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Things Folklore:
A Translation of Shuji Terayama's Poem
"Jibutsu no fukuroa"

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Jun Kurihara

The sole tree
Has the stream of blood
Within the tree, blood sleeps standing upright
*
No bird
Could fly higher than imagination
*
When the world sleeps
Language wakes up
*
On the day of the big bird's coming, water becomes muddy
On the day of the big bird's coming, they close the books
On the day of the big bird's coming, Trotsky dies
On the day of the big bird's coming, they attach train cars
On the day of the big bird's coming, they will look at me
*
On a fine day of June 1895
A 21-year-old student
Guglielmo Marconi
In the garden of his father's cottage
Sent a radio Morse code for the first time
Just now, it arrived to me
How many dead worlds had it passed through before it arrived here
Though I came to the post office to reply to it,
I unexpectedly felt sad as if I had left something behind
*
Writing was nothing but speed
What had outstripped could only exist on the paper
Reading was nothing but regret and misunderstanding
The kingdom is still so far away
*
Could it be possible to reproduce today's world by theater
Could it be possible to reproduce today's theater by the world
Could it be possible to do theater today's reproduction by the world
*
"Well, when I was in junior high, I found a baby
lizard in the park. I bred it in a coke bottle and finally it
grew up so big that it couldn't get out of the bottle. A lizard
in a coke bottle, a lizard in a coke bottle. I bet you don't
have power to break the bottle and get out of it
Say good-bye to the problems Japan has
History is, after all, nothing but the world made of lyrics!
The word homeland, how deep we hate you, we won't be satisfied!
'Great historic fact occurs twice,' remarked Marx
The first time as tragedy, the second as farce!
But the truth is here!
The first time as an incident, the second as language!
The Eighteenth Brumaire is language!
The Allied Red Army is language!
I can't even refuse my death transformed into language!
Ah, what a comedy!"
*
To aim the nation that has never been built before
To hold the weapon that has never been imagined before
To plot our strategy by the language that has never been spoken before
To encounter the history that has never been described before
Even if
The last bridge to the promised meeting place was burnt down

Terayama and His Belief in Language

Terayama Shuji (1935-1983) started his career as a haiku poet in his teens. He was also known as the youngest and the newest writer of tanka (a traditional format of Japanese verse which consists of 31 syllables) by his twenties. In 1967, Terayama formed a theater company named Tenju sajiki (The Upper Gallery) and wrote many experimental plays and directed them. At the same time, he developed his idea of underground theater in the form of experimental films. It would be easy to read "Jibutsu no fukuroa" ("Things Folklore") in the context of the worldwide revolutionary mood of the 1960s. In fact, Terayama later wrote a play, Chi wa tatta mama nemutte iru (Blood Sleeps Standing Upright), which is about two young revolutionists, based upon the first stanza of this poem. However, the uniqueness of this poem should be found in Terayama's preference for surrealist poetry. Displacement technique, which surrealist poets preferred to employ, is effective throughout this piece. Readers will recognize the unexpected encounter such as birds with Trotsky, a lizard with a coke bottle, and the sudden interposition of Guglielmo Marconi's episode. Furthermore, the experimental spirit of displacement is condensed in the following three lines: "Could it be possible to reproduce today's world by theater / Could it be possible to reproduce today's theater by the world / Could it be possible to do theater today's reproduction by the world" (ll. 25-7).

Another theme of this poem is Terayama's interest in speed. In his essay Sho o suteyo, machi e deyou (Throw Away the Books and Go to the Town) he states, "I adore speed. I like rabbits, but I hate turtles" (6). Speed makes sense only in linear time; thus, Terayama does not rewind the time. However slow it was, Guglielmo Marconi's Morse code arrives in the present. Terayama receives the Morse code that passed through the dead worlds and realizes the time and speed between Marconi and himself. Terayama's recognition of speed does not seem to be fixed; it is always either slow or fast, but it never stops. This idea of time seems to be related to the traditional Japanese notion of time: nothing stays the same and one should always be conscious of the transience of things. Terayama condenses these two themes in the poem, which is filled with aphorisms and prophecies. As I mentioned before, it would be easy to take the message in this poem as a confession of a young revolutionist, but it does not seem to be the point with which Terayama deals here. As he boasts that "The Eighteenth / Brumaire is language! The Allied Red Army is language! I can't even / refuse my death transformed into language! Ah, what a comedy!" (ll. 36-8), Terayama's project was to transform and fix physical things— even revolution— into the value of language. This great dependence on language plays a role in creating a playful surface, such as that of displacement, for this poem.

Works Cited

Terayama, Shuji. Sho o suteyo, machi e deyou. Tokyo: Kadokawa Bunko, 1975.

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