Recently, I bought my first Japanese novel to improve my reading skills. The novel itself uses a modern, very simple grammar (it's Ningen no kouta by Kō Machida) so it's not hard to understand. However the text also showcases a few lines of poetry from time to time, which I just cannot get. (these are the very first poems of the book) :






I'm not looking for a 'poetic translation', but more like a loose translation of the meaning in plain English, or a glimpse of what the text could look like if it was put back to 'normal', non-poetic Japanese.

  • I'm sure they're joke tanka, but could you double check if you transcribed them correctly? Also, you must attach your translation attempt for each (as far as you can) so that we know what exactly you don't know to answer. Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 2:07
  • Thank you! Yes, the narrator describes them as tanka in the main text. And they indeed seem like a joke, so I thought maybe there could be references of traditional japanese poetry that I'm not aware of? Anyway, I tried to type out what I picture when I read the text on my own, but since English isn't my native language either, this kind of feels like gymnastics. I edited the original post.
    – goradora
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 2:59
  • The translation is helpful, thank you. By the way, the latter part of the second tanka "義を超えて~ください" doesn't sound very grammatical, can you make sure there's no typo? (a picture would help too.) Also, 乗らせど is also weird. Isn't it 垂らせど? Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 3:53

1 Answer 1


Those tanka are all overly "artistic", almost a showcase of unexpected words or combinations that make each poem hard to follow in meaning. (Each poem is divided in lines for easier understanding.)

濃い夏の / その濃さゆえの / 濃い顔の / ナチュラルメイク / こそぎとりてえ

  • 濃い: it has many meanings; among I think less likely to be taught ones is "dense in information" (good or bad), such as 濃い内容 "rich content" or 濃すぎる一日 "an overwhelming day; a day where I experienced too much". 濃い夏 sounds most naturally with this sense. It is also used to describe one's face is "defined", how each part looks as if having bold outlines; or the makeup is thick. A related post.

  • ナチュラルメイク: (wasei eigo) a makeup looks as if one doesn't wear any makeup

  • こそぎとりてえ < こそぎとりたい < こそぎとる "scrape off" + たい "want"
    cf. Changing of diphthongs at the end of words to え in exclamations

高空を / 飛ぶ聖マリーの / 義を超えて / なにとも手足 / 高くなってください

  • 聖マリー: if it means the Mother Mary, then very unusual in Japanese to call her マリー because we use the Latin form マリア.

  • 義: (of Christianity) righteousness

  • なにとも: it could be 何とも "by any means; whatever", but the uncontracted form is obsolete in modern language. It instead can be a joke-abbreviation (1, 2) of なにはともあれ "well, anyways".

  • 高くなってください: the most apparent problem of this stanza is that it exceeds the supposed length by three syllables, which is, however, occasionally seen in modern tanka to express "floods of emotion". Yet, the word 高い makes little sense in this collocation. We do say one has tall figure by 高い, but not with the word 手足. Your translation says "soar" but it's impossible without another verb; 高くなる as such can only mean "grow high" in some way. (Or, "become expensive" if it makes sense.)

上人の / 真摯な食事は / 熱量です。 / きみ残光を / なめてください

  • 上人【しょうにん】: a respected Buddhist monk

  • 熱量: heating value; (figuratively) energy, passion. Not only for calorie (food energy)

  • なめてください: なめる is literally "lick", which suggests that there is not much left to "eat".

貧困は / 男根ですよと / 言いきるとき / 団塊オヤジ / きみの脚をみている

  • 言いきる: "declare; say definitely". The subject seems to be きみ.

  • 団塊オヤジ: オヤジ "old-timer" who belongs to 団塊世代 "baby boomers". The subject of きみの脚をみている.

どぼ池に / 糸を垂らせど / 釣果なし / ジンギスカンを / 食したりけむ

  • This tanka is the only one based on the Classical grammar among them. Although Classical Japanese in modern tanka is not nearly as common as haiku, but indeed is one of styles.

  • どぼ池: roughly "muddy or unclear pond", sometimes seen in place names.

  • 垂らせど: "although one drops"; ど is a Classical auxiliary that connects to modern equivalent of 仮定形 (~すれば minus -ば).

  • ジンギスカン: a Japanese-style lamb/mutton barbecue

  • 食したりけむ: 食したり is the older form of 食した. It also derived modern ~たり but doesn't share the same meaning. けむ is another Classical auxiliary whose grammatical function is almost parallel to らむ discussed in this post, except that it refers to a past event. Thus the translation would be like "I wonder if it is because I ate..."


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