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Mythic Passages - the magazine of imagination

Grendel's Mother
©1930 Nagase Kiyoko and used with permission

Nagase Kiyoko (1906-1995) Born in Okayama,Japan, and published her first book of poems, Grendel no Haha (Grendel's Mother), in 1930. At the age of forty, she took up farming. She began work in 1963 for the World Federation. In 1987, at the age of eighty-one, Nagase published her prize-winning book, Akegata ni kuru hito yo (You Who Come at Daybreak), which was translated into English by Sato Hiroaki.

Grendel's mother
at the end of a blue swamp,
Japanese Grendeldeep in the ancient cavern
(or at the bottom of a gloomy city
where an electric pole casts faint light)
is firmly holding her children,
her hair copper-hued.

With her ancient monstrous eyes,
like a spider, she's staring at the entrance.
The children she's protecting
with her powerful maternity,
like armor,
will in time
become great Norse monsters
(or become those who silently, firmly quaff
the tears of countless people).

They will each walk toward the sublime
amid horrifying victims,
will not dissolve in evil and fury;
except in their mother's arms,
will not let out howls of pain.

The moonlight like a fresh mineral
that rises from the depths of night
flares blue
on the ancient swamp
(or on the roof tiles of the city).
Grendel's mother
now lies low deep in the cavern.

This selection of poetry comes courtesy of Poetry Kanto. First published in 1968, Poetry Kanto is Japan's leading bicultural, annual bilingual poetry journal, featuring modern and contemporary Japanese poetry in English translation, as well as exciting contemporary English-language poetry from America, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, etc. Please visit their very fine website for more outstanding poetry that navigates the divide of ocean and language.

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