These Things Called Dreams: The Poems of Ono no Komachi, translated by Larry Hammer

Review copy provided by the author, who has been a friend on this here internet for…gosh. A minute.

This is a selection of 9th century Japanese poems, with translation notes and images of their author from various sources. The images are very high quality reproductions and add to the sense of what was going on with Ono no Komachi, whose life is more speculated about than firmly documented.

The poems themselves are short and evocative–mostly in one genre of love poetry or another, with room for playfulness. Larry’s chosen layout does a good job of letting the reader appreciate the translated poem as a poem, just as it is, and only then transition to the translation notes, which are easy to understand even without a strong grasp of Japanese and give cultural as well as linguistic context for each poem. Where there is wordplay that’s impossible to translate, that’s noted–but not in the middle of the poem where it would distract from writing that is on one layer still easy to enjoy on its own terms over a millennium later and in a different language. This volume is short but rewarding.

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