Sakutarō Hagiwara

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Poetry is neither a mystery nor a symbol nor a demon. Poetry is nothing more than a lonely consolation for the owner of a sickly soul and a man of solitude.

Sakutarō Hagiwara (萩原 朔太郎, Hagiwara Sakutarō, 1 November 1886 – 11 May 1942) was a Japanese writer of free verse, active in the Taishō and early Shōwa periods of Japan. He liberated Japanese free verse from the grip of traditional rules, and he is considered the "father of modern colloquial poetry in Japan". He published many volumes of essays, literary and cultural criticism, and aphorisms over his long career. His unique style of verse expressed his doubts about existence, and his fears, ennui, and anger through the use of dark images and unambiguous wording.



Cat Town (2014)


Cat Town, translated and edited by Hiroaki Sato. New York: New York Review Books, 2014. ISBN 978-1-59017-775-4

Howling at the Moon


orig. in ja.『月に吠える』(Tsuki ni Hoeru), 1917.

  • A person, individually, is always terribly lonely forever and ever.
    • Introduction
  • Poetry is the intellect's product of one second. A certain type of sentiment that one ordinarily has touches something like electricity and for the first time discovers a rhythm. This electricity is, for the poet, a miracle. Poetry is not something anticipated and made.
    • Introduction
  • When I think of poetry, I feel its fierce human suffering and its joy.
    • Introduction
  • Poetry is neither a mystery nor a symbol nor a demon. Poetry is nothing more than a lonely consolation for the owner of a sickly soul and a man of solitude.
    • Introduction
  • When I think of poetry, I become teary, without meaning to, because of the wretchedness of human sentiments.
    • Introduction
  • The past is a painful memory to me. The past was an ominous nightmare of frustrations, inaction, and a suffering body and flesh.
    • Introduction
  • The dog that howls at the moon howls suspicious and fearful of his own shadow. To the dog's ailing heart, the moon is an ominous puzzle like a pallid ghost. The dog howls far into the distance.
    • Introduction
  • I want to nail my own gloomy shadow into the moonlit earth. Lest the shadow follow me forever.
    • Introduction
  • Behold all sins have been inscribed,
    yet not all are mine,
    verily manifest to me are
    only phantoms of blue flames without shadows,
    only the ghosts of pathos that fade off over the snow,
    ah painful confession on such a day what shall I make of them,
    all are but phantoms of blue flames.
    • "Bamboo"
  • During the long illness and pain,
    spiders have covered his face with webs,
    his body below the waist has faded like a shadow,
    a bush has grown above his waist,
    arms rotten,
    body all over, truly messed up,
    oh, today again the moon is out,
    the daybreak moon is out,
    and in the opaque light like a lantern
    a deformed white dog is howling.
    • "Daybreak"
  • Body half buried in sand,
    still it's lolling its tongue.
    Over this invertebrate's head,
    pebbles and brine rustle, rustle, rustle, rustle, flowing,
    ah so quietly as a dream flowing.
    • "Rotten Clam"
  • Nature anywhere oppresses me,
    and human kindnesses make me gloomy,
    rather I prefer walking in a bustling city park until I get tired,
    and find a bench under some lonely tree,
    I prefer to be looking at the sky absentmindedly,
    ah, I prefer to be looking at the smoke and soot flowing away far and sad over the city sky,
    or at a swallow flying away over the roofs of buildings, into the distance, small.
    • "Lonely Personality"
  • My personality, loneliest in the world,
    is calling loudly to an unknown friend,
    my obsequious strange personality,
    looking shabby like a crow,
    is trembling on the corner of a deserted, winter-
    withered bench.
    • "Lonely Personality"
  • This utterly unknown dog follows me,
    shabby, limping on its hind leg, a crippled dog's shadow.
    Ah, I do not know where I'm going,
    in the direction of the road that I go,
    roofs of tenements are being pelted pelted in the wind,
    in a gloomy, empty lot by the road,
    bone-dry grass leaves are pliantly thinly moving.
    • "Unknown Dog"
  • The air of the countryside is gloomy and oppressive,
    the touch of the countryside is gritty and sickening,
    when I sometimes think of the countryside,
    I'm tormented by the smell of animal skin coarse in
    texture.I fear the countryside,
    the countryside is a pale fever dream.
    • "Fear of the Countryside"
  • Of the lukewarm unpleasantness of the sensation of a
    man at such a moment a disastrous crime is born. A
    heart afraid of crime is the forerunner of a heart that
    gives birth to a crime.
    • "Skylark Nest"
  • I love human beings. Nevertheless I fear human beings.
    • "Skylark Nest"
  • Sometimes I escape from everyone and become solitary.
    And my heart loving everyone becomes tearful.
    I always like, while walking on a deserted lonely beach,
    to think of the crowds in the distant city.
    • "Skylark Nest"
  • Why can't one love with one's body those whom one loves with one's heart?
    • "Skylark Nest"
  • Here and there, I see farmers' melancholy faces.
    The faces are dark, looking only at the ground.
    On the ground, spring, like smallpox, is ponderously
    • "Skylark Nest"

