), as well as to the authors of the Kojiki. For example, the following are an apotropaic verse written during the illness of Emperor Tenchi (r. 662-671 A.D.) and an elegaic one after his death, both attributed to Empress Yamato-hime (Man. XI/147-148):
turning away I look to the Field of Heaven: amanohara furisakemireba
my Lord's life is long oukimi no miinochi wa nagaku
boundless as the sky amatarashitari
above Kohata of the green banners aohata no Kohata no ue wo
my eyes see you pass over but kayou to wa me ni wa miredomo
we will not meet together again tada ni awanu kamo
Subsequently Miyazawa would find reminders of his sister in the sky (Funkawan - nokutaan "Volcano Bay - nocturne"; Ohotsuku banka "Okhotsk elegy"). A decade later, as the time of his own death approached, he reaffirmed his consistent, long-sighted gaze: "The view from my side is / after all, only of the beautiful blue sky / and the transparent wind" (watakushi kara mieru no wa / yappari kireina aozora to / sukitouta kaze bakari desu [Me nite iu "Speaking to the eyes"]). Miyazawa the educator left behind this prayer invoking the elements: "well, goodbye, / from the clouds and from the wind / may the transparent energy / come pouring down into that child" (ja sayounara / kumo kara mo kaze kara mo / toumeina enerugii ga / sono kodomo ni sosogi kudare [Inasaka souwa]).
"Cloud signal" is abundantly reproduced in Japanese web pages. See the REFERENCES (select at top or bottom of this page)for a Japanese commentary, a "poem monument" (shihi) in Miyazawa's hometown, and the two other English translations I know of. Although this is explicitly a "spring" poem (dated May 10, 1922), the atmospherics of the "first level" of interpretation discussed below fit summer as well, and the poem is alive in any season. Japanese texts of any of the cited poems (above or below) can be requested and downloaded from the sites listed below (refs. 2.2, 2.3). Hiroaki Sato's anthology in English contains a number of them and is a fine selection sensitively rendered.
ah that's nice isn't it refreshing 1 aa ii na seisei suru na
wind is blowing   kaze ga fuku shi
and the farm tools gleam   nougu wa pika pika hikatte iru shi
and the mountains … hazy — 4 yama wa bonyari
even the volcanic rock necks and domes —   gankei datte ganshou datte
for they all are dreaming of a timeless age   minna jikan no nai koro no yume wo mite iru no da
      at that moment a cloud signal 7       sono toki kumo no shingou wa
      already stood raised high         mou aojiroi haru no
      in the pale ascetic sky of spring         kinyoku no sora takaku kakagerarete ita
the mountains … hazy 10 yama wa bonyari
in the four cryptomeria surely   kitto shihon sugi ni wa
geese too will come and land tonight   konya wa gan mo orite kuru
In the discussion below, "the Commentary" always means ref. 4.1.1.
OVERVIEW   HANAMAKI HOME BOY WORKING HARD TO CREATE CULTURE IN FARM VILLAGES ORGANIZES ASSOCIATION FOR LOCAL PEOPLE AND RETURNS TO LIFE IN NATURE reported the local daily newspaper (February 1, 1926; ref. 1.5). Miyazawa the teacher, family caregiver, and self-starting volunteer worker produced poems grounded in his “life in nature” (shizen-seikatsu), that is, in his dedication to agriculture and to the local farmers. What we may call the first level of “Cloud Signal” is an expression of that life. It can be read as an unalloyed celebration of spring. People, the elements, the earth, animals, and plants are in harmony. After the deprivations of winter, black clouds, which herald fertilizing rain, rise above the horizon. At this first level, the poem can be regarded as a farmer’s exuberant song in response to the return of warmth and light. For this meaning and mood the poem itself is celebrated (see Line 11, below).
At a second level, the poem is a personal statement, similar to other poems (not least "Spring and the Asura") which express his “peculiar sense of spring” (Commentary). He too responds to renewed warmth and light; sexual urges and (one might suggest) other yearnings — and perhaps regrets — shake his dedication to service and self-sacrifice; they endanger his rigorous self-discipline and threaten to disrupt his sense of intimacy with nature.
