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  • Writer's pictureRichard Meier

Poetic offspring


My previous post looked at the notion of poems which could be considered doppelgangers. But how would it be if two poems got together and produced a child?

This thought occurred to me the other day as I was reading Nanako, another poem by Yoshino Hiroshi, and I had the feeling that I was reading the love-child-poem of Edward Thomas’ Helen and Philip Larkin’s Born yesterday.

Thomas' poem And You, Helen, opens with a list of things the poet would give to his wife:


And you, Helen, what should I give you? So many things I would give you Had I an infinite great store Offered me and I stood before To choose. I would give you youth, All kinds of loveliness and truth, A clear eye as good as mine, Lands, waters, flowers, wine, As many children as your heart Might wish for, a far better art Than mine can be, all you have lost Upon the travelling waters tossed, Or given to me. If I could choose Freely in that great treasure-house Anything from any shelf, [...]


And ends with this powerful declaration:

I would give you back yourself, And power to discriminate What you want and want it not too late, Many fair days free from care And heart to enjoy both foul and fair, And myself, too, if I could find Where it lay hidden and it proved kind.


I was struck how these final seven lines chimed with what the poet Yoshino Hiroshi would wish to give his daughter:

What I would like to give you

is the balm of good health

And a heart which loves itself,

Which is so hard to win,

So difficult to cultivate.

Here's Larkin's poem Born Yesterday, written on the birth of his friend Kingsley Amis' daughter Sally:


Tightly-folded bud,

I have wished you something

None of the others would:

Not the usual stuff

About being beautiful,

Or running off a spring

Of innocence and love—

They will all wish you that,

And should it prove possible,

Well, you’re a lucky girl.

But if it shouldn’t, then

May you be ordinary;

Have, like other women,

An average of talents:

Not ugly, not good-looking,

Nothing uncustomary

To pull you off your balance,

That, unworkable itself,

Stops all the rest from working.

In fact, may you be dull—

If that is what a skilled,

Vigilant, flexible,

Unemphasised, enthralled

Catching of happiness is called.


Larkin's unsentimentality I think shares something in common with Yoshino Hiroshi’s no-nonsense take on his daughter’s future:

To be abrupt,

Dear Nanako,

I will not expect much of you,

I have seen

How one can damage oneself

By trying to live up to

The expectations of others.

To be fair to the latter poet though, Yoshino Hiroshi’s wishes seem to come from a more generous place than Larkin’s. Such candour nevertheless seems shocking I think to people who grow up in a Western culture. Perhaps it is the same in cultures from the East, too. And yet, for all that, there’s something refreshing about it.

Anyway, here’s the child, I mean the poem, in full:


For Nanako


Dear little Nanako, sleeping

with your cheeks as red as apples -


since the color of your mother's cheeks

has been passed whole

on to you,

her once-smooth cheeks

are now a little pale,

and sour thoughts have increased, these days,

in your father's mind.


To be abrupt,

Dear Nanako,

I will not expect much of you,

I have seen

how one can damage oneself

by trying to live up to

the expectations of others.


What I would like you

to have

is good health

and the heart to love yourself.


You cease

to be yourself

when you stop loving yourself,

when you stop

loving yourself,

you stop loving others

and you lose the world.


When you exist,

others exist,

the world exists.


Sour pain has increased

for your father

and for your mother.


I cannot give you

our pain

now.


What I would like to give you

is the balm of good health

And a heart which loves itself,

Which is so hard to win,

So difficult to cultivate.


Hiroshi Yoshino

(translated by Naoshi Koriyama and Edward Lueders)

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