An Anthology
Hiroaki Sato
(M. E. Sharpe)
Japanese Women Poets includes over 100 women poets and covers more than 1,200 years, beginning with the Kojiki (the Record of Ancient Matters) and ending with several dozen from what the editor refers to as the "Modern Age." Included are poems in traditional forms --- senryu, renga, kanshi and haiku (formerly known as "hokku.")

Of the hundreds of examples of the latter, I especially liked three from the 17th century:

    First geese fly past me leaving only their voices

    If there were two we might fight over the moon tonight


    My own figure looks pitiful in the withered field

Sato explains that in Japan those who write haiku are thought to have a touch of madness. He refers to it as "poetic dementia."

The poems from the 6th and 7th centuries suffer somewhat from translation and age ... the forms being elegiac, devoted to royalty, complete with envoi and song. Still, there is a fetching example by Princess Yamato,

    Being of this world, unable to be near a deity,
    I live apart, aggrieved over you in the morning,
    I live away, longing for you, my lord.
    If you were jewels, I'd carry you tied round my wrist,
    If you were a robe, I'd never take you off.
    I long for you, my lord; last night
         I saw you in my dreams.

Some of the late poems can be disturbing, especially those composed by women who lived through WWII. Ishigaki Rin wrote one poem on the battle of Saipan where wives and children of the defeated soldiers flung themselves off "Banzai Cliff."

And, in 1952, she wrote of the bombing of Hiroshima:

    When Earth owns hundreds of atomic bombs
    and walks on the borderline between life and death ----
    why are you so peaceful,
    so beautiful?...

    On the morning of August 6, 1945,
    all the 250,000 people who died in one second,
    were, like you
    and me at this moment,
    peaceful, beautiful, off guard.

--- A. W. Allworthy
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