How does he resolve this dilemma? The 'psychoanalytic' interpretation has him project his internal conflict upon the sky-world, whose symbolism of sexual combat he recognizes. Sublimation occurs. His own sexual instincts are displaced to the amorous birds; and the cloud signal now arouses the birds' procreative urge, not his own. His tensions are relieved. The Commentary uses some, but not all, of these terms; and it minimizes the strength of the emotions involved. The poem, it says, explicitly celebrates the brightness of the spring day while subtly alluding to nature's night of love.
Is this a sufficient explanation, however? Were his personal feelings really so feeble? The explanation does not take into account the role of Miyazawa’s vehement Buddhism in shaping his ideals and helping him achieve self-integration already at that time, not to mention the way it served as a refuge durring his painful last years. The mystery of suffering, explained through the Four Noble Truths, could provide for Miyazawa a key to the vagaries of nature, the human struggle for existence, his own internal conflict. Moreover, for Miyazawa the plane of existence of the Asura is a literal reality, not just a literary device. It represents a universal struggle which places his own warfare of mind and body in context. He is not alone; and the birds, which are "transcendent" — able to rise to the empyrean above the Asura — may bring hope and rescue from a sense of isolation. Without denying the transference of his feelings to the birds, one can argue that he does not so much project his self up onto the sky but, rather, draws down and internalizes the very real cosmological drama which he perceives there.
TITLE   Some examples of Miyazawa's use of the "cloud" and "signal" words individually are given below (line 7). Also the luminous character of clouds in Miyazawa's poems is illustrated, a feature which makes his alternative word "beacon" quite natural. This title, a meteorological expression, comes just as easily to him as does his geological imagery in line 5. He has a poem entitled "Meteorological station" (Sokkoujo), and his image of the station's signal light provides an analogy for the atmospheric (and even the celestial) signals in his works (Hatsudoukisen "Motorized boat," undated):
ah the constellations shining down and the water aa saewataru seiza ya mizu ya
and also the chilly land breeze mata kanreina rikufuu
and already the weather station's signal light mou sakkoujo no shingoutou ya
and the low hills in back of the town — all have come into view machi no ushiro no hikui okaoka mo miete kita
diabutsu of Takkoku no Iwaya, near Hiraizumi, Iwate PrefectureBeyond the literal significance of the weather signal which can inspire joy or fear we find Miyazawa's feeling for the connectedness of all things, the interplay between the emotions of the sentient beings on earth and the elements themselves. Does the color of his clouds sometimes respond to his mood? Certainly his reading of the clouds (their blackness, for instance) varies with the context and mood. For an understanding of the cloud signal of the present poem, the Commentary refers to a later work: "A nebulous argument regarding a spring cloud" (Haru no kumo ni kanshite aimai naru giron; April 5, 1927). At that time Miyazawa was laboring with the local farmers and his former students from the agricultural school. In this poem, as in others, he expresses a recurring theme — the slender thread by which the farmers' lives hung, their political and economic powerlessness. (For an overview of the agrarian troubles of the 1920s, see ref. 1.6, pp. 108ff.; the poet did not survive to see the famine of 1934 just to the north in Aomori prefecture.) Nevertheless, in springtime the renewal of life stirs one thing they can call their own — the will to survive and to create life.
how many myriad people just like us … warera ni hitoshii ikubanjin ga …
with no other recourse all yaribasho no nai sono akira wo
cast their eye up to that cloud … mina ano kumo ni nagete iru …
that murky, dark mass … ano donyori to kurai mono …
that mass is in fact love are koso ren'ai sono mono na no da
One might translate with "desire," "passion," "sex," but it seems preferable to leave all connotations in play.
