Japanese Modernist Poet Nishiwaki Junzaburō, Ambarvalia

Nishiwaki Junzaburō


Translated by Steven J. Willett

Nishiwaki Junzaburō (20 January 1894 – 5 June 1982)

Note: Nishiwaki was the first modernist Japanese poet. Between 1960 and 1967 he received 7 nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature including strong support from Ezra Pound. His book Ambarvalia (Tokyo, 1933) is based on a Roman agricultural festivity in honor of Ceres, the goddess of grain. The book comes in two parts: the first on motifs from Greek poetry and the second on motifs from European poetry. With the outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, he stopped publishing and announced he would concentrate on research of the classics and ancient literature. He was one of the 14 poets arrested on charges of  sedition after the introduction of the National Mobilization Law when government censors interpreted some of his surrealistic poems in a critical manner.

Le Monde Ancien

Choral Song

Arise, Muse, from the depths.

Thou hast of late been diving far too deep in poetry.

Thy piping music can’t be heard by the Abydos

Thy throat’s curve, let it be a heart for the Abydos.



On a morning like (an upturned gem)

Someone in the doorway whispers, “Who are you?”

This is the day of a god’s birth.

Shepherd of Capri

Even on a spring morning

My Sicilian pipe pours out the sounds of autumn

Retracing ten thousand years of longing.


The South Wind has brought soft goddesses who

Wet the bronze, wet the fountain

Wet swallow wings and golden hair

Wet the tide wet the sand wet the fish

Quietly wet temples and baths and theaters

This tranquil procession of soft goddesses

Has wet my tongue.

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One Response to Japanese Modernist Poet Nishiwaki Junzaburō, Ambarvalia

  1. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    “O rose, thy color is sorrow”
    An interesting line. Quite a contrast to Persian/Middle Eastern poetry on roses and nightingales.

    Ishmael Zechariah

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