National Poetry Month Selection: Kanshi of Ema Saiko

Breeze Through Bamboo

April is National Poetry Month, and over the next three weeks, we will be posting poems from our poetry titles and from those of our distributed presses. Our second selection is taken from Hiroaki Sato’s translation of the kanshi of Ema Saiko, Breeze Through Bamboo. Kanshi is a Japanese term that refers to poems written by in classical Chinese, and Ema Saiko was famous in her lifetime as one of the best female Japanese writers of kanshi. The four poems below are a set of four poems on the four seasons. Breeze Through Bamboo is part of Columbia University Press’s Translations from the Asian Classics series.


As I play the koto alone to sweep aside melancholy,
outside the window a warbler chimes in again.
The light rain adds to the scarlet of peach in its stillness;
a breeze, and the green extends, the willow’s soul.
I call a maid to take the golden bells off the blossoms;
behind a blind a duck-shaped censer emits musk.
How long, I wonder, will lovely days like this last,
in my room my heart torn by the passage of spring?


A pair of parent swallows sweep in the blinds,
and I wake from nap dreams in the slow afternoon.
Perspiration moistening the collar, beads of sweat on skin,
dislodged hairpin tangled in side-locks, ample hair droops.
The stitching by the window I’m too languid to resume,
no desire to open a book half read and put away.
Day-lily flowers fragrant outside the railing,
I flutter my silk fan quietly, standing in idleness.


The wind chime under the eaves tinkles, tinkles,
the Flame Emperor’s influences wiped off the earth, gone.
Plantain leaves, hardly green, are slow to report the rain;
lotus flowers, their scarlet faded, cannot withstand the wind.
Several calls of early geese startle my lone pillow;
a whiff of cool air sneaks in through my grille.
The round fan, I pity it, its use gradually lost,
has lately stayed, neglected, in the bamboo box.


Inside the fence the plum takes in spring, opens a little,
scent penetrating the stitched drape, scrawny twigs aslant.
I cut fabric, take up a measure, and blow on my fingers;
to make some tea, I call a maid to break the ice.
A starved bird goes on pecking at nandin berries;
I cut some narcissus and arrange it in a silver vase.
At times a flurry of snow patters like flying bugs,
leaving several spots blurred on the blue silk cloth.

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