The farmers' sense of nature's beneficence, their joy at the springtime cloud signal that year, had turned to fear, a sense of panic, by August 20. They were trying to salvage the rice fields, which first had been blighted by dense cloud cover cutting off the sunlight, then beaten down by heavy rain (poem # 1088 on that date; variations of the theme are found in furu ame wa furu shi "Falling, the rain falls"). Describing the situation, the poet also looks back to his earlier poem:
I try to shake off the anxiety fuan wo magirakasou to suru
it's demeaning iyashii koto da
   but oh, yet again    keredomo aa mata atarashiku
   in the west a black sculpture of death is rising up    nishi ni wa kuroi shi no gunsou wakiagaru
   in the spring wasn't it true    haru ni wa sore wa,
  that we could think of it    ren'ai jishin to sae mo iu
   even as being love in person    kangaerarete ita de wa nai ka
If springtime cloud signals are stated, in 1927, to have a sexual significance, we may well expect the same attitude in 1922, given the poet's strong continuity of thought and feeling. Line 9 of the present poem leads us in that direction, and this would not be the only one he wrote in 1922 that expressed the sexual energy of the natural world. One of his short August 8 poems is called Tennen-yobitsugi "Spontaneous attraction" (complete text):
under Hokusai's black alder hokusai no han no ki no shita de
a yellow pinwheel turns round and round ki no kazeguruma mawaru mawaru
with just one cryptomeria, there is no spontaneous attraction ippon sugi wa tennen-yobitsugi de wa arimasen
with a zelkova and a cryptomeria sprouting together growing up together tsuki to sugi to ga isshou ni haete isshou ni sodachi
in the end the trunks become joined toutou miki ga kuttsuite
it is just a matter of standing under the inaccessible light of heaven kewashii tenkou ni tatsu to iu dake desu
birds are living up there too tori mo sunde wa imasu keredo
The later, longer poem using this theme (Haru to han no ki "Spring and black alder," August 30, 1923) puts the above concluding thought this way:
birds too in the uncrossable clear air tori mo wataranai seitouna kuukan wo
I rose up alone watakushi wa tatta hitori
hugging to myself cold vile fantasies one after another tsugi kara tsugi to tsumetai ayashii gensou wo dakinagara
This poem needs to be considered more fully another time, along with Miyazawa's one other reference to the artist Hokusai (1760-1849), the lengthy poem Ukiyoe, which contemplates nature and the eroticism of Japanese art together.
LINES 1-3    The Commentary sees this poem as falling into four strophes of three lines each, and indeed the separation of lines 7-9 strongly suggests this. Further, this source proposes a quasi-musical organization — an idea that would harmonize with Miyazawa's love of music. (The Commentary suggests a sonata form.) It also points to the structure kishoutenketsu of the Chinese quatrain, that is, "opening — development — shift — conclusion." This pattern is clearly applicable to the strophes (or 'movements') of "Cloud signal." In this first one, the enjoyment of spring is presented simply and directly.
Miyazawa himself outlines a symphony in four movements that ends with a bang (for park visitors, in the scathing Kokuritsu kouen kouhochi ni kansuru iken "Opinion about the proposed site of a national park," a poem which visualizes destruction of the environment). The movements are: allegro con brio (i.e., prancing haneru), andante (i.e., sighing a little/"oh my!" yaya-unari), lamenting (nageku), a feeling of death (shi no kimochi). At least allegro con brio would exactly suit lines 1-3 here, with pure delight in the warming earth of springtime.
LINES 1-2   The enjoyment of the spring breeze, warm on the face, is direct, unstudied, with no description. Wind, clouds, and sky — Miyazawa’s familiar trio of atmospheric motifs — so often are modelled with colors, scents, other indications of the mystery of the elements, indications of their promise or threat. Today there is no worry about a parching summer wind (“the wind burning, the rice stalks burn” kaze mo moe inagusa mo moeru [Ryouyuu “Colleagues;” July 1, 1927]). Rather, this wind blesses (and perhaps bears a message), like a more kindy summer breeze: “from the horizon buried in forest / from the row of dead volcanos glimmering bluely / wind passes all across the rice fields” (mori de uzumeta chiheisen kara / aoku kagayaku shikazanretsu kara / kaze ichimen inada wo watari [Wafuu wa kawadani ippai ni fuku ]; August 20, 1927).
LINE 3  In a youthful summer poem he puts it: "barley fields — sometimes the white glint of farm tools is seen" (mugibatake / toki ni nougu no shirobikari mite [Ms. B, Meiji 44/1911, January]). Hand tools are clean and sharpened for the new planting season, but their cheerful glitter may contrast ironically with the toil of the farmers. As the farmers do the tauchi work (preparing the paddy floor): "they swing weary arms up / flashing a three-prong cultivator / they turn over the dry paddy" (tsukareta ude wo furiageru / sanbonguwa wo pika pika sase / kanden wo okoshite iru [Jinushi "Landowner"]). Miyazawa's close-up, involved view of the farmer contrasts with the aloof, classical haiku of Sugiyama Sanpuu (1647-1732; ref. 5.13, p. 387): "swung up / the hoe flashes / spring fields" (furiagaru / kuwa no hikari ya / haru no nora).
