from Chomei at Toyama (1932)
(Kamo-no-Chomei, born at Kamo 1154, died at Toyama on Mount Hino, 24th June 1216)
Swirl sleeping in the waterfall!
Eaves formal on the zenith,
Housebreakers clamber about,
In the town where I was known
Whence comes man at his birth? or where
My grandmother left me a house
The dew evaporates from my sixty years,
I have filled the frames with clay,
Since I have trodden Hino mountain
Toyama, snug in the creepers!
Summer? Cuckoo’s Follow, follow—to
Thought runs along the crest, climbs Sumiyama;
Not emptyhanded, with cherryblossom, with red maple
A fine moonlit night,
Whenever a monkey howls there are tears on my cuff.
Those are fireflies that seem
A shower at dawn
Kamo-no-Chomei flourished somewhat over a hundred years before Dante. He belonged to the minor nobility of Japan and held various offices in the civil service. He applied for a fat job in a Shinto temple, was turned down, and next day announced his conversion to Buddhism. He wrote critical essays, tales and poems; collected an anthology of poems composed at the moment of conversion by Buddhist proselytes (one suspects irony); and was for a while secretary to the editors of the Imperial Anthology.
He retired from public life to a kind of mixture of hermitage and country cottage at Toyama on Mount Hino and there, when he was getting old, he wrote the Ho-Jo-Ki in prose, of which my poem is in the main a condensation. The careful proportion and balance he keeps, the recurrent motif of the house and some other indications suggest to me that he intended a poem more or less elegiac but had not the time nor possibly energy at his then age to invent what would have been for Japan, an entirely new form, nor to condense his material sufficiently. I have taken advantage of Professor Muccioli’s Italian version, together with his learned notes, to try to complete Chomei’s work for him. I cannot take his Buddhism solemnly considering the manner of his conversion, the nature of his anthology, and his whole urbane, skeptical and ironical temper. If this annoys anybody I cannot help it.
The earth quaked in the second year of Genryaku, 1185.
Passages of ‘Chomei at Toyama’ appeared in Poetry 42 (1933), pp. 301-07. The version in the Oxford UP Complete Poems runs to 324 lines. That volume, edited by Richard Caddel, is in print and available in the UK here. Other Bunting work in print includes Peter Makin’s recent edition of Basil Bunting on Poetry (available in the UK here, the US here), the Oxford UP Collected Poems (available here) and Uncollected Poems, edited and introduced by Caddel (here), and Briggflatts (here).
The Italian version of Hojoki that Bunting mentions in his note was translated by Marcello Muccioli and introduced by Takeo Yamada (Lanciano: Carabba, 1930). I am unaware of scholarship that attempts to trace Bunting’s Chomei to other earlier translations but, for the record, in addition to Muccioli four others in European languages existed in 1932: James Main Dixon, A Description of My Hut (Yokohama: Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 1893); Daiji Ichikawa, Eine klein Hütte, Ho jo ki (Berlin: Schwetschke, 1902); F. V. Dickens, Ho-jo-ki, Notes from a Ten Feet Square Hut (London: Gowans & Gray, 1907); and A. L. Sadler, The Ten Foot Square Hut . . . “The Hojoki” (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1928), which also included a version of Heike monogatari.