I read an article by Roger Pulvers on Nippon.com about Miyazawa Kenji, and became interested in reading ame ni mo makezu, which is available in public domain on Aozora Bunko. I included the original text here:
According to the Wikipedia article about the poem, it was never published in Miyazawa’s lifetime, but was found after his death, as many of his works were, so I’m not sure if it was intended for an audience or not. I especially think it may not have been his intention to publish this because the poem is about his desire to be a humble servant. The desire to serve people without recognition seems to be more of a self reflection than something a poet would intend to publish.
The first thing that I noticed when reading this poem was the extensive use of katakana. If I were to guess why katakana is used, I think it may be to emphasise the sounds of the words, and to slow down the pace. Another thought is that it could be to bring the kanji that are used into relief, providing a means of emphasis. I don’t see an obvious reason for the emphasis on the chosen words, but I will continue to think about it each time I read the poem.
For someone learning Japanese with an understanding of grammar, most words can be looked up in a dictionary with a bit of work parsing the word boundaries. One thing that may cause a challenge is Miyazawa’s use of some older kana readings. These have equivalent readings in modern Japanese, which I wrote out in a table below for reference.
|Reading in poem||Modern Japanese Reading|
Miyazawa was not very famous during his lifetime in the early 1900s according to this article. However, Pulvers’ article explains that his work has recently been embraced in Japan to provide comfort and answers in reaction the disasters and challenges that have occurred since the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. It has been read at many public events honoring disaster victims, and you can listen to Watanabe Ken reading this poem on a website calling for Japan to come together in support of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami victims called Kizuna 311. This is a very important poem for Japan, and for learners of Japanese I recommend attempting to read it in the original language.
Pulvers’ article is also available in English. There are many translations of the poem available in English, and Pulvers’ translation is posted in this blog along with a rabbit hole of other interesting links to take you deeper into the challenges of poetry translation.