19 March 2015

Poetry Thursday - Pavlov's Cranes by Hasegawa Ryusei

On second glance - it's a heron, not a crane...
Having found this photograph of a "japanese" jar (it's in the V&A somewhere), I went looking for a poem about cranes - and discovered Hasegawa Ryusei (b.1928), whose first book of poems was published in 1957. He is often associated with the Retto (Archipelago) Group of Social Realist poets, which was formed in 1952. After spending years working as a day labourer, he went on to write poems full of intellectual tension suggesting barely suppressed violence, says the Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature.

Four more of his poems are here.

Pavlov’s Cranes
Beating sturdy feathers,
exerting the power of flight,
in unison severing, repelling
the fog in space,
their oars, wings, a single motion,
thousands of shorebirds’ vibrations
begin to resound in the depths of my ear.
Japanese cranes perhaps, demoiselle cranes or storks,
hard to distinguish,
Pavlov’s odd wing-beats,
in the sky of the quiet cerebrum, of the night,
like the splashes of water by the pectoral fins
of flashing fish in flight,
across my skin, consecutively,
echo, come closer.
From the marshes of despair
they’ve flown up and away,
and betting on the night
or heading toward daybreak,
Pavlov’s strange cranes,
one hundred or so in each group,
have begun their energetic move.
Each, green beak tilted upward,
weight resting
on the tip of the tail of the crane before it,
balancing power,
gliding on the air current,
strung together in a line,
they fly.
The one heading the group
is a lump of resistance and exhaustion.
But one after another,
they replace the leading one,
the leading ones, one after another,
in good order, fall back to the end of the flock;
constructing a balance,
drawing a small half-circle
in a line of space,
they fly splendidly.
Have you not seen it:
it is always touched, and induced
at the surface of the reflex-bow.
Night’s cerebrum. It’s on the sea of the occipital cerebral cortex.
Betting on nihilism perhaps
or heading toward daybreak,
thousands of Pavlov’s cranes,
one hundred or so in each group,
migrate as if challenging.
All the hundred birds, beaks tilted upward,
weight resting on the tips of the tails before them,
strung in a line, in silence,
never cease.

-Hasegawa Ryusei (via), translated by J Thomas Rimer

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