Friday, September 11, 2009

Not an easy place to live

I knew that Glenn Gould, my favorite pianist, used to like reading Kusamakura (Grass Pillow) of Soseki Natsume. Naturally, I have read the original Japanese version (many times), but have never ventured to tackle an English translation.

For some reasons, Kusamagura has been hanging on the verge of my consciousness recently. The other day, I finally bought the new translation by Meredith McKinney, published from Penguin Classics.

The famous opening sentences are translated thus:


As I climb the mountain path, I ponder--
If you work by reason, you grow rough-edged; if you choose to dip your oar into sentiment's stream, it will sweep you away. Demanding your own way only serves to constrain you. However you look at it, the human world is not an easy place to live.

From Kusamakura: Translated by Meredith McKinney, Penguin Classics


I think it was Soseki's pessimistic observation that haunted my soul when I first read the novel as a child. It is, however, a pessimism with a vital force to go forward. Soseki apparently wrote the whole novel in a matter of a week, if we take his words literally.

Pessimism, or acknowledging that existence can never be perfect, is the founding stone for a vigorous life. It is the source of great works of art. There is wisdom in educated pessimism.

Although I am generally regarded as an optimistic person by my friends, I must say that there is always a tinge of pessimism in the way I regard the world.


Christine said...

It sounds good. I should read it. I heard of Glenn Gould when I was researching autism. I found that Glenn Gould could have had high-functioning autism.

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

Whenever I read Kusamakura, it makes me think about things from various perspectives. I love it, especially as including various pieces of Soseki's haiku poetry.

We also know one of Gould's famous performance is J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Is the word "various" or "variation" the nature of this world ?

This English translation is very interesting, too. I'd like to get one. Thank you for your thougutful essay.

Anonymous said...

Well I to but I about the collection should acquire more info then it has.