Ikkyuu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan
Translation with an Introduction by Sonja Arntzen.
Foreword by Shuuichi Katoo. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.
James W. Heisig
Philosophy East & Weast
Volume 41, Number 2 P.264-265
This volume is primarily an annotated translation, and as
such represents an important contribution on a difficult but
fascinating subject the kaleidoscopic, bigger-than-life,
profanely sacred figure of Ikkyuu Soojun. The sixty pages or
so of introductory matter that precede it make a fitting
portal back to life in fifteenth-century Japan and into the
life of this most complex of Zen masters. Unfortunately, the
crossing is made uncommonly ponderous.
From the very first page, a translation of a comment by
Yanagida Seizan on Ikkyuu which serves as a fitting motto for
the book, one realizes that the English is going to be less
than natural. ("This man will now continue for some time to
summon up a new concern among various people.") One can almost
reconsturct the original Japanese without tracking it down.
The Foreword by Katoo Shuuichi (who is called Shuuichi Katoo
on the cover and title page) jerks and sputters through
irregular punctuation and clumsy phrasing. As one plods along
through its otherwise simple content, one is aware that a
great deal of red-penciling has been done, erasing virtually
all of the rhuthm and grace the text was meant to have.
Things are not much better throuthgout the lengthy
introduction. However carefully organized and familiar much of
the content was, it took me an inordinate amount of time to
get through it. I expected the worst of the translation of
the poems thenselves. Happily, I was wrong.
Dr. Arntzen's touch seems just right for the poems. One
cannot read them hastily, or even once, and one is never
allowed to forget that they were written in Chinese and in a
somewhat eccentric Chinese at that. The accompanying
annotation is stimulating without overwhelming the poems of
getting detoured in technical details. I found the poems so
good, in fact, that I began to regret that she had not chosen
to do more of them. Her overt reason for restricting the work
to roughly 15 percent of the Anthology is that "a complete
translation would not only be unwieldy, but its necessity is
debatable" (p.60). On the former, perhaps; as for the latter,
let us see more and save the debate for later.
The attention to detail is everywhere in evidence, and
Tokyo University Press has done the work the tribute of an
elegant layout and beautiful reproduction at a reasonable
price. The wide outer margin words well in the translations,
making the original Chinese immediately accessible; to have
set the notes for the introductory material in a similar
arrangement might have worked equally well. The inclusion of
a comprehensive index of the poems, and the combination of a
general index with a glossary for Chinese terms are further
refinements that show how carefully the whole project was
thought out. (I did wonder, however, why Saakyamuni was
singled out among the Sanskirt terms for diacritical markings,
whereas all Japanese terms were uniformly marked.)
Ikkyuu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology puts new and
important material in the hands of students of Japanese
history and Zen Buddhism, and makes a fitting complement to
Dr. Arntzen's earlier work, Ikkyuu Soojun: A Zen Monk and His
Poetry (Bellingham, 1973). She is obviously someone in love
with her work. And it shows.