Three Tanka for July

Been a little while since I’ve tackled some tanka, so thanks to Hannah Gosselin for this prompt through We Write Poems. This one took a little bit longer than I intended because, having more time on my hands today than I knew what to do with, I ended up translating the first one into some mangled kind of Japanese. As always, if you are a Japanese speaker/professional waka-writer, please forgive my ineptitude.

Here’s the English:

The first blackberries
collected in a jade bowl
have a beetle sheen:
who would’ve known this darkness
hid emeralds underneath?

And then I did the kanji version, with the English transliteration, with a more-literal gloss:


hatsu tencha
gyokuhai-ni haku
kurasa no shita-ni
moke-na rokugyoku

the first blackberries
gather in a cup of jade
like scarab beetles
underneath its darkness are
unexpected emeralds

And then there’s two more, just in English, because there’s only so much linguistic masochism I’m up for in one day:

A squall in the west
builds its low grey parapets
on the Palisades.
The dimming light reminds us
no city is grander than rain.

One thin firecracker
snaps its own grey body back
into a star-necklace
chained with a thundered moment
and thrilling the night-baked heart.

All right, enough of that. Now I’m off to enjoy the rest of this beautiful day!

9 thoughts on “Three Tanka for July

  1. You ROCK, Joseph!!! That was so fun! Thank you, for “tackling,” the tanka to such great extent!! I’d love to hear you read that one that you translated…so intriguing that you can do that! I have enough trouble just keeping English straight with all the little tricks let alone other languages! Kudos!

    I love that image of the “beetle sheen,” on those berries! Beauties!

  2. Blackberries are my fav. This poem is sweet, just like the berries!
    Happy 4th!

  3. Yousei Hime says:

    What? Where are all your other comments? Outside? Too hot for me, though I could use some shriveling. I had to read them out loud. I love the way the Japanese ends. The images so bright in color/energy. I think (just think, mind you) that I like the English transliteration version better. Best of the holiday to you. Enjoy, enjoy. :)

  4. margo roby says:

    Fun to see the two translations and the differences. i hated to lose the ‘beetle sheen’ and the ‘bowl’ but like the image of the scarab… such fun all the work, and they don’t even pay us :-)

  5. vivinfrance says:

    These are all splendid, and make me realise that I really know nothing about writing a proper tanka.

  6. Misky says:

    Number two is my favourite. A splendid grey, wet feel to it.

  7. JulesPaige says:

    The blueberries are in season. On the 4th we had such a pie filled and overflowing with huge berries. Ah…eating emeralds of the earth…nice.
    My sort of patriotic tanka is here:

  8. Dhyan says:

    no city is grander than rain

    this one really stands out Joseph

  9. FInally got here, sorry I’m so late!

    These are beautiful. I love the English – to – Japanese – to – literal English translation. What dedication, Joseph! The blackberries in a jade bowl, and the city “no grander than rain” are two sparkling moments. I was out of town and there were no fireworks anywhere because of the drought, so thanks for supplying them!

    One note – I read a lot of Spanish-to-English translations of Neruda, Garcia Lorca, etc. I know enough Spanish to tell when something is translated well… not directly or literally, but well. You did a good job on the reverse translation!! Riley is in love with kanji; painted things in her room when she lived with us. Peace, Amy

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