Friday, March 20, 2015

Kappa (Hokusai), Sonnet #234

My pet Kappa (more indentured servant),
Once returned my bow and polite address,
And the water poured out of the deep dent
In his head, leaving him quite powerless.
I replaced the water, brimming his bowl,
And since then I have commanded his soul.
A notorious eater of children
And cucumbers, and raper of women,
My Yokai river sprite is now the guard
Of a young redbud tree in my back yard.
Oh, he is miserable, lies and weeps,
And offers me coins of gold and twenty
Geishas, if I return him to the deeps.
He dies bowing low to water my tree.

Note: Yokai are a class of supernatural monsters in Japanese folklore. They can be mischievous or malevolent, or both. The Kappa, which resembles a turtle, has a bowl-shaped indentation in its skull, which it keeps filled with water. It is the source of its power. Being very polite, if bowed to, the Kappa will bow in return, spilling the water, leaving it paralyzed. If you refill the bowl, the Kappa will be your life-long servant. The speaker in this sonnet is a Japanese gardener from the 18th century.