Akiko Yosano (1878 - 1942)
1. This year (2015) is the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
There are many commemorations in different countries for the anniversary.
I like to remember the pains and sufferings of wars with the following poem by Akiko Yosano (1878-1942).
I find the title of this poem especially touching: "Thou Shalt Not Die" (1904) (Chinese: "賜君莫死").
2. ("Akiko Yosano", Wikipedia):
"Akiko Yosano (与謝野 晶子 Yosano Akiko, Seiji: 與謝野 晶子, 7 December 1878 – 29 May 1942) was the pen-name of a Japanese author, poet, pioneering feminist, pacifist, and social reformer, active in the late Meiji period as well as the Taishō and early Shōwa periods of Japan. Her name at birth was Shō Hō (鳳 志よう Hō Shō). She is one of the most famous, and most controversial, post-classical woman poets of Japan."
"Yosano was born into a prosperous merchant family in Sakai, near Osaka. From the age of 11, she was the family member most responsible for running the family business, which produced and sold yokan, a type of confection. From early childhood, she was fond of reading literary works, and read widely in her father's extensive library. When she was a high school student, she began to subscribe to the poetry magazine Myōjō ("Bright Star"), and she became one of its most important contributors. Myōjō’s editor, Tekkan Yosano, taught her tanka poetry. They met when he came to Osaka and Sakai to deliver lectures and teach workshops."
"Although Tekkan had a common-law wife, Tekkan and Akiko fell in love. Tekkan eventually separated from his common-law wife, and the two poets started a new life together in the suburb of Tokyo. Tekkan and Akiko married in 1901. The couple would have two sons, Hikaru and Shigeru. Despite separation from his first wife, Tekkan remained actively involved with her."
3. (Beichman 2006):
"In the poem 'Thou Shalt Not Die', which was published in Myôjô in September, 1904, Akiko is bewailing the fact that her younger brother Sôshichi has been sent to fight in the Russo-Japanese War, and appealing to him not to let himself be killed. (It is not a tanka, but a shintaishi, written in alternating lines of five and seven syllables). During that war it was regarded as an unpatriotic poem, but after World War II it achieved great popularity as an anti-war poem. ..."
4. (Phillips 2012):
"Amongst Akiko’s most controversial poems was Kimi shinitamou koto nakare (‘Thou Shalt Not Die’), written for her younger brother during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. This poem was turned into a song, and used as an anti-war anthem during the long and violent siege of Port Arthur."
5. The Poem in English (Partial translation):
O My Brother, You Must Not Die
by Akiko Yosano
O my young brother, I cry for you
Don't you understand you must not die!
You who were born the last of all
Command a special store of parents' love
Would parents place a blade in children's hands
Teaching them to murder other men
Teaching them to kill and then to die?
Have you so learned and grown to twenty-four?
O my brother, you must not die!
Could it be the Emperor His Grace
Exposeth not to jeopardy of war
But urgeth men to spilling human blood
And dying in the way of wild beasts,
Calling such death the path to glory?
If His Grace possesseth noble heart
What must be the thoughts that linger there?
6. The Poem in English (Full translation):
Note: Yosano Akiko (maiden name Hō) was born to a candy merchant called Surugaya. Her younger brother Chûzaburo, who inherited the family business fought in the Russo-Japanese War. This poem "Kimi shini tamau koto nakare (Prithee Do not Die)" is about her worries when he was in Lüshun (Port Arthur) which became a fierce battleground.
Prithee Do Not Die
(Lamenting my younger brother in combat as one of the troops besieged at Lüshun (Port Arthur))
by Akiko Yosano
Oh, younger brother mine, for thee I weep,
Prithee do not die,
For you were born the very last,
And our parents loved you all the more,
Yet they made thee grasp a blade in hand,
Taught thee kill a man you shall,
Kill a man, and die you too,
groomed you thus to age twenty-four.
Master now of the proud old house,
The merchant-house of Sakai(1), our town,
You must now carry on our name,
So I prithee, do not die,
Though Lüshun's(2) fortress should perish,
Should it be saved, what of that?
Thou ought know, it nowhere commands
On the familial codes(3) of our merchant house.
I prithee do not die,
The Heavenly-Prince does not himself
Lead by his own august presence his troop to battle.
For to command that men shed blood of men,
And die following the beastly path(4),
And tell us death be the glory of men,
If his Highness' heart be compassionate,
How could he truly think it so?
Oh young brother mine in battle,
I prithee you mustn't die.
Our mother who has lagged behind father
In the passing of the autumn years of life,
It sores me to watch her lament,
Deprived of son to guard the home,
And though she hears our Highness hale and safe,
Our mother's gray hair grows.
Stooping in the shade of the noren(5) she weeps,
The frail young wife of yours,
Or have you forgotten? Or do you think of her?
Think on her maidenly feeling,
Together ere ten months, then parted,
And there's none another the likes of you,
Oh once again I ask,
Prithee do not die.
— pub. in Myōjō Sept. 1904.
1 Sakai is a merchant town with a rich history, which prospered by foreign trade in the age of Warring-States, and its merchants were proud and independent-minded. The famous tea ceremony master Sen-no-Rikyū (1522-1591) who committed harakiri was a Sakai merchant.
2 Lüshun(Port Arthur), pronounced "Ryojun" in Japanese, was a naval port for Russia's Eastern Fleet.
3 An "old family" often has something called kakun or lessons — do's and don'ts that are passed down generation to generation. The poetess is saying that since they are merchant family, dying to defend a castle is certainly not one of those lessons.
4 beastly path is a reference to a course of conduct without morality or discipline; In Buddhism, if your conduct in this life is poor, you are said to be relegated to chikushōdō "way of beasts" in the next life.
5 noren is the shop curtain, the drape of cloth hanging at the shop entrance. There is also such a curtain between the storefront and the back area.
7. The Poem in Japanese:
2 旅順＝遼東半島南端にある軍港。 ロシアの東洋艦隊の基地で要塞が築かれていた。
8. The Poem in Modern Chinese:
"Akiko Yosano", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
Beichman, Janine. 2006. "Thou Shalt Not Die: Yosano Akiko and the Russo-Japanese War". The Asiatic Society of Japan. December 11.
Leahmama1. 2012. "Japanese Anti-War Poet". Japan Journal: food, books and thoughts on my life Blog. September 16.
Phillips, Jeremy. 2012. "They died in 1942 -- 2: Akiko Yosano". The 1709 Blog. December 26.
"與謝野晶子", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
盧荻. 2015. " '你不要死' ——道德政治的背面". 盧荻：生活與知識博客. January 5.