Blue Cat


orig. in ja. 『青猫』(Aoneko), 1923.

  • Some people say my poetry is sensual. It may be that some are like that. Still, a correct view opposes it. Nothing "sensual" can be the motive of my poetry. It is a chord over the keynote. Or an ornament. I am not a man who can get intoxicated on the senses. What I truly try to sing of is different. It is that atmosphere—the sound of a fife you hear on a spring night. It is not the senses, not a passion, not an excitement, but simply the nostalgia of a cloud that quietly drifts in the shadow of a soul. It is a tearful yearning for a reality far, far away.
    • Preface
  • Since my tender boyhood I've been tormented by my soul's nostalgia with no apparent cause. My night bed was whitishly wet with tears, when the day broke the intestines of my sentimentality were scratched apart by the rooster's voice. For days I ran around the edges of the spring field aimlessly in love with a member of the opposite sex, hugging a tree trunk alone, singing "The One Who's in Love with Love."
    • Preface
  • Thus I make poetry. Like the moths that swarm around a lantern, deceived by the phantom of certain flowery mysterious sentiments, trying to touch the essence of invisible reality, I vainly flap, flap my wings as fragile as sponge cake. I am a pitiable fantasizing child, the sad fate of a moth.
    • Preface
  • [S]ome of my poems generally belong to a sensory melancholy, while certain others belong to a meditative melancholy. But, whichever it may be, the rhythm that I really want to convey is not it. It is not these "sensory things" or "idealistic things." Those things are no more than the costumes of my poetry. The essence of my poetry—that fragrant throb of my heart pulsing that becomes the motive of my poetry-making—lies above all else in the charm of the tender sound of the fife. It lies in the pitifulness of yearnings with no apparent cause for the world of reality. Thus I breathe into the fife's mouth hole, trying to play a mysterious and sensuous life.
    • Preface
  • [T]o me poetry is neither a mystery nor a religion. Even less is it "a life-or-death work" or "a sacred way of ascetic training." It is nothing more than "a sad consolation" for me.
    • Preface
  • [Poetry] is the voice of a blue heron calling in the marshes of life, the sound of a wind darkly whispering over the reeds on a moonlit night.
    • Preface
  • Poetry always stands at the head of the currents of time, and most acutely feels and touches the feelings of the coming century. That being the case, the true value of a collection of poetry should be determined at least five years, ten years after its publication. Five years, ten years later, vulgar folk in general will catch up for the first time with the position where poetry now stands. That is, normally poetry is best when it is published sooner and understood later. We poets can only despise things like pursuing fashionable thoughts and adopting ourselves to things that are favored for the moment but shallow.
    • Preface
  • Poetry always looks down on vulgar folk, transcends the air of the age, and honors the most noble and clear spirit—that is utterly natural in its essence.
    • Preface
  • I have made poetry for a long time but I have less and less confidence in it. Someone like me is no more than a miserable blue cat's nightmare.
    • Preface
  • Ah what's asleep in this large city night
    is the shadow of a single blue cat
    the shadow of a cat that speaks of the sad history of mankind
    the blue shadow of the happiness I never stop longing for.
    • "Blue Cat"
  • Longing for whatever shadow
