Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cherry Blossom Season

I was in Japan in mid-March, just as the plum trees and a few cherry trees were beginning to blossom.  The nation was preparing for the cherry blossoms, the way we prepare for Christmas.  There were wreaths of cherry blossoms on light poles, and signs for celebrations in various cities.  At the National Museum, every exhibit featured art and design using cherry blossoms.  One of the exhibits I passed was of swords from the samurai era -- the swords were exceptionally beautiful, but displayed without their hilts -- as if the metalwork was the point, and indeed, it was extraordinary.  The coincidence of blossoms and hilt-less swords reminded me of a poem that my mother used to read to me from The Anthology of World Poetry.

An Old Song
Yehoash (translated from Yiddish by Marie Syrkin)

In the blossom-land Japan
Somewhere thus an old song ran.

Said a warrior to a smith
“Hammer me a sword forthwith,
Make the blade light as wind on water laid,
Make if lone
As the wheat at harvest song.
Supple, swift
As a snake, without a rift,
Full of lightnings, thousand-eyed!
Smooth as silken cloth and thin
As the web that spiders spin,
And merciless as pain, and cold.”

“On the hilt what shall be told?”

“On the sword’s hilt, my good man,”
Said the warrior of Japan,
“Trace for me
A running lake, a flock of sheep

And one who sings her child to sleep.”

I promised to send this poem to Haruko Takasaki-Fullilove, my daughter-in-law, and she promised to send a photo of the weeping cherries over a canal in Tokyo.  Here's the photo.

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