Saturday, February 9, 2013

子猫ちゃんがいますよ。 (kitteh is like a firefly)

I have a kitten (砂糖ちゃん) staying with me while her keepers are off Exploring the World. She's just had surgery and has a cone on, so when she walks her head moves from side to side in a way that I shouldn't find hilarious but totally do. It recalls a poem by Issa 一茶 that fellow student Cさん wrote a while ago, presumably this past summer:

oobotaru yurariyurari to toorikeri
fat firefly, swooping and swaying, passing by

"Yurariyurari" is one of those concepts that one has to ask a native speaker to explain, and the explanation of which almost certainly will involve mime. It seems to mean dipping and swaying while moving forward, like a hand conducting some slow piece of music, or like a slalom (but with downward movement), or what would happen if you were piloting a plane and moved the controller rhythmically left and right. A site that explicates the poem says this:

ooki na genji hotaru ga, kurayami no naka o ooki na ko o egakinagara yurariyurari to tondeyuku. (kigo) hotaru

A large firefly flies through the darkness, describing a large arc.

Several questions arise from this: "genji na hotaru"? What can this mean? Genji seems to refer not only to the famous tale, but also to the Minamoto shogunate, but that doesn't seem relevant here. But there's no particle between "genji" and "hotaru", so—?

"Describing an arc" is the phrase we'd use in English to talk about this, but the phrase "弧を描く" catches me because, as is true of so many other things, it seems to have a history that's more phonetic than graphic. I always have to check myself on these phonetic questions, because the response tends to be that there's no particular history there; but it's difficult to ignore that "egaku" combines "e" and "kaku"—writing a picture. There are several kanji for "kaku", I think—writing, composing, painting—but 描く does have the additional sense of 絵. Or not. I never know! Like this cat and her feather toy, I'm always chasing things that can't be caught.

"Tondeyuku" is helpful, because I've wondered about the meaningful difference between "iku" and "yuku", both having the sense of "to go". "Yuku" seems always to imply progression, as in not just going from place to place but the act of going. Here we have 飛ぶ + 行く, "tondeyuku", a progressive flying, with the additional image of reeling back and forth.

And then there's the "keri" ending, concerning which I'm about to throw up my hands. Shirane先生's book on classical grammar discusses き and けり as controversial and devotes about four pages to the distinction, with at least four totally distinct meanings for けり alone. "In contrast to the auxiliary verb ki, which indicates a past that is already distant from and separate from the present, keri begins with the present and looks back retrospectively at the past." So, that clears it all up. Another meaning is "exclamatory recognition". *sigh*

But the site goes on to say this: オノマトペ(擬音・擬態語)の達者として知られる俳人小林一茶は小動物をこよなく愛し、昆虫の中では蛍を詠んだ句も蝶(ちょう)に次いで多い。蠅(はえ)が手足を擦る所作を助命嘆願に見立てた句など、思い入れたっぷりだ Issa liked onomatopoiea (imitative/mimetic sounds) and insects / small animals (fireflies, butterflies) and wrote quite a few poems about them, especially with the theme of flies rubbings their "hands" together, as if asking for leniency (vs being swatted).

I'd like to look at other Issa poems about fireflies, but I have a cat that requires attention, so—so much for that.