    I longed for Tokyo even on sleety days, I thought,
    but leaning there on a wall in backstreets, and cold,
    what dream is this man, a beggar, dreaming?
    • "Blue Cat"
  • And my heart senses tears
    it's the heart that always plays quietly alone
    the heart is lonesome
    the heart, early in its youthful boyhood, cast a shadow on my life
    the gradually enlarging shadow of solitude
    the shadow of terrifying melancholy grows.
    • "A Fly's Song"
  • Now I sit in my room alone
    and gaze at the shadow of my fading soul
    its sighs are lonesome
    and as feeble as a fly that stays
    in the spring evening sun that fades quietly
    my life roams feebly
    my life staying at the windowglass
    heard helpless children's sobbing schoolsongs
    • "A Fly's Song"
  • ah these terrifying shades on earth
    in this forest of sensuous illusion
    I gaze at the shadow of melancholy that gradually spread
    and my heart flapping its wings
    resembles the ugly look of a bird at death
    ah this sensation of unbearable sensual sex
    ever so terrifyingly melancholy.
    • "So Terrifyingly Melancholy"
  • I close my eyes
    and try to chew the root of some grass
    to suck the juice of some grass to suck the bitter juice of melancholy
    indeed there's no hope for anything there
    life's just a series of meaningless melancholies
    • "The Riverside of Melancholy"
  • Ah lukewarm as this spring night
    you who wander in a vermilion florid kimono
    you who are as gentle as a younger sister
    it's neither the cemetery's moon nor phosphorescence
    nor shadow nor truth
    and how simply so sad it is.
    And so my life and body go on rotting
    and in the shadow of the hazy landscape of "Nihilism"
    are sensuously yet stickily reclining you see.
    • "Sensuous Cemetery"
  • In a field where bats swarmed
    I watched a pillar of crumbling flesh
    it trembled lonely in the evening darkness
    smelled raw like dead-man's-grass that flutters at a shadow
    and was as ugly as rotting meat with throngs of maggots crawling on it.
    • "Crumbling Flesh"
  • Ah in this landscape that trails shadows
    my soul clutches an itchy terror
    like a ship that has come from a harbor it has come
    crossing the islands with wraiths in the distance
    it's neither wind nor rain
    all of it a dark fear clinging to the sufferings of love and lust
    and at the dull flute-sound that a snake charmer makes
    my crumbling shadow wept lonely.
    • "Crumbling Flesh"
  • Where is our happiness?
    The more we dig the sand in the mud
    the deeper the fountain of sorrow becomes, doesn't it?
    The spring wavering in curtains' shadow
    has gone away into the distance, rocking on a rickshaw.
    • "Field Mouse"
  • I have no more hope no more honor no more future.
    And irretrievable remorse alone
    scurried away like a field mouse.
    • "Field Mouse"
  • From cause-and-effect's destiny's fixed law's
    dry plate of a landscape on which despair has frozen
    run away the pale shadow.
    • "Pale Horse"
  • The human lodges collapsed on the ground
    are asleep like huge spiders.
    In lonely pitch-dark nature
    animals tremble with fear
    and threatened by some Dream Demon
    are howling sadly pale.
    • "Heredity"
  • With rare words that adults do not know
    nature terrified us
    trembling like reeds
    we wept and shouted in the lonely wasteland.
    "Mo-other! Mo-other!"
    • "Hiding Behind Nature"
  • I think of a mystery hard to solve
    universal life's instinct's solitary
    eternally eternally solitary a sentiment ever so flowery.
    • "Flowery Sentiment"