In another springtime poem: "It's because your hoe flashed that the horse was so startled" (omae no kuwa ga hikatta node / uma ga konna ni odoroita no da [Kanba "Unruly horse"]).
LINES 4-6   In the second strophe, the viewer's gaze moves smoothly from the fields nearby to the mountains behind them. "Smoothly," because line 4 is linked to strophe 1 by the connecting shi at the end of line 3. In terms of the Chinese model, the opening theme is developed. Feelings become more complex, with a note of uncertainty or disquiet. The view of the surrounding sedimentary and volcanic masses is softened in the humid air; they appear a little withdrawn. In observing their dream state, the poet does not make a metaphor; in the mountains, as in the sky and in all around him, he finds sentience, the power to know and to feel, to sleep and to wake. One may wonder if the clouds, which rises from behind them or sometimes hang upon them, are felt to be a signal to them too. The scene is set for the third strophe.
LINE 4  
LINE 5  The Japanese terms are either direct calques of the English (or the German) geological terms "volcanic dome" and "volcanic neck," or else they were acquired from Chinese, in which the words are written with the same four characters. In the poem gan = kazan-gan "volcanic rock" (as, for example, in ref. 3.11, p. 32, line 12 [Readings page, no. 2]).
celestial paleontology: Ginga tetsudou no yoruMiyazawa uses "volcanic neck" two other times. One use is again in a context where he is observing visibility (he perhaps would have said "transparency") among indicators of things to come: "one discerns the dark volcanic necks, the clouds in the wind, the signs in the sky" (kuraki gankei kaze no kumo / ten no kehai wo ukagainu [Jouryuu "Upstream," undated]). The other example is this description: "the three black volcanic necks / desolate since night has fallen shed rust of their respective colors (kuroi mittsu no gankei wa / mou nichi no kureta node sabishiku meimei no sabi haku [Jiyuuga kentei iin "Member of a committee to review free-style paintings," undated]). Miyazawa also uses the synonym term "[volcanic] dike" both in roman letters (dyke) and in katakana (daiku; both in ref. 3.11, p. 32; Readings page, no. 2).
LINE 6   The mountains may be lulled by the warmth of the late spring sun and by the breeze, just as a person like the poet is; perhaps in them too the guard of consciousness becomes relaxed, and buried feelings and images well up. Of what ‘time-less’ age are the mountains dreaming? Perhaps they see visions of their geological youth, even their long birth, in eons past, whose span is beyond human sensibility. The poet’s favorite era is relatively recent — a million years ago (still the Tertiary Period in his writings), the time when the Kitakami plain became dry land and the shaping of the modern environment began. (See Readings page, no. 3 with note.) Yet he is well aware of the venerable age of the sediments of the plain bed and of the mountains which surround it. As in: “That is a plateau eroded by the ocean; it’s a monument of an ancient kalpa era” (sore wa hitotsu no kaishoku daichi / furui kyou [karupa] no kinenhi de aru [Kaishoku daichi "Plateau eroded by the ocean" ). The Indian kalpa measurement, a cycle of cycles lasting over 4 billion years, is but a day to the god Brahma. The poem “Preface” (Jo), dated January 20, 1924, which introduces his first poetry collection Haru to Asura (“Spring and the Asura demon”), already envisions the vastness of time on a cosmic scale (“Asura’s billion years” [juu oku nen]) and refers to the Cenozoic Era (-65 million years to the present) and the Cretaceous Period (-144 to -65 million). The poem also expresses the poet’s equally Buddhistic feeling of transience, which it applies to human attempts to grasp the nature and the phenomena of the material world.
Beyond their comparability as sentient beings, do the mountains and the poet share similar feelings, conflicts, and impulses; are mountains too subject to temptations? The poet does not tell us about what their dreams reveal.
