In the Aftermath of Shiki’s Fireworks

July 2002

 WHC Shiki Celebrations:

Essay Shiki’s Fireworks by – Susumu Takiguchi


In the Aftermath of Shiki’s Fireworks
John E. Carley, Ed. (UK)

 Darkness. And the nature thereof: wonderment… or regret? When the last firework has faded, how do you feel?

If you are British, and of a certain generation, your mouth will be too tacked up to manage a reply. And even after the last piece of treacle toffee has achieved its jaw creaking consummation, there’s still the baked potato to look forward to: raked out of the embers of the bonfire, tasting gloriously of sulphur and bed springs. But what was the aftermath for Shiki? And how to convey the same?

The fifth strand of the Masaoka Shiki On-line Joint Translation Project was opened on the sixth of January 2002 by Susumu Takiguchi in the now customary way: a post to the Haikuforum Workshop containing the text in romaji; a literal rendering; a personal version; a recognised translation, and a brief introduction.

Like the fireworks themselves, this strand generated a glorious array of response poems, free adaptations, humorous capping verses and personal anecdotes -– far too many to weave into a single account, but testimony, were it needed, of the power of poetry to blossom in the mind. It is with regret therefore that this account must omit such generous interpretations, and limit itself instead to the more narrow definitions of ‘translation’. Firstly then the text from Susumu:

hito kaeru hanabi no ato no kura-sa kana

Masaoka Shiki, 1895, Meiji 28

hito – people
kaeru – return, go home (rentai-kei, or a kind of participial adjective)
hanabi – fireworks
no – possessive, or genitive (case) particle
ato – after
no – possessive, or genitive (case) particle
kura-sa – darkness
kana – particle, exclamatory: kireji

on their way home

after the fireworks –
what darkness!

version by Susumu Takiguchi

The fireworks over,
The people all gone, —
How dark it is!               

tr. by R. H. Blyth, pp. 1025-1026, Haiku, vol. 4

The full text of Susumu’s introduction, “Shiki’s Fireworks”, appears in this edition, but in quoting Blyth’s accompanying notes,

what Shiki is telling us is something about the absence of two things and the presence of one as a unity of deep experience. [R. H. Blyth]

Susumu raises a fundamental objection:

…there is no past tense or present perfect in the verb “kaeru” used. It is in the present tense. Therefore, one cannot say that the people have, or are “all gone”. They may still have been all be there, or some may have gone but others, or the majority of them, may have still been there [S.T.]

If Blyth’s direct comparison of two states of ‘absence’ is questionable the same might be said of the admirably compact and dynamic version posted by WHC member Chris Baltzley who, like both Blyth and Takiguchi, uses an exclamation mark to add weight and immediacy:

how dark!
people and fireworks
both gone

Chris Baltzley

Less apparent, but perhaps as significant, is the question of image order. In her version, Chris inverts the position of the ‘darkness’, moving it from last to first. Robert Wilson and Sheila Windsor, by contrast, closely followed Blyth:

fireworks over
people return to
the darkness

Robert Wilson

fireworks all spent
the people return home
in darkness

Sheila Windsor

Similarly, Alenka Zorman, who, unlike Robert and Sheila, also opted for Blyth’s tense usage regarding the presence/absence of the crowd noting that:

Shiki wanted to express the darkness after the fireworks and even more after the people [were] all gone

the fireworks over
and the people all gone
what darkness!

Alenka Zorman

In the question of both image order and tense usage others followed Susumu’s lead
people leave
after the fireworks
such darkness


people going home
after the fireworks–
so dark!

Karma Tenzing Wangchuk
Noting the close similarities between these two drafts Ito posts:

i opted for the word ‘leave’ […] perhaps Shiki perceives his own loneliness […] making him acutely aware of how dark the sky is just after the fireworks end.

Whereas Tenzing makes the timely observation:

both yours and the one i did seem fairly ‘true’ to the literal translation

Carol Raisfeld likewise:

people go home
at fireworks end –
sudden darkness!

Carol Raisfeld

And likewise Kevin Ryan who also adds that final emphatic!

returning home –
after fireworks
such darkness!

Kevin Ryan

This is not the place to obsess about punctuation marks, pause indicators and kireji, but the more grammatically compulsive amongst the readership will, like the author, will be well aware that this version by Kevin Ryan marks the seventh instance thus far of the use of an exclamation mark in response to the Japanese ‘kana’. In short, certainly everyone understood the crucial nature of the emphasis or inflection imparted by the elusive particle. Responses varied: from darkness at heel – Terry Isshi, to darkness behind – Karina Klesko. Mary Jane Turner offered three alternatives: magnifying darkness; a blacker darkness and darkness doubles.

