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The following are lyrics from Time after time ~花舞う街で~ by 倉木麻衣:

薄氷{うすらい}冴{さえ}返る 遠い記憶

I translate the two lines separately:

Your voice still sounds in the wind.
Distant memory / distant memories [over which] the thin ice freezes again.

Is that right? Is it right to take the voice as linked to kioku, as the memory, and therefore translating with the singular? Also, this site says, in a note, that a kigo is used in here. Could you expand on this?

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This page says [薄氷]{うすらい} is a kigo of early spring. It seems like it's a [掛詞]{かけことば} of 薄い氷(thin ice) and [薄]{うす}らい(the continuative form of 薄らう; 「薄らい冴え返る」=「薄らいだり、冴え返ったりする) –  Choko Aug 10 at 13:33
So basically usurai is a pun, combining thin ice with usurau. But I can't find usurau. Also, I can't figure what your explanation (薄らいだり、冴え返ったりする) means. –  MickG Aug 10 at 16:32
Let me just give a translation of the "Explanation" on the linked page: Icy thing thinly spread over shallow places in spring. Also, refers to the remainders of molten ice. Because of the fact that unlike winter ice it easily vanishes, gives an impression of faint and fleeting. –  MickG Aug 10 at 16:33
I only find usuragu, to become thin, to become pale. –  MickG Aug 10 at 16:38
You're not parsing this correctly. usura(h)i is not from some verb *usura(h)-u. Rather, this is a compound of usura (薄ら) and hi (氷). It may also be read as usurabi due to 連濁. Because the final ends in -hi, some people mistakenly take this as the the -hi in 言ひ, 買ひ etc., the historical spelling of continuative verbs that now end in -u; that is surely how the suggestion of *usura-u above came out. Try to look up usurahi or usurabi. –  Dono Aug 10 at 23:21

1 Answer 1

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Hmm, this post brings up a number of issues.

The poem

I'm assuming this is the whole thing, at least for purposes of this discussion. I've tweaked the spelling and okurigana to match what I know and what my references use.

薄{うす}ら氷{ひ}冴{さ}え返{かえ}る 遠{とお}い記憶{きおく}

Grammatical number

Japanese doesn't have any inherent number in most nouns. Plural or singular, either could be correct -- when translating into English, you have to rely on context if there is any, or on your own intuition regarding the author's intent. In translating poetry, even more than other kinds of text, it's important to think about the implications and allusions of each word. So for 記憶{きおく} here, it could be either "memory" or "memories", depending on what the author or you as the translator want to express.


The two phrases 薄{うす}ら氷{ひ} and 冴{さ}え返{かえ}る both depict cold, crisp, and clear weather, like right when things are starting to freeze up.

  • 薄{うす}ら氷{ひ} is literally "thin ice", and could apply to either early spring (as mentioned in your links), or also to late fall.
  • 冴{さ}え返{かえ}る is a compound verb.
    • 冴{さ}える is etymologically related to さやか (variously spelled in kanji as 明か・清か・爽か) and in this context it refers to piercing brightness, sharp cold, and/or extreme clarity, particularly the kind you get on really cold nights when the air is bitterly cold and crisp.
    • 返{かえ}る as the latter part of compound verbs often means "throughout, through and through", or "re-, again".

These two combined imply late fall or early winter, rather than early spring. The mention of 風{かぜ} "wind" further bolsters the idea of winter. That said, 冴え返る can also allude to the kind of cold snaps that happen in early spring just as things begin to warm up. Either way, 薄ら氷(が)冴え返る could suggest that everything all around is frozen over in a thin layer of ice.

Much as in English, Japanese uses ideas of "cold" in describing emotions and human relations. For example, if you describe someone as 冷{つめ}たい "chilly, cold [to the touch]", you're saying they're being cold and unfriendly. 遠{とお}い "distant, far away" together with the cold and windy scene suggests that the 君{きみ} "you" (familiar, often used by males to refer to significant others) mentioned in the first line has broken up with or is somehow otherwise no longer intimate with the "me" of the poem.

Kakariai: How the poem fits together

Just in terms of the grammar, and in the absence of punctuation, a couple different interpretations are possible.

  • These two lines could be parsed as two independent statements, as if there were full stops after each.

    薄{うす}ら氷{ひ}冴{さ}え返{かえ}る 遠{とお}い記憶{きおく}。

  • Alternatively, they could be parsed as one longer statement, with the first line acting as a modifier on the head noun of the second line (記憶{きおく}). Here, I've split the lines up differently to place each modifying phrase on its own line and in 〔Japanese parentheses〕, with the final head noun in bold.



In light of the above, there are several ways to approach this. Here are a couple possibilities.

I can hear your voice on the wind
A distant memory shrouded in ice


The distant frozen memory
of your voice on the wind

When rendering poetry into English, one of the real challenges is making the English both 1) express the meaning of the source text, and 2) come across as poetry in the English. As English poetry, you then have to decide on things like whether to use free verse, or meter; what kind of rhythm and scansion to use; and whether to use rhyme or alliteration. Haiku tend not to work very well in English, for the same reason that limericks aren't a common format in Japanese. When porting poetry from one language to another, these kinds of structural issues will be part of your decision-making process.

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Pop is a form of poetry, really. :) Though it does often tend more towards doggerel than epic verse... –  Eiríkr Útlendi Aug 16 at 6:20
Wow, what's up with the downvoting? Is there anything specific here that folks think I've got wrong, or are people just being negative? –  Eiríkr Útlendi Aug 17 at 7:29
A single downvote on many answers has been a phenomenon that started only after I joined, maybe a year ago. I got a collected 15 upvotes for posting the same comment "Lately anyone's answer attracts a -1" on several downvoted answers... Don't take it too serious. If there's no constructive criticism, there's not much you can do. –  Earthliŋ Oct 2 at 2:32

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