LINES 7-9   The "second voice" of the poem is heard. In Miyazawa's poems the offset of lines (sometimes reinforced with parentheses) serves different purposes: (1) It marks the second (even the first!) speaker in a dialogue; perhaps the most simple and moving example is the voice of his sister Toshiko in eiketsu no asa "Morning of the last farewell." (2) It sets apart an unspoken thought in the flow of spoken word, or vice versa — sudden speech in the midst of thought. (3) It signals an abrupt change of focus between distant and broad (landscape) and closeup and narrow (people). I am thinking of the poem Oka no genwaku "Hill's dazzle." (4) It indicates an aside, parenthetical expression, interruption in the flow, or wandering thought. (5) As in the present poem, it feels like the remark of a companion or of an independent observer, standing apart and passing comment. In Miyazawa's world, this observer could be almost anyone, any 'thing' in this world of sentient beings. It can even be himself — another aspect of his personality (a usually suppressed aspect?) making itself heard. In terms of the Chinese model, there is a shift from the focus of the first two strophes, as is clearly marked here by the change in verb tense.
The Commentary views lines 7-12 as very closely bound and does not distinguish a "second voice." The offset marks only the critical importance of line 7-9. It summarizes: "The writer is turned toward the sky and the clouds above those [mountains]. From his depths a sexual impulse is dimly awakened. Immediately this is restrained, and is inverted. In the image of a floating cloud he reads an imagined signal for the evening courtship of the birds."
LINE 7    Compare his line "cloud beacons arise on all sides … magnolia flowers and the blue of the mist" (kumo no noroshi wa shihou ni nobori … magunoria no hana to kasumi no ao [Kanba]). Poem Kanba no. 2 has: "Cloud beacons rumble, and the magnolia flowers become hazy" (kumo no noroshi wa todorokite / kobushi no hana mo kemuru nari). Among Miyazawa's uses of the word shingou "signal" is a compound with tou "(lamp)light" which he vocalizes as the English word (so familiar in his stories) — shigunaru (Kazan "Volcano"). Compare shingoutou above (under Lines 1-3). From his use of these words (in contrast to the less flashy kehai cited under line 5) and descriptive adjectives, we see that Miyazawa's clouds are burning, radiant, incandescent signs, even when they are black. Characteristic is the opening line (= title, April 20, 1924): "though it's early the clouds in the east burn with the color of honey" (that is, darkly; higashi no kumo wa hayaku mo mitsu no iro ni moeru). Such recurring imagery of burning, added to formlessness, well expresses Miyazawa's "love" symbolism of clouds.
Like a farmer, a sailor, or a forecaster versed in the volatile weather of northern Japan, Miyazawa frequently studies the sky and the wind, the color and conformation of the clouds, and reads their meaning. The clouds in his poems and tales tend toward the dark and resonate with the poet's own feelings, for example, the soueniro kuroi kumo "dark, bismuth-colored clouds" on "The morning of the last farewell" to his dying sister. Mixed colors shade from light to dark: "a sky full of mackerel clouds … reeling with all the moonlight they'd soaked up into their bellies" ("March by moonlight" in ref. 3.3, p. 229).
The Commentary notes that "there is an opinion" that all Miyazawa's clouds are symbols of libido/ribidou. While this point remains to be demonstrated, the poet's own statement of love symbolism (in the poems above) sometimes gives one pause while considering even a solid 'level one' poem such as "Statement of a prefectural engineer versus a cloud" (Kugishi no kumo ni tai suru suteitomento; June 1, 1927). The engineer thought he would just relax in the mountain air, until he encountered a black threat to the young rice shoots. Like the poet/farmer (poem # 1088, above), he is seized with a gut fear:
in the first place you black nimbus somosomo kuroi nimubusu yo
inside this minor official instead omae wa kaette shoukan ni
you bring up an abnormal anxiety ijouna fuan wo motte kishi
one might say just as it says in the Kojiki iwaba hotondo kojiki ni ieru
you instill a feeling of treading empty air sora fumu kanji wo nasashimeru

It is interesting, from Miyazawa's perspective, that the idiom used is literally "treading the sky."