Thinking along similar line Mary Lee McClure proposed the heavy dark whilst Johnye Strickland elegantly stood tautology on its head with:

going home
after the fireworks —
the darkness of the dark
going home —
after the fireworks,
the darkness of the dark

Johnye Strickland

The shift of the line-end cutting device in version two here, mirroring that of Kevin Ryan, is a deliberate experiment with both meaning and layout. As we examine the effect it is also perhaps worth noting the number of versions that, like that of Blyth, adopt both dash and exclamation mark in the context of ‘kana’. Kireji-spotters might be forgiven for asking the inevitable question: is this a double cut?

Meanwhile, completely reversing Shiki’s image order and omitting any punctuation device Soji had a finely balanced draft to offer:

a deeper darkness
after the fireworks
the crowd dwindles


Nancy Stewart Smith also had a sense of the crowd being diminished, and an alternative way of attenuating the delivery of ‘darkness’:

after the fireworks
the crowd trickles homeward
profounder darkness

Nancy Stewart Smith

At heel; behind; dwindle; trickle. All had put in an appearance, and with good reason. Japanese poetry is replete with the skilled use of homonyms and cognates… were there shades of meaning here that should be factored in? Debra Woolard Bender for one had been researching, and posted a comprehensive set of alternatives, amongst which were to be found:

ato – (adj-no,n-adv,n) after; behind; later; rear; remainder; successor; (P)
ato – (n) trace; tracks; mark; scar; sign; remains; ruins; (P)*

*Jeffrey’s Japanese<->English Dictionary

Working on a synthesis where the festively clad spectators dispersing homeward in all directions, lanterns aglow, might also convey the sense of the course of fireworks through the night sky, Debra offered the outline of a freer adaptation:

after fireworks
trails of people return
to darkness

Debra Woolard Bender

Unusually for the World Haiku Club, which is nothing if not a broad church, all the versions to date had followed the predominant three line form of the English language haiku. First to the rescue came Paul Conneally with a one line arrangement:

fireworks over   the people leave   darkness

Paul Conneally

And then Eiko Yachimoto with a lyrical fifteen syllable zip:

as people walk home…darkness prevails

Eiko Yachimoto

On the introduction of the word ‘shared’ Eiko comments:

Shiki was from Matsuyama, known for its people’s soft and gentle dialect. When Shiki says ‘hito’ I sense something warm…almost meaning  ‘my fellow human friends’ […] The English word ‘share’ (of which we do not have a clear equivalent  in the Japanese language) is a great word for that purpose.

And on the more literal ‘fire-blossom-viewing’:

Hanabi-taikai (fireworks exhibition) in Japan is not meant to celebrate something.  It is like a cherry blossom viewing and people go out for the sake of fireworks blooming in the sky. […] In traditional renku, you could write a verse about hanabi at the fixed position reserved for hana [blossom]! 

Carmen Sterba too sensed this relationship and, after a brief exchange with Kathi, settled on a draft using hypallage – the transferred epithet –- as a way of inflecting the notion of ‘darkness’:

crowds return home –
after the fireworks
darkness blooms

Carmen Sterba

Also respecting the literal image order of Shiki’s original, Sheila Windsor posted a final draft linking the darkness to the fireworks… but in a rather more bleak and ironic way:

people go home!
after the fireworks
darkness falls

Sheila Windsor

It would be a dereliction of duty not to observe that both these versions, like others before from Johnye Strickland and Kevin Ryan, apply an emphasis to the line-break between the elements ‘homebound’ and ‘aftermath’. By contrast others had chosen the point between the elements ‘aftermath’ and ‘darkness’.

It would be fair to say that the way in which the particle kana might be judged to inflect the concept ‘darkness’, in particular, and the overall mood of the poem in general, had provoked as much debate as the rest of the poem put together.

This fifth strand of the Masaoka Shiki On-line Joint Translation Project had started with translations from Susumu Takiguchi and R. H. Blyth – both of whom used combinations of end-line emphasis, exclamation marks and verbal constructions to equate to Shiki’s kireji. It seems fitting therefore to end on a version that uses none, relying instead on the stark use of line-break and syntax.

This poem is an foundling – posted by an occasional WHC contributor, it was discovered in an obscure corner of a distant strand (of an ancillary mail group) by a conscientious WHC member who forwarded it to the present author for safekeeping. May it trace a course across your mind.
returning home
after the fireworks

Zinovy Vayman

Read also : Shiki’s Fireworks

This entry was posted in Haiku, Shiki, Vol 2-2 July 2002 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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