Other Poems and Prose Poems

  • Darkness is like waves. On the surface of the sea where life is desolate, they roll in and break, break and roll in again. Ah waves of lust, waves of will, waves of evil thoughts that roll out and rise again. Waves, waves, waves, waves, waves of dark melancholy with nothing special to be said about it. Indeed, this lonely view always repeats its depressingly monotonous echoes on the dark surface of the sea under a cloudy sky. Let us then pass by the seashore, let us go step on the footprints on the dunes that recede into the distance. Let us meditate on the eternal time of nature, of the ocean, that reflects in the Buddha's lonely clock. Now on the surface of the crepuscular sea, watching the whitish waves of darkness that roll in and break, break and roll in again. Hearts on the beach where everything is so sad, crumbling with melancholy.
    • "Waves and Darkness"
  • [T]he octopus did not die. Even after he disappeared, he still was eternally alive there. In the antiquated, empty, forgotten water tank of the aquarium. Eternally—most likely through many centuries—an animal with a certain horrible deficiency and dissatisfaction was alive, invisible to the human eye.
    • "The Octopus That Does Not Die"
  • Father is eternally tragic.
    • "Father"
  • Suppose a mechanical man has a feeling? It will be nothing but boundless sorrow.
    • "The Feeling of Material"
  • If those who have already committed suicide and are dead were to become alive once again and speak, they would probably talk of the actuality of this. They are all regretting ghosts in their graves. I think about this a hundred times and am still terrified, and I shudder even in my dreams.
    • "The Terror of Suicide"
  • In one room of some madhouse there was a man who sat on a chair all day, doing nothing but stare at the hands of a clock every day. Here was probably the most bored human being in the world, who didn't know what to do with "time," or so I thought. But the reality was the opposite, as the director of the house explained to me. This unhappy person thinks life is constant activity. He doesn't want to waste a single moment of his life, and lest he squander valuable time, he's staring at the clock like that, every day. Say something to him, and he'll angrily bark, "Shut up! Now another second of my valuable time passes. Time is life! Time is life!"
    • "A Madman Watching a Clock"
  • The Hirose River flows white.
    Time passes and all illusions must fade away.
    Wanting to catch my life,
    one day in the past I cast my line in the river,
    but ah that happiness was too far away
    and I didn't see tiny fish even in a flash.
    • "The Hirose River"

Cat Town


orig. in ja.『猫町』(Nekomachi), 1935.

  • The allure of travel gradually faded away from my roman. Once upon a time my heart danced just by imaging any of its symbols, a train, a steamship, towns of unknown foreign lands. Nonetheless, my past experiences taught me that travel is no more than the simple "movement of the same thing within the same space." No matter where you go, you find the same kinds of people live, repeating the same kinds of monotonous lives, in the same kinds of villages or towns. In any small town in the countryside, the merchant is fiddling with his abacus at his storefront, looking out at the whitish street all day, the public servant is smoking in his office, thinking about things like vegetables in his lunch box, as they live each tasteless, monotonous day the same way, day after day, watching their lives gradually grow old. The allure of travel came merely to project in my tired heart the image of an endlessly bored landscape like a Chinese parasol tree that grows in some vacant lot, making me feel a tasteless hatred and leeriness for human life in which identical rules repeat themselves no matter where you turn. In short, I lost interest in any kind of travel, the romance of it.
    • Chapter 1
  • Nothing contains a greater metaphysical mystery than the fact that a single thing presents two separate sides if you change the direction of your eyes, that a single phenomenon has a hidden "secret side." A long time ago, when I was a child, I would look at a framed painting hanging on the wall and become obsessed with the thought: What kind of world is secretly hidden behind that framed landscape? I often removed the oil painting to peer at its back. This question I had as a child remains for me, an adult today, as an unsolvable mystery.
    • Chapter 1
  • [A]ll philosophers must surrender to the poet when they arrive at the end of their intellectual exploration. Only the universe that the poet intuits far above the common senses is the true metaphysical reality.
    • Chapter 2
  • In the face of all kinds of derisions of all the many people, I still firmly believe in my mind that that unique village on the Japan Sea of which oral legend has handed down, the town where only cats' spirits live, must surely exist somewhere, in some part of the universe.
    • Chapter 3