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So I was trying to translate this song (full lyrics: 反芻の印象) and I came across this phrase that I believe has omitted words:

特急列車は相も変わらず閑古鳥

"The limited express is, as usual, a cuckoo", would be my literal translation. As this doesn't make any sense, I would think that 閑古鳥 is just a shortened form of the idiom 閑古鳥が鳴く ("business is slow/ (a store is) empty", is basically how my dictionary gives it), so I would think that "The limited express is, as usual, empty," would be the translation. Is that correct? I was unsure about the omitted words.

However, the next line of the song is

星座の光 線路の隙間に茂る雑草

(Under the light of the constellations, the spaces between the railroad tracks grow thick with weeds) and I would think it is possible that 閑古鳥 goes with 星座の光, though it does seem to be in a different phrase. Still, I thought this could be a possibly, since the omitted words bother me. Thank you for your help!

  • I think you've basically got it except for linking cuckoo and constellation, which I don't agree with. Lyrics are often a free form expression of thoughts, images, impressiond. They don't need necessarily to be logically sequential, complete or coherent in the way that prose normally is. And sometimes words that are apparently meaningless can be added like 'lalalala'. Kurt Cobain's lyrics are a good example of how not everything has to make complete sense to the listener but still convey some tangible impression. So, I suppose it's best not to read lyrics as prose and apply the same rules. – Robert May 24 '17 at 5:17
  • I didn't really think that cuckoo and constellation were related - I just entertained it as a possibly, as it did not involve putting in any omitted words, which I am always hesitant to do as I'm straying from the original lyrics. I am told that sometimes in translations I cut phrases - I was trying to make sure I wasn't doing that again! But that the two were related did seem unlikely to me. Thanks for your advice! – Smoothie May 24 '17 at 20:39
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I'm all with your first interpretation - that the "閑古鳥" is a reduced form of the idiomatic expression, and therefore does not refer to the bird itself. It's the most likely and natural one. Your translation seems spot-on.

As for the alternative reading, I personally don't see how 閑古鳥 and 星座の光 can be linked.

(My overall impression of the whole lyrics is that they are highly cryptic in some places, using and connecting words in an unconventional way, and fragmented in others, dropping a slew of images and ideas without obvious relation, though there are sporadic moments of relieving clarity here and there. The style is much different from how we recount a story or describe things and thoughts in practical, everyday communication, as is expected of a piece of poetry.)

  • 閑古鳥がどんな鳥なのかそもそも知らなかったのですが、カッコウのことなんですね… – naruto May 24 '17 at 3:07
  • Okay, thank you! I thought my first interpretation was correct - but I've been told I cut phrases in translation, and just wanted to make sure I wasn't doing it again. Thanks for your help! – Smoothie May 24 '17 at 20:39
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I think 閑古鳥 links with 線路の隙間に茂る雑草. It's mean trains rare to run on the railroad tracks, since few passenger use this line, trains don't come very often.

星座の光 links with 特急列車, probably it comes from Japanese famous juvenile literature 銀河鉄道の夜(English title is "The Night of the Milky Way Train"). When it comes to limited express and the constellations, many Japanese associate it with that story.

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