Sasameyuki

by Hanna

(Homage to Wilson A. Bentley #4. 2005 – 2006.)

I recently stumbled across this snow photography by Yuji Ogawa, and by the next day had this image installed as my current desktop. Ogawa developed a technique to photograph snow crystals as they fall from the sky. I find it hard to imagine how small these flakes must be, and yet they have so much fine structure.

To go with it, a fitting waka that I first learned as a part of the kuse dance for the noh play Yuki. I quote it here in the original from the “Ukifune” chapter of The Tale of Genji.

峰の雪汀の氷踏み分けて君にぞ惑ふ道にまどはず

Mine no yuki migiwa no kōri fumiwakete kimi ni zo madō michi ni madowazu

Snow on the peaks, breaking the ice along the shore with each footstep, you confound me, but the road does not

Having just translated this myself, I opened Tyler’s translation of Genji to see the back story, and feel like my use of “confound” is not quite adequate, because the character to compose this poem seems fully enchanted by the person in front of him. It’s not that he doesn’t understand this person. Instead, he has no control of where his emotions have wandered.

The difficulty in translating this poem is that it is so rare to see the same word used twice within a single waka. A more literal translation of the second half of the poem would be “you confound me, but the road does not confound me.” Even in English, the repetition of “confound” sounds strange to my ears.

To overcome this issue, Tyler worked an English pun into his translation. His last line reads, “never lost the way to be lost in you.” Somehow this sounds trite to my ears. Tyler’s words aren’t quite romantic enough to fit the original context in Genji. Furthermore, although the line before the poem in the Tale of Genji mentions the journey to see the object of affection, the road the poem itself mentions does not clearly specify the one to a lover. In my imagination, it could also be the future road through life together with that person.

In the “Ukifune” chapter, Niou has practically kidnapped a woman he loves (a young woman popularly named Ukifune from her experiences in the story) and taken her in the cold of winter across the Uji river in a small boat to a house I imagine to be in the Uji hills, because after a day of making love there, Niou looks outside, and through the mist he can see the treetops near her home. He then composes the above poem for her. She replies the following.

振り乱れ汀に凍る雪よりも中空にてぞわれは消ぬべき

Furimidare migiwa ni kōru yuki yorimo nakasora ni te zo ware wa kinubeki

Falling in a flurry, rather than the snow that freezes on the shore, I should be that which vanishes in mid-air

Thank you to James Danziger, gallerist and author of The Year in Pictures. His information about Yuji Obata and about snow crystal photography are worth a visit to his post A Winter’s Tale.

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