Miyazawa repeatedly expresses the mixture of longing, awe, and fear with which his neighbors regard the forces of nature on which their lives depend. Compare the mixed feelings expressed in the Manyoushuu (VII/1369) about thunder:
near the clouds of heaven flashing amagumo no chikaku hikarite
and booming, this god, I am awestruck seeing him naru kami no mireba kashikoshi
I am sad not seeing him mineba kanashi mo
LINES 8-9   Miyazawa's sky, like his clouds and even the otherwise transparent wind, ranges in color from blue (aoi) to pale (aojiroi) to white (shiroi). (Note the "brilliant white sky" cited below for line 12.) The paleness may seem entirely natural: "the pale bowl of the sky in this spot / covers itself with snow pure white" (aojiroi tenban no kotchi ni / masshiro ni yuki wo kabutte [Kumo "Clouds"]). Here, however, the paleness in the hazy air is reinforced with the interpretative words "of abstinence." I render kinyoku with "ascetic," because it better represents Miyazawa's whole way of life in the practice of self-denial. Only one other time — as here, in a spring poem and in an "aside" — does he describe the sky as "ascetic" as if pale, yet bright, with fasting and abstinence: "the ascetic sky extending brightly" (akaruku wataru kinyoku no ten [Shunkoku gyouga "Spring valley dawn lying down"]). Miyazawa's use of a specifically religious term in the phrase "a springtime of abstinence" (see Line 4) is echoed later in that same poem by a kind of epithet: "[people of] India [land] of emaciation through ascetic practices" (shousui-kugyou no Bondou).
This remote sky is inaccessible, impassable except to the birds (see above under Title and Line 8), who (as spirits?) knife through it (tori wa mata aozora wo tachikiru, in Haru to Asura). It feels very like the lofty realm of his ideal man in Ame ni mo makezu "Not giving in to the rain." The sky is challenged by clouds and stalked by the Asura (the clearest representation of his passions and other rebellious feelings), but it endures, as does Miyazawa. One may suggest that Miyazawa's internal conflicts of mind and body, which turn critical in springtime, become understandable and thus controllable when he sees them, within his Buddhist frame of reference, as a reflex of a cosmic drama.
LINES 10-12   In this strophe the poet's resolution of his tension is expressed. In terms of the Chinese model, the opening theme and the shift are reconciled. The first voice resumes.
LINE 10   The poet reiterates, as if the second voice had disturbed his line of thought. Or, perhaps, as if he himself suddenly sees the mountains afresh, independently of the second voice's remark. This could be the moment of restored equanimity, of refocus on his own small purpose in the world of sentient beings. His gaze returns to earth after contemplation of the cosmic drama above.
For the Commentary, the main point is that the poet now turns to imagining the coming evening. The repetition is accounted for as another — but surprising — device derived from Chinese prosody.
LINE 11   The 300-year-old "four sugi" of Hanamaki served as a "symbol of Hanamaki Station - West" (ref. 4.1.3), which was a stop on the Hanamaki Electric Railway, where the line turned west toward Shinshouji, the Hanamaki Agricultural School, and beyond (to the onsens?). The "four sugi" neighborhood took in the present-day Wakaba Machi 1, just north of the Hanamaki Middle School. In the 1920s the Hanamaki Agricultural School — the main building, at any rate — lay to the south, in the present Gindoro Park. A photo, often reproduced (ref. 1.8, p. 70), shows Miyazawa and associates on March 30, 1923 in a grove in front of the new school building there. According to the city map (1.11) the distance in a straight line north from Shinshouji to Gindoro Park to the Middle School to the northern boundary of Wakaba Machi 1 is only about 950 m, although the walk feels longer.
On the west side of, and behind, the Middle School stands a simple monument inscribed with "Cloud Signal." (Full details about the monument are found in ref. 2.7, p. 68.) The actual "four sugi" trees were cut down in 1977, because of "lightning strikes, etc." (ref. 4.1.3; see 4.1 also for a photo of the monument and a link to a city map). The general area is in the process of turning from fields into blocks of houses. (A page will be added to show some photos and a map of this locality.)
