Tanka poems are a reflection of the times
2009/4/25I received a letter from an elderly man living in Nagoya about a woman whose name can be read Hitomi Koyama or Oyama. The name may arouse fond memories in some readers like an image of a distant star they saw a long time ago.
Let me quote the opening paragraph of this column that ran in the vernacular Asahi Shimbun on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II, 36 years ago: "(Tanka) poems by 'Hitomi Koyama of Amagasaki (in Hyogo Prefecture)' often appears in the Asahi Kadan column. She always writes about her only son who was killed in the war. Some readers may remember her name because of her poems' extremely strong tone of lament."
Koyama is said to have supported herself as a peddler.
"As long as I live/ I see a vision of my son/ Whom I saw off to war/ Before flags."
"The child I raised in poverty/ Grew up to be a man/ And perished in the war/ Today I have enough food to feed myself."
Now, the postwar generation accounts for more than three-quarters of the entire population. But back then, there must have been many aging parents across the nation who shared her sorrows.
Although the man who wrote me is younger, he wrote that Koyama's poems were "hard to forget."
Tanka poems that appear in the newspaper reflect the times. Koyama's poems were often chosen by Yoshimi Kondo (1913-2006), one of the selectors of the Asahi Kadan. "Mumei-sha no Uta" (Poems of nameless poets) published in 1974 is an anthology of poems that appeared on the column selected by Kondo. It reads like a postwar history of ordinary people.
"My mother visits wearing rags/ One of the nurses treats her kindly" was composed in a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients.
"Praying for a life of happiness/ I marry a miner/ And wash my husband's mining clothes for the first time." When I think of the subsequent decline of coal mines, I find the poem sad.
"The sound of splitting firewood/ Rings sad in the afternoon/ My wife does not speak about giving up farming." The Showa Era (1926-1989), which is fading into the past, is present in the 31-syllable poems.
And now, 2009, the 21st year of the Heisei Era (1989-), is being engraved in the Asahi Kadan by many poets, including a self-claimed homeless man whose name can be read Koichi Koda or Kimida.
It is the heartbeat of nameless poets whose stories may not go down in history but are all the more memorable for it.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 24(IHT/Asahi: April 25,2009)