Pilgusadu läbi elu: Ono no Komachi tõlkimisest / Falling Like Rain through Life: Translating Ono no Komachi


  • Alari Allik Tallinn University




According to Boris Tomashevski it is very important to differentiate writers with a biography from writers without a biography. In the case of writers with a biography, the life story becomes and important supplement to reading and understanding the text. It makes little difference whether the story is true or not. This article takes a look at the 9th century Japane se poet Ono no Komachi, who is considered to be one of the greate st poet s of the Early Classical period. Although her poems were most likely written by many different authors (some presumably even men), the biographical narratives supplementing the texts have created a singular image of the author, which hides the underlying multiplicity of writers. The passion inherent in the poems has fuelled the imagination of storytellers, who have envisioned the author as a beautiful proud woman who was utterly dissatisfied with the way the natural course of things slowly deprived her of the beauty she was once famous for. Medieval Nō plays portray her as coldhearted lover who treats her men cruelly and ends her life as an impoverished old hag living in a dilapidated hut somewhere in the outskirts of the capital. Although almost nothing is known about the historical author and we can be confident that the different accounts of her life are fictional in nature, the subsequent translators and commentaries of her work cannot discard this imaginary tale, since it helps to clarify the ambiguities inherent in Komachi’s rethorically complex writing, which makes extensive use of pivot-words and associative techniques.This article focuses mainly on the Estonian translations of the poem number 113 in the Kokinshū (Collection of Early and Modern Japanese Poetry, 905) and discusses the possibilities inherent in the original text, based on the modern edition of the anthology. Estonian translators Rein Raud and Uku Masing have both resorted to the traditional image of a proud (k yōman) woman, which can be traced back to various historical sources and commentaries on this particular poem. This becomes a key issue in understanding the nature of the authors gaze, since the meaning ‘long rain’ (naga-ame) is skillfully embedded in the verb ‘to gaze’ (nagame) the translator has to find ways to create a nondual experience, where the subject and the object become one in the act of gazing. Rein Raud, a trained Japanese philologist, solves this issue by talking about the vanity and the impermanence of world (mujōkan), which reinforces the traditional Buddhist reading of text (everything in this world passes away – flowers wither and women lose their beauty). In his rendering, Ono no Komachi becomes a philosopher, who understands the nature of reality and almost overcomes her attachment to beauty. Uku Masing’s theoretical commentaries on waka show that although he did not master the Japanese language, he understood that Japanese contained ‘magic words’ (nõiasõna), which should be preserved in translation. Thus he opts for pilgusadu (rain of gazes), which comes close to the ambivalent nature of the original. Uku Masing’s transla-tion reminds Burton Watson’s reading (The beauty of the flowers faded – / no one cared – / and I  w a t c h e d  m y s e l f / grow old in the world / as the long rains were falling), which outlines the vanity of the women who are constantly worried about their looks. The gaze turns back at women herself – she is constantly worried how other see her and whether they notice how she is getting older. The image of the author created by these translators is very different (the gaze of the philosopher as opposed to the gaze of the woman obsessed with beauty), but both readings are supported by the ambiguous nature of the original.Looking at different translations, we see that modern translations fall into a long line of different readings, which start with the compiler of Kokinshū Ki no Tsurayuki who envisioned Komachi as ‘beautiful sick woman’ and talked about the certain ‘lack of strength’ in her waka, which, in his view, made her poems especially good. The translators have used this as a reliable source, since it is the oldest commentary, but some confusion arises from the fact that Tsurayuki is not describing the historical person, but the effect her texts have on the reader. This article uses terminology coined by Wolf Schmid, which helps to differentiate concrete author (historical person) and the abstract author (image created by the reading). Schmid tells us that the abstract author is constructed by the readers on the basis of the creator as she shows herself inside her creative deeds. In this theoretical framework the translator appear s as the reader who is influenced both by the supplemented life stor y, his own experience of reading the texts and, last but not least, the way that a male translator gazes at the beautiful woman gazing at the withering flowers in the garden. Acknowledging the multiplicity of abstract authors created in different readings of texts leads to very bold translations such as Hasso Krull’s translation presented in this article, which envisons Komachi as a modern, tired woman who suffers from insomnia and does not recognize herself in the mirror.


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