Apart from the specificity of of this reference, Miyazawa, ever the precise observer, has a penchant for counting things, such as birds or trees. Perhaps because of the local significance, or for reasons of euphony, the image of "four trees" occurs in six other poems, with a different tree each time. On the other hand, "three trees" — which might be expected as a more auspicious expression — is rare: "there are three black willow trees" (kuroki yanagi no ki sanbon ari [Fuyu no suketchi "Sketch of winter"]).
geese over Lake Biwa Not surprisingly, there are many references to sugi in the poems, including poems titled Sugi and Kaze to sugi "Wind and cryptomeria." As examples, in wet weather, "banners of water hang on the cryptomeria" (sugi ni wa mizu no hata kakari [Shu'u "Sudden downpour"]; in clear weather "the brilliant white sky / hangs over each green-brown branchlet of the cryptomeria" (sugi no ichiichi no ryokkatsu no fusa ni / mabayui shiroi sora ga kabusari [Kaze to sugi]).
LINE 12   Here geese, on their (implied) migration, provide another seasonal reference, as they often do in Japanese poetry with reference to spring or autumn. Presumably these are white-fronted geese (ma-gan), which are heading back to Siberia in May after wintering in Miyagi Prefecture (to the south of Iwate). Mating activity among the unpaired birds may be occuring at this time, as it does among Canada geese. So the poet could be visualizing this bonding, as well as the birds' transcendent access to the sky.
Miyazawa would have quite aware of the image of wild geese since ancient times in Japanese literature and art. They carry carry a wide range of emotional overtones, in signifying spring, family, new life, yet also freedom from the bonds of earth, a hint of transcendence. The latter attributes find expression in the conventional epithets and imagery of classical poetry (which Miyazawa would freshen). The conventions may well go back to the pre-Buddhist days of goose (and other bird) haniwa figures. A Manyoushuu (ref.5.4) poet, yearning to send a message, cries “if I could only acquire the use of the geese who fly through the heavens” (ama tobu ya / kari wo tsukai ni / ete shikamo [XV/3676]). Others hark to their call (IX/1699) or observe (IX/1700):
in the autumn wind aki kaze ni
at the place where sound Yamabuki no se no
the rapids of Yamabuki naru nae ni
you may come upon amakumo kakeru
the geese that soar to heaven’s clouds kari ni aeru kamo

In the Heian period, Prince Genji, as his life draws to a close, observes geese in the autumn moonlight; he thinks seasonal, sad thoughts, while not omitting the erotic aspect: “What sad, envious thoughts would the calls of the wild geese, each wing to wing with its mate, be summoning up?” (ref. 5.5, p. 661). Later in the year, as winter came on, “he envied the wild geese for they are going home” (p. 733). The wild geese motif could be pursued at length through Heian literature. Here is an example from the Kokinshuu anthology that follows the thought of the above Manyoushuu verse but steps closer to Miyazawa’s own verses: “out of the reed bed / piercing the cloud-dwelling / go the geese” (ashibe yori / kumoi wo sashite / yuku kari no; # 820; ref. 5.6, p. 283).
The Commentary reminds us about the poet's story Gan no douji "Child of the wild goose" (ref. 3.4). The geese in the story are heavenly beings who are in this stage of existence to atone for their sins; they leave on earth a heavenly child, who can not help but be drawn back to his true home. This child shows more than one resemblance to the man Miyazawa wishes to become as expressed in Ame ni mo makezu.
From ref. 4.3, I conclude that Miyazawa's school nearby, Hienuki Agricultural School, had, besides gardens, adjoining rice paddies as well (I hope to confirm this in the near future); flooded, these would have held an attraction for the geese. (Perhaps the next quotation below also contains an image of the "four sugi.")
Why "geese too"? Perhaps he means: besides all the smaller birds that are already using the kindly shelter of the sugi. For example, in his poem Masaniero "Masaniello" he observes: "Sparrows, sparrows / fly slowly in the cryptomeria, enter among the rice shoots" (suzume suzume / yukkuri sugi ni tonde ine ni iru) and "three crows glide through the cryptomeria / become four, turn in circles" (karasu sanbiki sugi wo suberi / shihiki ni natte senten suru).

goose haniwa 6th century A.D., Saitama Prefecture

The dragon and Miyazawa  | "Cloud signal"  | Notes | References | Readings |

Copyright © 2003 C.J. Brunner TOP: Moonlight ride: detail, sketch by Hiroshige (1797-1858) CLOSE: Descending the Kiso River: detail, sketch by Hiroshige (1797-1858) Comments or questions? Contact: